There are few moments in a fishing day filled with more anxiety than the instant you realize that you have a very large fish on and no dip net in the boat. The only thing worse than not having a net when a trophy fish first appears is having it knocked off by an inept netting attempt, or having the hook get tangled in the webbing with your prize halfway in the net - and halfway to freedom.
Modern nets have come a long way since the early days of fishing, and the most popular innovation today is coated, knotless nets. The absence of knots is an advantage to both the fish and the angler. Coated nets are less likely to snag hooks and deteriorate due to UV protection and are also gentler on the fish's skin. With an increasing number of fish being released today, you want to make sure you're doing the right thing and release them in good condition.
Knots tend to be more abrasive on a fish's delicate skin and knots are also more likely to snag hooks because of their raised surface. Wide mesh nets also are a problem sometimes, splitting the tails or fins of fish when they are hefted out of the water in an agitated state. A mesh of 3/4-inches or less is the best size for protecting the fish, and this size will also be small enough that if you do get a cut or broken part of your mesh, it won't be large enough for even small fish to escape.
A major factor in net selection is the targeted species you most often pursue. Multi-species nets are available; however, if you concentrate on one species of fish the majority of the time, it's best to purchase your net based on that fish. Why have a really big net under foot, on the chance that you might catch a big northern some day? On the other side of the coin, if you fish for walleye one weekend, northern the next and hit the smallies hard in between, a multi-species net makes a lot of sense.
If you are more of a specialist, consider selecting a net that's designed specifically for what you catch most. For walleye, nets with a hoop of 21 to 23 inches are recommended, and for bass or panfish select a model with a 20-inch hoop and shallower net. You need a net that is wide enough to make netting your fish easy, but not so large that it's a storage problem or is hard to handle. All you need is enough net to handle the job, anything bigger than that has the potential to cause a problem.
A bag that's too big will allow the fish to roll and tangle in the mesh, which can result in a lot of valuable fishing time wasted, not to mention a stressed fish and angler. This problem can be particularly disconcerting at night when lighting is limited and none of your buddies want to hold the flashlight because the bite's on.
For salmon and trout, consider the way you fish. Hand-held models are available for the stream fisherman and longer-handled designs simplify the task of getting a big fish over the gunnels of a boat.
Handle selection is another area where you'll have a choice with better nets being offered with several different options. With Cabela's Deluxe Weighted nets, you can select from several lengths of handles; 36, 48, and the ultimate-reach handle that telescopes from 36" all the way out to 72". This extra-long handle can come in handy when the wind is blowing you away from the fish, or high waves make it necessary to net the fish as soon as possible to avoid breaking it off in heavy swells.
Anglers who fish extra long snells prefer a very long handle because they still have a long line out when the swivel gets to the rod tip. Trollers, as well, prefer long handled nets because they can net the fish before it comes close to their motor. Big fish that aren't hooked well often come unbuttoned close to the boat when prop wash and heightened activity increase the odds of loss. With the extra few feet of a long-handle net, you can reach out and bag them quickly
Denny Brauer has come up with another unique innovation that is ideal for bass fishermen, who often fish alone, or simply don't trust their partner to handle the job. The Denny Brauer Signature Series bass net has a unique upper-arm support and foam grip that makes it ideal for landing a fish unassisted. This net is not only effective, it's very lightweight and comfortable to use and easy to store.
The most common sense feature in nets today is one that seems like a natural, but just came on the scene recently. Weighted nets have a series of weights sewn into the webbing, down the backside of the net. The weights pull the net down into the water quickly and open up the mesh for a fast and safe scoop. With a weighted net, you won't have to dip the net down and then up to open up the bag, it'll be open by the time you get to the fish.
If your boat has limited storage or not much space in general, you might want to consider the StowMaster net. This innovative design has a hoop that collapses and then the entire hoop assembly slides down on the handle for a much smaller storage profile.
With all of these things to consider, there's one more factor that can make or break a good scoop, and I mean that literally. Thin aluminum breaks under stress, especially after its been stepped on. The quality of the construction in a net is not always evident from a casual observation. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and with nets that seems to be more evident than in some pursuits. Cheap nets are priced that way because they're made of thinner walled aluminum material, lighter mesh netting, and are generally not coated.
Unfortunately, some anglers have to lose a nice fish by breaking the hoop of their net before they step up to a better quality net. If this happens to you, don't throw the net in the water in a fit of rage. Besides being the wrong thing to do, polluting the environment with your trash, the handle will make a good stake for your wife's tomato plants. Take it home, score some points in that department, and buy a quality net. You'll be a much happier angler.
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