Why Don’t Saltwater Anglers Use Nets?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

It is just some kind of macho thing?

That’s a question I got from a reader a while back. It’s a good question and it raises an even better question. As saltwater anglers, should we use a net?

First off, it’s not accurate to say that all saltwater angler do no use nets. Tournament permit anglers, for example, use them. Hose guys are not going to take the chance of loosing a permit at the boat. Most saltwater anglers do not, however, and there are several good reasons.

The most obvious is the size of some of the fish we target in the salt. What kind of net would you use for a tarpon over a hundred pounds and how many guys would you want hanging on to it? It’s simply not practical.

What about species like bonefish, redfish and permit? Those fish will easily fit in a net. To understand why most anglers still land these fish by hand you need to understand a little about flats fishing.

It’s all about making one perfect shot. You’re standing on the bow with ninety feet of line stripped off in the floor hunting fish. When you find them, you may only get one shot and everything has to be perfect. Among the ten-thousand things that can go wrong is that ninety feet of line finding that landing net. Space is at a premium in a flats boat and finding a place for it, that’s out of the way is a challenge.

The biggest reason most saltwater anglers don’t use nets is that they don’t need them. Saltwater fish are not leader shy and the heavy leaders we fish give us plenty of control over fish to land them by hand. Even big fish like tarpon. Maybe, especially big fish like tarpon.

A six foot tarpon can break your neck with his tail. The safest way to land them is to grab the lower jaw with a landing glove, dislodge the hook and release them without ever taking them out of the water. Better for the angler and the fish. It’s illegal to take tarpon out of the water some places and it should be everywhere.

There really isn’t anything macho about it. Saltwater anglers have simply worked out a system that is effective and that’s how it’s done. But it does raise the question,

Would we sometimes be better off using a net?

DSC_1080 think maybe so. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust is now encouraging anglers to use nets when landing bonefish. I can see how this could be a good thing. We’ve all seen that guy, grinning ear to ear, with the perfect outline of a bonefish in slime on his shirt. I’ve certainly seen my share of bonefish mishandled by inexperienced anglers. A net would help in that situation. There are dangers in using nets as well but a good rubber net, used properly is very easy on the fish.

I don’t use a net to land bonefish myself. For me the best practice is to grab the leader and release the fish using my Rising, Crocodile tool, without ever touching it. If it’s a fish I’m going to photograph I like to leave the fly in his mouth and hold him by the leader until I’m ready. Then, only touching the fish with wet hands, I’ll lift him (if necessary) for no more than ten seconds.

Experienced anglers know that you never squeeze a fish. It can do serious damage to internal organs and it only makes holding the fish harder. When you squeeze a fish it panics. The harder you squeeze, the harder the fish will fight to get away. The best thing to do is place your hand under the fish with two fingers under the fish’s jaw where the weight can be supported by bone. The fish will relax and you can get a quick photo without anyone getting hurt.

It may be that in years to come we see more saltwater anglers carrying nets. I don’t think that would be a bad thing. If you have experience with using a net in saltwater, leave us a comment and tell us what you think.


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Why Don’t Saltwater Anglers Use Nets?

  1. One other reason for no nets, there is often another person in the skiff that is able to land the fish, the guide, the buddy. Even when wading there is often another person to help. Not so much on the trout stream.Interesting post Louis. Thanks

  2. Good post. Funny because I learned to fly fish in the salt. But the last couple of years I have been going out west and trout fishing in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. And I always thought, “Nets, who needs them? We don’t use them in FL.” Then last year fishing the Frying Pan, waist deep in moving water with a trophy rainbow on the line, I lost him landing him. And I knew that if I had had a net, I would have landed him.

  3. We use nets on many occasions, sometimes to quiet a green fish, sometimes to protect our hands from a hook in the hand. It is also better for the fish, and keeps it in the water as you remove the hook for a photo.

  4. I’ll us a net when fishing the Choctawhatchee Bay here in Florida, mainly because of water clarity and lurking Bull Sharks. I just have a thing about my hand getting bit off when visibility is about 5 inches, it could happen!!

  5. I think you are completely missing out on one thing – nets are ugly. Yup I said it.

    Many saltwater anglers love their boats as much as they love fishing and to screw up their boat’s lines with some giant net flapping around is just not palatable. Price out a new Hell’s Bay, see the time and expense that goes into the fit and finish of those boats (that has nothing to do with the boats fish catching abilities) – then stick a big ol net on it – no way. Trout anglers see the world differently.

  6. I’ve used nets in salt-water, but only for salmon, and only for fish I wanted to kill. When in a boat and releasing fish, I prefer to slide some sort of a release tool down the leader, flip the hook upside down, and allow the fish to swim away. When bonefishing, we used the same tool. And, I always fish with barbless hooks when I plan to release fish. Makes life much easier. Yes, deeply hooked fish are problematic, but more often than not, I just cut the leader and leave the fly in the fish if I plan on releasing it.

  7. I use a net to control the fish along side the boat till I can remove the fly, with or without the photo. But if I’m gonna take a photo, then I definitely use the net to keep the fish in the water. It keeps the fish safe and helps it recover while I prepare to take the picture. I also fish alone, so the net is necessary.

  8. Right, it’s a matter of practicality! It may rather be dependent upon the water conditions and underwater species targeted. Authorization of game fishing matters a lot with rules and regulations set along. Nice info!

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