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.
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.
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