After a tough, hectic battle with a good fish, the cry often goes out: “Grab the net!”
This call is, of course, referring to the landing net. Consisting of a circular hoop to keep the attached net bag open, and fixed to a pole-type handle, it’s used to slip under the fish and bring it in board.
There are heaps of reasons to use a landing net, but first make sure you have the right net for the job. You’ll find their sizes vary hugely, they are made from all sorts of materials (both the frame and netting), and come in assorted designs, including folding, telescopic and collapsible. Not all nets are created equal either, so it pays to put a bit of thought into a net purchase. Also keep in mind that a net helps to ensure many decent fish are landed that otherwise might be lost if just lifted into the boat (this is when hooks often come out, traces snap, and even rods break sometimes).
When selecting a net, consider the type of craft you’ll be on and species of fish you’ll likely be encountering. For example, a folding-type net that is perfect for a kayak fisher chasing trout will be inadequate for a decent-sized boat targeting big snapper and medium kings, with the latter more likely to possess a large, fixed hoop type net.
Deciding on the handle length is also a major consideration for two reasons: one, will it be storable on the boat, and two, will it easily reach the fish in the water? This is where extendable landing nets come into their own. Most utilise a telescopic handle that extends, sometimes almost doubling the length. However, check whether the net is likely to remain structurally strong when lifting a decent fish in. I have seen many net poles crumple and break when trying to lift big snapper and kingfish (see ‘Netting tactics’ further on if there is any doubt).
Also, take a close look at the way the hoop is attached to the pole, as this area often fails due to corrosion or poor design.
The net bag itself is very important. As well as securing your catch, it plays a role for conservation if you are planning (or need) to release your fish. Many modern nets are made from various forms of rubber or very fine mesh that greatly reduce scale and slime damage, and better support the entire weight of the fish when removed from the water. Fish can also be held in the net instead of left flapping on a hot deck, burning and injuring themselves in the process.
Also, rubber-meshed net bags are less prone to being snagged up by hooks, making hook removal while in the net easier.
Having decided on a landing net, it pays to do a couple of things to make sure it lives happily on the boat for a long time. Attaching a small float to the end of your net’s handle will make it retrievable if accidentally dropped over the side. After each fishing trip, wash your landing net with fresh water, let it dry, then give any moving parts a spray with WD40, Innox or similar.
It is good practice to use a landing net on most fish. Firstly, it prevents fish from flapping around and maybe spiking you, or, even worse, driving a stay hook into one of your soft body parts. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, it helps to contain the fish, preventing unnecessary injury and making hook removal more straightforward.
However, most people understandably think of nets as an effective means to secure large fish that could easily break the leader if simply lifted into the boat. (For those who are wondering, a landing net is generally a better option than a gaff, because fish under 4 or 5kg will often bounce or roll off a gaff, and are not a big target for inexperienced gaffers. Also, if you catch a trophy-sized fish you want to release, it is far better to let it go without holes in it!)
The ability to net a fish improves with practice. Many inexperienced anglers chase a fish around in the water with the net, trying to scoop it up as it swims past. This can often end in tragedy, as hooks can get knocked out or snagged in the net mesh outside the net frame, allowing the fish to escape.
The primary thing to remember when netting a fish is that it can’t swim backwards, so when a fish is tired and comes alongside the boat, lower the net ahead of the fish so it swims in. If the fish manages to avoid the first attempt, don’t panic; just wait for the next opportunity and try again. Chasing the fish around with the net seldom works, as the net is affected by too much drag in the water.
Once a fish is in the net, be careful how you bring it aboard, especially if the catch is heavy. I find lifting such fish by holding the hoop of the net rather than relying on the pole is a worthwhile precaution. (Think of the physics of a 10kg fish at the end of a twometre pole – a lot of force is required to elevate it.)
As you can see, a landing net is a really valuable piece of fishing kit – they are not just there to retrieve hats blown off in the wind. So make sure you have one that suits your needs, is well made, and stores well in your fishing setup.
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