How to Net a Fish: A Simple Method for Success

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Netting a fish looks easy, but many anglers struggle with the basics of it and lose at the last moment fish that they’ve managed to fool and fight to submission.

This article goes through the basics of netting a fish to ensure you land pretty every fish that you get to your feet.

I will explain the process for netting a fish where there are two anglers, one fighting the fish and the other holding the net and then go on to discuss netting a fish yourself, although the principles are the same.

The safest way to net a fish is for the angler to fight the fish until it is tired and then – having told the net person to get ready – to lift the fishes head up so it is pointing upwards and guide it into the net.

The key to this is to get the fishing net in position first and for the angler to swing the fish in head first, but with the head up so that the fish can’t get great purchase on the water in cast it goes for a final run.

Bringing it in head first also means that if it does go on a surge, it will actually swim directly into the net!

Here is a video that shows the correct landing process. The worst thing the net holder can do is to move the net about and try to actively net the fish – instead let the angler control things and steer the fishing into the net with the leverage from the rod tip.

All the net holder has to do is lift with the net handle with a scooping motion when the fish is securely held in the net.

If you are fishing on your own, the same procedure works just as well. Fight the fish until you know it is tired, then get your net in position with your non rod hand. Then lift the fish’s head with the rod and guide it into the net. Make sure to keep scooping the net upwards and you’ll have the fished netted securely.

Netting a Fish from A Boat

To date we have been speaking about netting a fish when fishing from the shore or wade fishing, but what about boat fishing.

The same principles about getting the fish’s head up and leading it head first into the net apply.

Just remember if you are the next person to lift the rim of the net above the water’s surface when the angler has swung the fish in to cut off any possible escape path.

How to Avoid Problems Netting Fish

The safest way to net a fish is for the angler to fight the fish until it is tired and then to lift the fish’s head up so it is pointing upwards and guide it into the net.

The correct method to land a fish is very simple, so it is weird to see so many anglers struggling to do it. Here are some of the key mistakes we see that you should avoid when netting a fish.

1. Not lifting the fish’s head before netting it

This results in the fish surging away horizontally through the water and sometimes even breaking the line and finding freedom. Even a tired fish will find a surge of energy when it sees the net approaching and muster up one final run. If you haven’t lifted his head, this could well be the last you see of it.

2. Netting a fish by sticking the fishing net in front of its face

This one is even fraught with danger. Trying to block the fish’s path with the net is not a good way to net it. The fish will see the net and immediately alter course leaving you standing there with an empty net and no fish. Get the net in position first and swing the tiring fish in head first with vertical pressure on it to lift its head too. Lift the fishing net with a scooping motion to complete the landing process.

3. Trying to net a green fish

We don’t like playing out fish until they are so tired their chances of recovery are poor (if you are fishing catch and release), but a lot of anglers will be too hasty in trying to net a fish. A strong rainbow trout, for example, will often have two more runs in it than most anglers think and if you try to net it too early you may struggle to get its head up without breaking the line. And if your fishing partner is netting the fish and steps out to net it too early, if the fish zigs and zags the line can quite easily get tangled in their legs resulting in embarrassment and a lost fish. Over time you will recognise when a fish is net-ready.

4.Using too small a net

One trap to avoid is choosing a net that is too small. Yes, smaller landing nets are easier to carry, but you should base your net size on the size of a trophy fish, not the run of the mill fish you will encounter in that spot. A small net is only appropriate for small fish. You don’t want the trout (or other fish) of a lifetime to escape because you brought a landing net that was too small and you lost him trying to swing him into it.

 Final Thoughts on How to Net Fish

Knowing how to net fish the right way will make you land more fish successfully.

That summarizes our thoughts on netting fish. If you net fish the right way you will have very few problems landing fish.

Remember if you are fishing catch and release, keep the fish wet in the net while you are removing the hooks and only have it out of the water for a few seconds to take a picture. Mortality rates for released fish increase with time out of the water so be quick.

Avoid touching fish with bare hands as the temperature of your hands can “burn” the fish and remove the protective coating of slime that they have.

And finally consider using a silicon net rather than a cord based net as this material is more gentle on the fish’s skin and does catch their gill plates and fins or your flies and lures making for a quicker release.

Treble hooks can be a real nightmare to remove from cord based nets, whereas they tend not to get caught badly in bets with silicon or rubber material.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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