I wanted to write about something a little different this month. No, not the Democratic debates. I figured I would talk about something that many fishermen take for granted and I’ve never understood why: Landing nets.
A net is probably the simplest thing when fishing, but it can become the most important when it’s really needed. And yet, most people want to go cheap on this vital piece of equipment. It boggles my mind.
You want to take up fishing. OK, let’s price it out. We’ll say $60,000 for a good new boat (half that if you don’t mind used). Then you need rods and reels. Serious fishermen will buy at least three: A lightweight rod and reel for artificial lures, an everyday rod and reel in the 3000 or 4000 class, and a heavy rod and reel for bigger game.
By the time you’re done buying quality gear, you’re looking at about $1,000 to $1,200 on the generous side (and double that if your wife fishes.) You’re also going to need tackle, safety equipment for the boat, gas, oil, maintenance, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It adds up.
But almost each and every new angler will do the same thing: Buy a $9.99 landing net simply because it’s cheap. You spent thousands on everything else, but you cheap out on the thing that gets your fish of a lifetime from the water into the boat? Come on, people!
Now, you don’t need a $500 landing net, but you do need one that’s well made. Think about its disrespected life. You’re going to throw it in a rod holder, and it’s basically going to spend its life there.
Even if you’re a catch-and-release fisherman, you’re going to use it if you catch a big fish. You’re probably never going to clean or rinse it. So it sits in that rod holder, sucking up the Florida sun for a year or two — and the next time you go to grab it, it turns to dust because the mesh is all dry-rotted.
Or you’re sitting out on the flats and catching trout by the dozen on artificials with treble hooks. And you’re a caring fisherman, so you net every trout to keep from beating them up, taking off any slime, and releasing them healthy. How many treble hooks have you had to dig out of that mesh?
And then there is “what size,” “how long,” and all that other jazz that needs considered. There is nothing worse than losing a legal cobia for dinner because your net is too small. (Been there, done that!)
A little thought needs to go into your net choice after all.
I like a strong net. Something that can take that legal cobia being hoisted over the side of the boat. So I look at handle and hoop construction and material.
I prefer a good aluminum hoop and handle because steel just rusts and leaves stains everywhere if you don’t clean and rinse it (which, if I’m being honest, I usually don’t).
Then there is net material itself. There are all kinds of materials the actual net can be made of. Cheap nets are usually a small-diameter nylon rope. Those are the ones that are a pain to get the hooks out of. Rubber is becoming popular but dry-rots quicker. I like the rubber-coated nylon mesh. It’s easy to get hooks out of and a tad bit stronger.
There are collapsible nets where the mesh bag folds into the handle. These are great nets — they have a large hoop, a nice thick handle and are very strong. I don’t have rod holders big enough to fit one, and that’s the only reason I don’t have a collapsible net. I have no storage on my boat big enough to hold them.
The amount of freeboard on your boat is a factor also. That’s how high your gunnel is off the water. If your boat is 3 feet off the water, a net with a 12 inch handle isn’t going to be very helpful. And if you have a skinny little flats boat, a net with a 4-foot handle is overkill and will just be in your way all day long.
Something so simple does need a little thought, so consider what you need and then buy a good one. If you miss a quality fish because you cheaped out on the net, you’re gonna kick yourself for a while. Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to?
Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. Contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.