By Mike Gnatkowski | gnatoutdoors.com
When it comes to the art of fishing, the two most critical and exciting junctures are at the strike and when the fish comes to net. If the fish strikes aggressively and the hooks are sharp, the fish gets hooked solidly, and battling the fish is largely a matter of rod pressure and patience.
The most tenuous moment is when the fish nears the boat. With less line out, there is less stretch, and mistakes are magnified. Too much pressure can pull hooks out; not enough, and the fish can shake free.
Assuming neither happens, netting must be a coordinated effort between the angler and the person wielding the net. Done correctly, the fish is in the net and, consequently, in the boat before it really knows what happened.
Approach the netting process in an unsynchronized and haphazard manner, however, and you’ll be lamenting the big one that got away.
If you’re just fun fishing, losing a fish will be the source of a story that will be retold many times. If it’s during a tournament or on a guided trip, it can have more drastic consequences.
Plenty of Options
Part of the equation for successfully netting fish is to have the right tool for the job. Anglers should consider the type and size of the fish they expect to encounter to pick the proper net. A net that’s perfect for one type of fish may be totally inadequate for another.
Elements to consider when choosing a net should include the following:
• Hoop diameter and size
• Handle length and composition
• Bag depth, color and composition
Bass anglers should consider Frabill’s line of Conservation Series nets. Conservation Series nets are designed with safe catch and release in mind. All nets in this series feature 100 percent knotless mesh netting, which eliminates injuries commonly caused by sharp knots. Knots also tend to scrape away the slime layer on fish, which can leave them vulnerable to infection.
These nets also have flat, linear bottoms that reduce fish rolling and support the weight of the entire fish. Tangle-free coating prevents hooks from entangling in the nets and facilitates quick release. Mesh guard hoops resist wear and greatly extend the life of the nets. Plus, the 20-inch-by-23-inch and 23-inch-by-26-inch Conservation Series nets should meet the needs of most bass fanatics.
While the Conservation Series nets are meant to treat fish with a gentle touch, they are anything but wimpy. The first impression you get when picking one up is strength. The heavy-duty aluminum handle is strong enough to be used as a push pole. Been there, done that.
What’s more, I’ve seen lighter yokes on oxen. The net yoke is made of hard, thick, nearly indestructible material that will endure a lifetime of use and features Frabill’s patented Pow’R Lok automatic yoke system.
The mesh guard hoop on these nets means the bag loops are recessed into the hoop instead of looped around it, which leaves one less thing to snag on when getting ready to net a fish. The solid black hoop and sure-grip handle are nice finishing touches.
Another option for bass anglers is Frabill’s Crankbait Net. It took two years of development, but Frabill finally came up with a net specifically designed to keep crankbaits, stickbaits and other multi-hook lures from becoming entangled in the netting.
We’ve all been there. Net a fish hooked on a crankbait, and once the fish is in the boat it starts flopping, creating a nightmare snarl. Not anymore.
With the Crankbait Net your net-tangling frustrations are over. The Crankbait Net is also available in 20-inch-by-23-inch and 23-inch-by-26-inch models with various handle lengths.
Frabill offers a couple of options when it comes to scaling back the overall size of the net for storage and transport.
The key premise here is that these nets will fit into most live wells, even in an overly geared-up bass boat.
Frabill’s Folding Net comes in 18-inch-by-16-inch and 22-inch-by-20-inch sizes that take up little space when collapsed, but they are readily available when it comes time to scoop up a 10-pound toad.
The Power Stow Net comes in 20-inch-by-24-inch and 14-inch-by-18-inch models. The hoop in the Power Stow folds in half, and the handle retracts for easy storage.
Handle length is largely a matter of personal preference, but it’s also dictated by the height of your transom and the amount of room you have for storage. Handles can stretch from 2 to 8 feet or more. When in doubt, remember it’s always better to have a net handle that’s too long than one that’s too short.
Bag and hoop color are worthy of consideration, too. Most anglers prefer net bags made from a dark material to prevent spooking fish prior to netting. Wave a flashing net over a fish near the surface, and that fish is likely to panic. Dark, anodized hoops and handles and dark bags help keep things calm at the moment of truth.
The Art of Netting Fish
Netting fish is an art form. When done properly, the process is a coordinated effort using a quick, fluid motion that results in a fish flopping on the floor or in the live well.
The angler needs to stay at the back or side of the boat to keep track of the fish and fight it until it’s ready to be netted. Only then should the person with the net step in front of the angler.
The angler should be lifting and bringing the fish closer as the netter brings the net up under the fish. The angler needs to be prepared in case the fish makes a sudden run or burst. Done properly, the netter should only have to lift the net as the angler leads the fish over the hoop.
One important point is knowing when a fish is ready to be netted. The fish should be within easy netting distance and show signs of tiring. Usually, the fish will be lying on its side, almost gliding as it’s being towed toward the boat.
The idea is to slip the net under the fish headfirst without touching the fish until it is centered in the net. You can then put the net handle straight up in the air, effectively closing the net bag or swing the hoop into the boat.
Be careful when using nets with long handles. Wielding a long net handle around while paying attention to the fish and not to others in the boat can result in a knock on the noggin or worse.
Most fish are lost at the boat because of indecision or by being too anxious. Have a positive attitude that you can easily scoop the fish. Wait until the fish is well within range and shows signs of tiring.
Don’t reach. More fish are lost at this critical juncture because the netter reaches for the fish at the same time the angler gives the fish slack. If you reach too far, the net will flow out in front of the hoop and the fish is likely to get caught in the netting before it’s safely in the net. As a result, the hooks can get caught in the net and the fish shakes free.
To prevent this, don’t reach and hold the bag against the handle until the fish is over the net. Then open your hand to release the bag.
Once the fish is in the boat the angler needs to release the tension on the line or give some slack to prevent the hook from flying out and causing injury.
Netting must be a coordinated effort. Done right, it means sweet success and high-fives all around.