Selecting a Catch and Release Fishing Net

catch and release fishing net

When I was growing up fishing with my father, we had a fishing net.  We had one, but we never used it.  My father was not much of an angler, so we went fishing just to enjoy the experience. We almost never kept the fish that we caught, and they were usually small.  I distinctly remember the shiny aluminum frame of the net with the neon green mesh hanging on the wall of our garage.  I cannot remember a single time that we took it with us when we went fishing.

As I got older, I started to question that decision.  As a teenager, I became interested in trout fishing with both a lightweight spinner rig and a fly rod.  As I learned more about this specific type of fishing, the importance of the proper net was repeatedly mentioned.  I didn’t understand why trout needed a special net, or why we needed to use a net at all.

As an adult, I began to build up my fishing gear stockpile.  Eventually, I began considering nets and found that there are huge differences in the types of nets you can buy.  The size, dimensions, and material type all affect the fish and the fishing process in different ways. In this article, we will talk about the importance of nets and walk you through which options might be best for your needs.

Why Buy a Catch and Release Fishing Net?

There are several reasons for using a net when you go fishing.  The obvious reason is to help you bring in big fish without them shaking loose from the hook.  As you bring fish in to your boat or to the shore, they tend to jerk violently to try and jump off of your hook. 

If you are keeping your fish to eat or you have a monster on the line that deserves a picture, a net is the only way to go.  By scooping your fish up with a net, the weight is on the net and not the line.  This prevents the fish from shaking loose.  The net does not completely eliminate the possibility of the fish getting free, but it drastically reduces the odds.

It can also save you some money on lures.  The weakest point of a standard fishing line is the point at which the line is tied to the hook or lure.  If you pull the fish out of the water by your line, it puts all of the weight of the fish on the weak point in your line.  This point is even more compromised if the fish is writhing around as you pull it out of the water.  If the line snaps, there is a good chance that you will never see that fish or that lure again.

The most important reason to use a net is one we rarely consider.  Handling a fish with your bare hands can hurt or kill the fish.  This is not a big deal if you keep all of your fish for the freezer, but it is a huge deal if you are practicing catch and release fishing and letting the fish go.  All fish have a mucus layers on their scales or skin that protects the fish from illness.  When that mucus layer is disturbed, the fish is more likely to get sick or die.  

There are other ways to reduce the risk to the fish, such as Barbless Hooks for Fishing, but using a net is the best option.  It allows you to safely bring the fish out of the water, remove the hook, maybe take a picture, and send it on its way. 

Fishing Net Size and Shape

There are two factors to consider when looking at the dimensions of a fishing net.  The first is the size of the net hoop.  I have purchased really large nets in the past thinking that it would be easier to get the fish in the net.  That has not been the case.  Having a large hoop on your net just makes it take up more space in your car or in your boat.  

I have a small crappie net that is only about 18 inches in diameter.  It works fine for fish up to about 10 pounds.  If you plan to catch anything bigger than 10 pounds, then a larger net would be a good idea.  I tried a large net loop that folded down for transport, but it broke during the first season of use.

The other factor to consider is the length of the handle.  I do most of my fishing off of the shore, and I occasionally go wading or take out the boat.  

Unfortunately, most of my shore fishing is done around lily pads, moss, and other debris.  With a short handled net, I often must wade out closer to the fish to avoid losing it in the muck.  There are also times in our boat that the same issue occurs.  

I started with a three-foot handle on the net, but switched to a longer handle.  The longer handle is much more versatile.  I almost never have to wade out to retrieve my fish.  Longer handles take up more space, but a telescopic handle is another option.  Mine extends out to 10 feet, which is perfect for my needs.

The Fishing Net Material

silicone fishing net

Growing up, our fishing net was made with some kind of artificial cordage.  The nets were strong and almost never needed to be replaced.  However, they had the tendency to tangle up with just about anything.  These materials are also rough on the fish as they disrupt the mucus layer on the scales. 

Recently I switched to a net made of rubber or silicone.  They use wider strips of the material, so the net holds it’s shape better.  This prevents the net from tangling with fishing rods, lures, or the fish itself.  The smoother material is also easier on the fish, so it is more likely to survive if you catch and release.  I now swear by this new option for net material.

The Fishing Net Frame Material

aluminum fishing net

Most fishing net frames are made of aluminum, steel, or fiberglass these days.  Any of these options work fine, but there are slight differences.  

The fiberglass frames will flex a little, so they are less likely to bend, dent, or break.  This is typically the lightest option. However, this flexibility can sometimes make it tough to bring in a heavy fish.  

Aluminum frames are stiffer and will give the weight more support.  Unfortunately, they will dent or bend easily. They are just a bit heavier than fiberglass.  

Steel frames are rare as they are much heavier than the other options.  However, they will not flex and will not dent, bend, or break.  I typically go with an aluminum frame.

Trout Fishing Nets

While most fish are protected by a layer of scales and a mucus layer, trout are different.  They have just a layer of soft skin and a mucus layer.  That makes them much more susceptible to injury or illness.  Because of this, trout need a specific kind of net.  Trout nets are typically made of a smooth, wooden frame.  This is less likely to hurt the fish when netting it.  Also, the nets are made from a soft fiber cordage that is easy on the skin of the fish.  When wet, trout nets do the least damage of any nets you can buy.  In order to preserve fish populations, you should always use a trout net when fishing for trout.

You may not think that using a fishing net or the type of net you use would matter much.  However, there are several benefits to using the right net every time you go fishing.  You will lose fewer fish and will bring them in easier.  You net will take up a reasonable amount of space with the net still being functional.  The net will do the least amount of damage possible to the fish.  Finally, the right net will last you for decades.  Take the time to consider which net is right for you and start using it every time you fish.

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