9 Tips for Netting Big Fish on Your Own

22 comments / Posted on / by

Photo by Dan Flynn

Photo by Dan Flynn

Elation, panic and epiphany. That’s the usual order of emotions when an angler lands their first big trout.

I had the pleasure of seeing a dear friend land his first trophy trout recently and I think that’s a pretty fair description. I think it’s pretty common for anglers landing their first plus-size fish to think, “Oh shit! What do I do now?” To the guy who is used to dangling a fish by the tippet, scooping an angry, hook-jawed behemoth with a trout net is daunting. Once you’ve done it a few times it becomes second nature but for those who are struggling (or yet to struggle) with it, here are a few tips.

Timing is everything

Netting a green fish, a fish who isn’t ready, is a losing proposition. On the other hand, playing a fish too long can kill them. Not to mention give them ample opportunity to unbutton. As long as a fish is holding himself upright in the water and keeping his head down, he is not ready for the net. Once he rolls on his side and comes to the surface, it’s time to net him. The first time this happens he may right himself again and make another run. The second time you should be ready to seal the deal.

Net the fish at the surface

As long as a fish has his head submerged he is in control. If you try to scoop a fish below the surface your odds are very poor. He can turn quickly to make his escape and there’s a good chance that you will catch the line with the net and break him off. Lift your rod tip high as you reach for the fish and keep his nose out of the water. As long as his nose is dry he can’t make a break for it.

Net the head

Don’t try to scoop a big fish from behind. You might get away with this on a little guy but a fish with a serious prop will motor right back out of the net. Fish do not have a reverse. Put his head in the net first and he’s got nowhere to go.

Control your fish

Use the fish’s momentum to bring him to the net. Fish have no brakes. Steer his head to you, keep him moving and keep his nose up and he will glide right into the net. Remember, you’re the boss. You dictate the terms.

Keep your leader free of the guides

Many fish are lost at the net because the loop knot of the leader hangs in the tip top when the fish makes a run. It’s smart to leave the connection of the leader to the fly line outside the guides just in case.

Choose your battleground

There’s no reason to land a fish in fast water if soft water is available. Find a soft edge or an eddy with water at least knee deep. Avoid bringing the fish into shallow water where he will panic and be hard to manage. Avoid swift water where mistakes are amplified.

Maximize your reach

Use every advantage you have to put the fish in the net. This means your full arm span as well as the full length of your rod. Reach your rod hand out and up behind you with the reel turned away. When you scoop the fish angle your body to him and reach quickly with a fully extended net arm. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style! This gives you the reach you need and will keep you from breaking your rod.

Bring enough net

A net with a large rubber basket is the ticket when landing a trophy fish. That said, sometimes we get a happy surprise. If your net is not big enough to capture at least two-thirds of the fish, you are better off tailing it. Make a locking grip just in front of the fish’s tail with your thumb and middle finger. You can safely put a lot of pressure on a fish here so don’t be shy. A wild fish, who is big enough to need tailing, will have a tail large enough to hold. A pellet pig will have a disproportionately small tail and be more of a challenge. Whatever you do, please do not resort to beaching the fish. It’s a good way to kill them.

Don’t panic

Maybe the most important thing to remember is to keep your cool. This may be your first big fish, but it will not be your last. Take your time, get your footing and keep your wits about you. Be the net!

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be netting big fish like a pro before you know it. Once you get the first couple under your belt the rest are easy. Just stay focused on the basics, make a plan, and take your shot when it comes. You’re going to look great in that hero shot.

Want to learn more about netting fish? Read these articles.

Are You An Extreme Net Man?

3 Tips For Netting Trophy Trout From A Drift Boat


Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

22 thoughts on “9 Tips for Netting Big Fish on Your Own

    • Consider “pellet pig” an endearing term for our stocked trout that get placed in private, and public, waters here in the south, and are fed a heavy dose of trout chow…aka pellets. Louis is right, these trout have small tails, small mouths, and disproportionately large bellies and bodies which makes it difficult to handle these guys. So bring a big net! It ain’t got anything to do with class. This blog is as about as classy, informative, and innovative as you’re going to find. And no one is trying to take anything away from these trout. Our pellet pigs are just as much fun to catch, and can be just as challenging to catch as a wild trout. The nickname has stuck over many many years, and it’s just the reality of it. Ain’t no sense in getting all rattled over it.

      • Here at the edge of trout water in the deep south, trout sometimes find themselves in marginal water in temps and food. Unlike spring creeks or water with reliable hatches, folks sometimes need to supplement with trout food to make up for stress and a shorter time for fish to grow. Overfeeding (or overeating) by fish in certain areas can result in fish described in the post as “pellet pigs.” I am not aware why using this term is “low class.” It is a term of endearment for us.

      • If the guy who made that statement wants to see what “no class” looks like I would suggest that he go look in the mirror.
        Just my opinion.

  1. Great post Louis! Can’t find a better set of tips than these when it comes to netting big trout. I recently did the opposite of everything you just listed, and worse yet, I knew I was doing it. My good friend had hooked into the biggest trout either one of us had ever seen. We were fishing to it in the tail of a pool, and it finally took a small bwo nymph. Did I mention It was a big male brown that was well over the thirty mark? I’m talking Hog Johnson. Looking back on it, we were doomed from the get go, but we gave him a run for his money. It all ended in utter heartbreak when the 7x tippet had finally had enough. I wish we had played that fish differently, and not tried to net it when we did (poor timing, short and small net, head down, crappy place to land it, etc). I knew better, but in the excitement, and with my buddy dancing like a giddy schoolgirl next to me, I went for it. He turned, created slack in the line, and then turned again and went screaming up stream……..plink! Done. You live and you learn, but that was a hard one to swallow. In the excitement of it all you just have to learn to slow it down and keep your cool.

    • We’ve all “been there, done that” Justin. I’ve fished “a long time” and like you said, I know better.
      I was recently fishing alone on the Sixes River here in OR and hooked a huge Chinook salmon on my spey rod (probably the biggest I’ve ever hooked) & did all the right things to get him to the net.
      When I finally got him in close enough to start thinking about netting him I finally realized how big he was & just went goofy. If anyone had been there to watch they would have probably thought I was swatting flies of something with the net. After one of my jabs with the net he decided he’d had enough & hit the afterburners back into deeper water and “plink” went the tippet and bye bye went my trophy salmon. I am still PO’ed at myself for being such a dufus.
      Well, “next time” eh ??

      • Somewhat recently, I hooked a brownie that was mid 20s and most likely lake run…it took a very long time to land him because a number of reasons..it was all slow water and my rod and tippet setup were under matched for such a strong fish..this fish wasn’t getting tired and I couldn’t put any leverage on this guy without breaking..we would go 3,4,5 minute periods at complete standoff..about halfway through this I was starting to feel like I wish I hadn’t of hooked this fish because this was getting dangerous for him..eventually more than a football field length away from the beginning I was able to net this unbelievable animal…I let him breath for a few minutes before I took a couple quick photos and then he was free..he spent a couple minutes not far from me still reviving but eventually swam away..things don’t always go the way you’d like them to when trying capture a wild animal.

  2. Great post, Louis. Sometimes you know stuff well enough to do it, but not well enough to teach it. Your outline is a comprehensive guide for helping someone master big fish on their own. Helps all of us pass on good habits to those who need a little help.

  3. The art of fly fishing does not end with the cast or the take..landing and handling fish are art forms..learn to harmonize with the fish and all of nature and you will do fine..being a dense human going against the grain will never be an advantage.

  4. Great post!
    I’ve lost a few fish at the netting stage due to lack of tension. I never knew how to maximize my reach, especially with making sure the loop knot didn’t get into the guides. Throw on a 9′ leader and 2-3′ of tippet and I was basically convinced in my mind I would lose a good amount of fish fumbling around.
    Long story short, I got a longer handled net and that took care of the problem. 🙂
    Haven’t lost one since. Still waiting to run into the “fish too big for the net” problem, patiently waiting….

  5. This could be one of the most helpful posts I’ve read in a long time! I really appreciate the comment of shallow water. I always think you want to avoid anywhere the fish can get leverage and shake the hook. I’m going to pass your advice on to a couple of guys who often lose their fish at the net.

  6. This is why I have an extendable folding net.
    None of these problems. Only downside; it is a bit too heavy for those magnets, so getting it off my back can be quite difficult.

  7. Pingback: A Team Approach To Landing Big Fish | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  8. Pingback: Netting Big Fish On Your Own | MidCurrent

  9. This is a reminder for me to be more vigilant when netting a good fish! Also to remember the important points you make and those advocated by Landon Mayer in his book SIGHT FISHING FOR TROUT.
    One point I would add to those you mention, stay as close to the fish as possible so if necessary you can guide the fish or the line away from potential problems like large rocks or snags. Doing so will require moving, running and the possibility of stumbling and or falling. Do be careful but stay with the fish if at all possible!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...