I’ve had a thing about nets for a while as an angler. As a guide, it’s my most important tool. It’s what I introduce anglers to fish with. As an angler, my net is the 2nd most important piece of gear I own after a fly rod.
Nets aren’t expensive. As long as it’s got a rubber net it’ll do just fine. A fancy net is not required but any net should be. I see too many anglers without a net riverside. This is a problem.
When you don’t have a net, it tells me one of two things. One: that you don’t expect to catch fish. Which is a whole other blog post about confidence. Two: it means you catch fish but have no proper or respectful way to land them. Unless you are keeping your catch a net should always be how a fish is landed. Dragging catch and release trout onto the bank is bad. Period. There is no argument to be had. If you aren’t using a net and you’re dragging fish onto the bank to land them, you are doing it wrong.
There isn’t any real excuse not to have a net. Every fly shop, Cabelas, or mom and pop outdoor store has fishing nets for sale. Many under 30 dollars, which compared to what most anglers spend on gear, is nothing. Even the shwanky fly shops got wicked nice nets for under 50 bucks. So buy a net if you plan on fishing.
Dragging fish up on the bank means a few things. It means you aren’t playing the fish strategically, meaning working the trout to the point where netting is possible. This means the trout is getting overly stressed. Playing trout up into the bank causes unnecessary stress in a few ways. The fish can be battered and bruised while fighting along the shallows and rocks, they have a higher chance of rolling and getting tangled in the line or dropper or trailer flies. It also means that an angler is unable to get the fish close enough to them that they can’t net it which means either the fish is too big for you’re set up and you need to up your rod weight, or you don’t deserve that fish yet. Part of fly fishing is playing the fish to net. Fly rods are harder to land fish on and are designed for that purpose and process. Underweighting your rod looks cool in bent photos and makes fish feel bigger, but it’s not good for the fish.
Trout should be landed in less than 10 minutes. 2 to 5 minutes is the average for most fish. After 10 to 12 minutes of fighting an angler in any water conditions, trout mortality jumps to 30%. This means that within the next 12 to 24 hrs, that trout has a 30% chance of kicking the bucket unable to recover from its encounter with an angler. Add any other negative variable for the trout in that situation, and that percentage increases. Warm water temps, a higher percentage of dying after 10 minutes, heavy heavy current, same, dragging them up onto the bank and not using a net…same.
This is why I teach anglers to use proper weighted rods, play fish offensively not defensively, and use a net and play fish to the net. It takes practice and is an integral part of fly fishing and how it is different from other methods. It is a craft and skill to net fish. Just like a cast, a presentation, or playing a fish. Netting is a skill you need to master to be considered a good fly angler.
I’m not trying to shame or call anyone out. This is education with a little frustration. I’ve seen a lot of changes in this industry over almost 2 decades. There are a lot of new anglers with no nets. I used to keep a half dozen cheap hand nets just to pass out to anglers that I saw riverside without one. Buy a net.
Fly shops should also be selling you a net. If you buy a fly rod and still don’t have a net you need one. They are an easy upsell for fly shops, they don’t have to be expensive, and it is part of your tool kit for fly fishing. If your local fly shop doesn’t carry nets ask them too. If they are those fancy wood handled 200 dollar nets, go to the fishing gear store and buy a cheap frabill rubber net for 22 bucks. Learn to use it.
Netting requires you to counter and play fish by closing the gap. Not chasing a fish all over the place. Learning to move a fish into position depending on where in the water it’s hooked, learning to anticipate fish movements and how they react to the play of the encounter, the current a trout has to come through, the power of the rod, and an anglers physical ability all come into play. As I said, netting fish is a craft and a skill that is lost somewhere between casts and fly selections.
Learning to net fish solo is harder than in tandem. It takes practice and lots of failed encounters with fish as you learn to play them through trial and error. That’s experience. With a partner, you’re able to play the fish to the net with help, and the landing rate increases. But all of the skills can still be honed and perfected as you develop your fly angling abilities.
Fly fishing isn’t quick and easy. It has many layers with lots of steep learning curves. There are no real shortcuts. Guides help teach and get you leveled up faster. Good ones do. But nothing will beat personal experience and time on the water.
After learning the basic cast, fly fishing only opens up with more things to learn. From mending to setting the hook, to landing, to handling the fish. There is a lot. Netting trout is no different.
Wading clinics, trips, and even float trips always give guides the opportunity to teach playing and landing fish to net. Don’t hesitate to ask how to get better at it. It’s a struggle to get fish to net even for me some days. We still miss fish due to netting mistakes on my part as a guide. It happens. After a while, it happens less and less, but it still happens. Eventually, you land 80% of your hooked into fish, and that’s about as good as it gets.
If you’re an angler that finds themselves not getting fish to net while encountering a good number of them…it tells you that your skills at playing trout need fine tuning. Maybe the rod is too small. Maybe you’re playing them too offensively, maybe not enough. Starting to break down each encounter with a lost fish and finding the moment the fish got the advantage is how you learn to get better. It’s unique to each fish encounter, but eventually, you’ll start to see patterns in how they fight. How they move, what tension at what angle in that current gets the fish to behave this way. Then you can predict the trout, read the water for playing and landing the fish, and move the fish through the river with a purpose and goal instead of just hanging on and hoping they tire out. A tired fish is a fish that needs more time to recover, and that is done in a net. Not while tailing them on the bank. They need to be properly handled even after a 2 to 5 minute encounter so they have a higher survival rate. Otherwise, what’s the point of releasing them? The ability to do this for the trout is only through the use of a net.
There are lots of nets. I wade with my boat net. Yes, my net is a 200-plus dollar net. It’s lasted me over 5 seasons of heavy use. It is over 4ft long, which gives me a huge reach and advantage when netting fish on foot or in the boat. It has a wide custom-made basket to scoop and net fish easier and quicker. And it looks nice because I like nice things for my troots and to show off fish to clients. Nets come in all shapes and sizes. I recommend a longer handled net or one that extends. Doesn’t have to be expensive, rubber net. That’s all.
So there’s my blog on nets before we get going. I want to see anglers with nets and no more photos of fish on the bank. Quit it. Get good at using a net or pay to be taught how to use one better. We take lessons for rowing, casting, tying, and netting fish is part of the skill set of a fly angler. So give it the necessary attention. I have become rather good at this skill. It was through a lot of trial and error and just days on the water missing fish. It’s part of the process of getting good at this gig. Learning and getting better at netting and landing fish is an advanced skillset, so be stoked to have made it there. You’re finding fish, now let’s get them to net like a fly angler!
I hope this helps persuade anglers to use a net. Don’t take offense if you haven’t used a net in the past. We are always learning and improving in fly fishing. There are lots of ways to play and land fish. I have developed my way over the years with inspiration and education from others.
A lot of thought goes into playing and landing fish as a guide when working with clients. It’s an advanced skill for a guide, too. We have to get really good at it, or we suck at our job in a way. I’ve landed thousands of fish over the years. I can tell you that it does get easier with practice. There is a point when setting the hook, playing the fish, reading the water through the encounter, and finding success and high landing rates clicks into place for an angler. Time, patience, missed fish, learning through trout encounters, and maybe a lesson or guide trip that teaches you some things about netting fish will pay out in the end.
See ya riverside anglers…with a net.