What’s in a net?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

My indicator drops below the turbulent surface and my rod bends over as I come tight to a nice rainbow trout.

Her initial reaction took her further into the head of the deep run, shaking her head violently in an attempt to escape the grasp of my hook. As this trout began to hunker down in the current, I applied some low, downstream side pressure, which she didn’t like at all. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, she darted downstream, leaving me in the rear-view with zero intentions of returning.

I was fishing with my buddy, Blake, who is new to fly fishing. This was the first fish that he had seen on a hot, downstream run. As this rainbow steadily peeled line from my reel, I looked over at Blake and instructed him to grab the net and get after it, but just as Blake began making his move downstream this trout shot through a small chute with several branches that hung just above the current on the opposite bank. As I reeled down to keep up, I waded my way towards the obstacle that I was sure was going to end this fight. I had my buddy come to the downstream side of the chute so I could pass my rod under and through the branches. After successfully making it through all the foliage without breaking off, I let Blake take over the fight.

I grabbed the net and hit the bank running so I could gain some ground on this crazy trout. About thirty yards later, I finally made it well downstream of her and stepped further into the water. I knew if I could get in front of her, then I would likely turn her back upstream and stop this crazy train. With her head now turned back upstream, and, seemingly, calmer, we were able to play this fish into the net quite easily. No doubt, this fish was likely as worn out as we were after all that!

Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself having a conversation with Louis about anglers who feel that if they themselves don’t net their own fish, then they consider that catch “incomplete”. It’s as if they feel the need to put an asterisk by that memory because they either asked for, or received, assistance to land a fish.

While I can certainly respect these anglers’ stance on the matter, for me, it doesn’t take away from my experience. Am I always going to have someone net a fish for me? Well no, but it will also always depend on the situation at hand. I’m not going to have someone net a native brook trout for me, but, in my opinion, there are times when having a good net man is beneficial to both angler and fish. In reference to the scenario above, if I wanted to land that fish, then I was going to have to work with my buddy, or risk losing the fish altogether. On top of that, it was just downright fun.

Now, when we fish alone of course,  we must net and land our own fish. I know for me, though, there have been situations where I would have killed for a net man. Sometimes though, even with fish that I know I could net myself, I’m still going to let my fishing buddy net them if they are able, or want, to do so. I’m just not going to let my ego, or whatever it may be, get in the way of landing a fish and handing some credit over to the person behind the net. I’m not out chasing IGFA records or anything like that.

I realize that this is simply angler preference, and to each his/her own. In the past, I’ve asked both friends and other anglers I’ve come across if they would like assistance in netting fish that they were fighting, or maybe even struggling with. I’ve found that most people welcome the help, but I have had a handful of folks politely decline my offer to which I take no offense. I just give them a “have a great day” and carry on with my fishing.

How do you feel about this topic? Is it a big deal whether or not you net your own fish? Does it take anything away from your experience as an angler? Give us your feedback!

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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12 thoughts on “What’s in a net?

  1. Having a good net man almost always decreases the time taken to land a fish, causing less wear and tear. When I land a fish myself, I feel the need to play them longer to tire them out…not as good for the fish.

    And some days, you just want to land a lot. When they are really “on” it can be a blast to get them in the boat and off the line quickly to get the fly back in the water.

  2. Having a net man is fine, but to what degree? Does a netted fish (talking trout here) 40′ away count as a landed fish? If my net man (if needed, as I generally net my own fish, unless fishing out of my drift boat) is further away than arm’s reach, than I did not land said fish. Or at least that’s the rules we play by where I fish.

  3. Depends on how the netting is done. Netting a fish 10 to 50 yards downstream of the fish is a lot different than a guide netting a trout at the gunwale of a drift boat. I’ve seen salmon and steelhead netted from so far away it is a stretch for the angler to claim they actually landed the fish. If played properly, there should be no extra stress on a fish netted by the angler. Personally I need to net my own fish to make it a “complete” catch. There are instances where a lone angler more skillfully plays out a trout but loses it at his feet yet the guy across the river had his fish netted from distance without exhibiting the skill of the angler who lost his fish. I have heard it said that for a “catch-an-release” to “count”, only the leader needs to be touched. Bottom line, to net or have net-man is a very subjective issue and a personal feeling that usually changes with experience. Interesting topic of discussion. Thanks.

  4. Totally agree! Good on ya! Net the big ones quick as possible, get a quick picture and slide them back in the home. Is our pride it ego or social media post worth that fishes life?

  5. What about a guide backing down the boat on a big fish or gunning the engine to take up the slack when a wahoo makes an awkward run? Or a dialed in buddy who chooses the fly, points out the pocket to cast into, knows which steam to go to in the first place?

    None of it makes a difference unless the angler chooses to make it an issue, a personal challenge maybe. Nothing wrong with sharing a catch, however.

  6. Haha to be real, I had no idea that this was a topic of discussion among anglers. I am still at step one: trying to catch a fish like the one in the article… lol!

  7. I try to pay very little attention to folks opining over what does and what does not constitute a real “catch” in fly fishing. I’ve caught remote, native trout on flies I tied myself from feathers plucked off ducks I shot. And I’ve had my friends net stocked GL steelhead I’ve caught on egg flies and beads. Enjoyed all of it.

  8. Honestly, as someone who fishes the GSMNP pretty much exclusively having a good net man when targeting large fish is almost mandatory. Fishing here almost always implies light tippet (5x-6x) and delicate presentation due to the clarity of the water and vast amount of pressure the park receives during the spring and summer months. Is it impossible to land a large fish on 6x without a net man? The answer is no most people are capable of accomplishing the task, having a buddy with a net just makes it a whole lot easier. It often saves me from stumbling my way down the river trying to catch up with a big brown that decided he wanted to relocate 50 yards downstream. It’s also really nice to have someone to operate the camera and celebrate a nice fish with, so for me i think it adds more to the experience more than it removes.

  9. prefer to net my own fish, but if it can reduce the stress on the fish, perfectly happy to get netted by a friend. The fish aren’t playing.

    once as a teenager I’d hooked a 10lb brown on a spoon, since the gusting 30-40mph winds were beyond my flycasting abilities. A passing stranger leaped down the rock wall and netted it for me in his huge net, just as the hook tore out of the fish’s lip.. I was very grateful to the stranger.
    It started a friendship which lasted until we moved to opposite ends of the earth (NZ and USA).

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