Net Results

by Louis Bignami

I managed to release a half-a-dozen nice steelhead from Idaho's Clearwater this week. I used a special "knotless" net purchased in England to get the fish close enough to flip out barbless hooks with the trusty hemostat. The net's got a five foot long handle that slides out to ten feet in length so you can scoop fish before they are played to exhaustion. The long handle also comes in handy to reach over shore hazards.

I should note here that I don't fish much for Idaho steelhead. While I was a steelhead guide in California for 20 years, I now think fish that swim 600 miles upstream need all the energy they can manage to spawn. So I don't use the most effective steelhead method -- freeze-dry or frozen ghost shrimp or crayfish tails drifted under sensitive British floats.

I catch steelhead while fishing for smallmouth in the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. I feel comfortable keeping a few smallmouth for dinner along with the odd crappie and some nice channel cats. None of these species are much impacted.

But to do this, and justify my impact on fish where I plan to release most or all of the catch, I need to know I can easily release hooked fish. And the answer to that is a quality net. In fact, a quality net seems the last thing most anglers -- aside from Orvis "everything" fly flingers buy. Such is unfortunate as the usual shiny aluminum nets scare fish on the scoop. The knots in their mesh also does nasty things to the slime that coats most fish species' scales.

So consider a net that's on the large size for the species you seek. Go for longer handle than most use. Note that long handled nets can be "worn" inside waders. Boaters might consider a couple of nets. Opt for knotless mesh, too.

If you do have a bright metal net simply spray the metal dull brown, green or black. You might also consider wrapping metal handles with some of the foam or cork used on surf sticks for a better grip.

Once you've purchased or modified a net to efficiency consider techniques. Leading a fish over a submerged net is the best bet. Just make sure you get the head in the net, and the body should follow if the bag is about the right size.

Once you get the fish in the net keep the net in the water if you plan to release the fish. This helps avoid injury to the fish. If you get a heavy fish on a long-handled net you'll need to "walk" your hands down the net so you won't bend the handle.

Consider a few of these items and you can improve your net results.