January 21, 2021
This story was originally titled “Net Gains: The best nets to safely release fish of any size.” It appeared in the 2020 Gear Guide issue of Fly Fisherman.
In early June, I set off with my good friend Trevor Ibsen to take advantage of a caddis feeding frenzy. In late May and early June the warm sunshine and this hatch combine to make trout on the South Platte River aggressive. Some days the trout are so competitive that they become reckless.
We had excellent fishing all day, and later in the afternoon a storm was brewing. Dark clouds made it harder to see targets in the water, so we decided to hike downstream a few bends to see if any fish were looking up for buzzing adult caddis. I noticed a splash in a swift seam on the edge of a long, rolling run and knew right away it was a hungry, surface-feeding trout. Trevor made the cast, and the fish soon gulped down a #18 black foam-bodied Puterbaugh Caddis.
We watched the smash-and-grab, followed by a series of jumps and runs, and as Trevor leaned into the rod to bring the fish into shallow water, I reached forward with the net to scoop the large rainbow. Just as my net dipped to take the trout headfirst, another larger rainbow raced into the landing net as well, and in an instant I had two trout in the net bag with one scoop. I was stunned—it took a few seconds to process what I was seeing. Trevor couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed either, and exclaimed “What?!” while I looked up- and downstream to see if perhaps somehow the gods were playing a prank on me.
The rainbow Trevor hooked fairly was 23 inches, and the fish that ran kamikaze-style into my landing net was a solid 24 inches. How did this happen? I can only assume that the splashing trout caught the attention of the larger trout, and the larger trout wanted a taste of whatever the smaller fish had in its mouth.
Keep in mind that this happened on public water on a heavily pressured stream where trout are commonly known to be selective and difficult to catch. This particular trout, however, was so competitive at that moment that it ignored the looming net and raced to get ahead of its splashing comrade. I count it as one more reason to carry a landing net.
Used properly, the right landing net can help safely release individual trout and protect the overall trout population. Nets help you land fish more quickly, which becomes super important in the summer when water temperatures rise into the upper 60s. No matter the season, a shorter fight is always better for the overall health of the trout.
A net also helps prevent large fish from bashing their heads and other body parts against rocks in the shallows, and helps safely restrain the fish while you carefully remove the hook. Too many trout are released with missing mouth parts, and this is due in large part to unprepared fly fishers who aren’t equipped with the right tools. I’ve seen many fly fishers attempt releases without a landing net, and they often end up squeezing the abdomen of the fish, or the weight of the fish hanging on the hook and line tears away pieces of their mouths. Don’t do this. Use a net bag to hold the fish, and hemostats to carefully turn a barbless hook outward.
A landing net also helps you safely take photos of your trophy fish. I coach my clients to handle the trout while it is cradled half in and half out of the water. This makes it easier to lift the trout for brief periods to photograph it while still protecting the fish’s health. I’ve found that by using a landing net, you can land fish quicker, hold them out of the water for less time, and protect their heads and internal organs from serious injury.
I use Fishpond Nomad nets. For small creeks and ponds, I prefer the mid-length Nomad. It’s easy to transport on long hikes and in tight places. For tailwaters, freestone streams, and long hikes for large trout I prefer the 41.5-inch Nomad El Jefe with a long handle and open ring basket. In a boat, or on any trip where we might have a chance at 30-inch fish, I use the 55-inch Nomad Boat Net. Also consider the length of your rod and whether you’ll be fishing by yourself or with a partner. Short rods under 9 feet make it easy enough to bring a fish close so you can net it yourself. With longer rods such as switch rods, Euro-style nymphing rods [see page 30], or Spey rods, you’ll need a long-handled net or you need someone else to net your fish.
Rising Lunker net
This American-made anodized aluminum net has a 24-inch handle with a knurled texture for better grip. No longer will you have to guess how large your fish is—the hoop has built-in measurement indicators (12, 16, 18, 19, 20, and 21 inches) to help. The long handle gives you plenty of reach for wade fishing and netting fish from a float tube or pontoon boat. The net also offers easy access to your celebratory shot of whiskey after you land that beautiful fish—just unscrew the cap on the handle and take a swig from the 6-ounce holding tube. Made in Francis, Utah, the Rising Lunker Net has a fish-friendly rubber net bag to protect the fish’s fragile slime coating. The Lunker is available in orange, red, blue, purple, black, pink, wasabi, gunmetal, or two-tone. The hoop unscrews from the handle for easy transport. Total length is 45 inches. The hoop is 21 inches by 13.5 inches. The net bag is available in black or clear and is 8.5 inches deep. $180 | risingfish.net
Fishpond Nomad El Jefe
The frames of Nomad nets are made of a mixture of carbon fiber and fiberglass, producing nets that are both lightweight and durable. Nomad nets are built to withstand the conditions where you’ll find the best fishing. They are waterproof and UV protected, and float like corks. The El Jefe is 41.5 inches long and weighs just 1.23 pounds. The head is 21.75 x 13 inches. Net bag is 14 inches deep. Standard Nomad nets are clear, fish-friendly rubber net bags. The Riverbed Camouflage color scheme comes with a black net bag. $200 | fishpondusa.com
Frabill floating trout net
Your fish should never get away (until you release it), and neither should your net. That’s why this Frabill Floating Trout Net sports a comfortable rubber handle and includes a lanyard with a carabiner. The floating hoop keeps the net frame on the surface for easy fish handling and holds the tangle-free micromesh (TFMM) netting in place to help you capture and release feisty trout safely. These nets are specially designed to conserve fish by facilitating proper catch-and-release technique.
To avoid injuring your fish, Frabill uses a classic hoop design in a variety of sizes. The flat-bottomed netting supports the fish’s weight evenly to prevent damage. The tough, durable, long-lasting, gunmetal-finished hoop doesn’t spook fish as they come to the net. The Frabill Floating Trout Net family uses tangle-free micromesh netting to protect the fish’s scales and slime coating. Rubber grips are strategically placed on the handles for secure, nonslip holds. With its 7.5-inch handle, the Floating Trout Net is easy to strap to your fishing vest, pontoon boat, or kayak so it’s ready when you need it. A handy lanyard and carabiner are included. The Floating Trout Net’s handle is 7.5 inches long, and hoop sizes range from 9x20 to 19x25 inches. $25-$38 | frabill.com
Frabill Pro-Tech musky cradle
This 64-inch cradle is a must-have for the safe catch-and-release of long freshwater species such as muskies, northern pike, and sturgeon. The traditional-style cradle features a 15x60-inch mesh basket made of Pro-Tech knotless netting to protect the fish’s delicate slime coating and scales. The cushion-coated heavy-duty tubular aluminum handles have durable nylon sleeves and end caps. The convenient built-in ruler has 1/8-inch increments. $100 | frabill.com
*Landon Mayer is a Colorado fly-fishing guide and Fly Fisherman contributing editor. He lives with his wife Michelle and their four children in Florissant, Colorado. His most recent book is The Hunt for Giant Trout: 25 Best Places in the United States to Catch a Trophy (Stackpole Books, 2018).