Click here to see parts 1 and 2 of this series on handling of catch & release fish.
The bucket. The penalty box. Whatever you call it, netting fish can be intense. For many it’s tied with the actual hook-up when it comes to the best part of catching a fish. It’s challenging, climactic, and rewarding. It’s the finish line when all the pressure of landing a fish erupts with the swooshing sound of the net hitting the water and the feel of a heavy fish flopping in your net. It’s good stuff!
It’s also the single easiest way to screw everything up and loose a fish… for yourself or even worse, for someone else. Now that is an awkward situation! We’ve probably all seen it, had it happen to us, or even worse done it. When there is a big fish on the line and a hard fought battle is coming to its end, the net job is the last second point after kick in a tied football game… everything at stake and the outcome determined in the blink of an eye. Ouch Boise State.
Why bother with a net? As far as the impact they have on catch & release fish, some people are against them and some are for them. Many feel that proper use of a net is better for the overall survival of a released fish. Granted some net materials have less impact on the fish and its protective slime, so that is something to consider when net shopping. Here are some pros for using a net.
First off the quicker you land a fish the less exhausted it becomes during the fight and thus stronger it is upon release. Proper use of a net allows an angler to land & release a fish quicker, period. Contact with any dry surface is harmful to a fish, and often a person trying to handle a fish ends up mobbing, dropping, and hugging the fish as they try to unhook, or hold the fish for a photo. Or worse yet, simply drag it up on dry land. A fish that ends up on the ground or in the bottom of a boat is facing harsh odds of survival after the release. What’s the point of releasing a fish that may die from the impact of the handling? By using a net you can keep control of the fish to unhook while allowing it to rest and recover in the water. It’s also perfect for photos as you can leave the fish in the net and breathing in the water while you setup and between photos.
Here are some basic tips to keep your net from coming up empty.
1. ALWAYS head first. Scoop towards the fish in a manner that the net and fish meet head on. A fish can easily swim out of a net that is scooping towards it from the side or behind, so make it easier on yourself, avoid the gong show of chasing after a fish swatting and swinging at it’s tail no matter how “stalled” the fish appears.
2. Element of surprise is critical. You don’t want to put the net in front of the fish too soon, as it will see it and have time to turn away. The head-first scoop needs to happen in one swift, deliberate motion that catches the fish off guard. Play the fish until it tires to the point you can bring it within range of the net. Prepare for the fish to swing past, and just as it’s approaching your reach, make the move with the net quickly. One shot may be all you get, so focus and make it count!
3. Lead your target. Just like shooting at a fast flying bird, you need to anticipate where to aim so the net hits the water directly ahead of the fish. Clearly this varies on if/how fast the fish is moving and in what sort of water. But be aware, if your scoop is timed wrong and lags, you may hit the fish in the head with the rim of the net and likely break if off.
4. Heads up. Try to get the fish’s head up, ideally out of the water and the fish into a forward “slide” so it glides right into the net head first. This is easier to coordinate if you are netting your own fish and are in control of the rod. If you are netting for someone else, try to communicate with each other and work as a team to make the move when the fish has tired enough to allow it’s head to lift up out of the water slightly. Avoid attempting to net a fish under water, always make your move when the fish is up on the surface.
5. Let ‘em breathe. Once the fish is in the net, there is no need to hold the net high with the fish out of the water and gasping. If anything this is going to cause the fish to thrash and cause a big mess with your fly. If the fish is in the net it’s not going anywhere, so unless it’s headed for the grill or freezer, do it a favor and keep the fish in the net in the water while it’s unhooked, revived, and released. It’s also a good idea to dip your net before the fish goes in so it avoids contact with dry material.
Next in Part 4, we will cover tips for getting the best photographs of your catch.