Landing Net Size
I got serious about catfishing nets the day I had to jump into a reservoir to land a 53 lb catfish because it wouldn’t fit into my average sized landing net. I can extremely close to losing a fish that was 14 lb’s shy of the state record because I didn’t have a good net. Get a net that will accommodate the trophy you are tying to catch. Being unprepared for success is the worst type of failure.
A good landing net should be about as wide as the fish is long and 25-50% deeper than the fish is long.
Landing Net Length
The net only needs to be long enough to reach open water. 4 – 6 feet long seems to usually be enough to keep your feet dry and do the job. However, if you are fishing above the water (on a pier or high cut bank) 6 feet may not be enough. Apparently, fishing from rocky ocean cliffs is rather common in Asia so Daiwa has a super-light composite 15′ telescoping net handle that it sells to ocean fisherman catching 5-20 lb fish from piers and ocean cliffs. I have never seen them in the US but purchased one while fishing in Hong Kong.
Landing Net Mesh
The net mesh affects fish safety, performance and durability. A nylon net mesh with big holes can cut and leave marks in a large fish’s skin. The weight of their own bodies thrashing out of the water can cut them up the same way that braided line can cut up your fingers pulling knots tight or casting. Nets with smaller holes and micro-mesh puts a lot less force on the fish and is much less likely to damage a big trophy you hope to release. I think fish also tend to thrash around less in micro-mesh nets because they are darker inside and less painful.
The smaller mesh size does have a downside. It is harder to scoop a micro-mesh net through water because of the increase resistance from the tighter weave. With traditional large mesh landing nets you can dart in a scoop up a fish that happens to get close to shore or boat early in the fight but with a micro mesh you are a bit more sluggish and have to usually wait until the fish is properly played into position before trying to land them.
Rubber mesh nets are nice because they are not as abrasive and hard on the fish as nylon and your hook doesn’t get tangled and stuck in the mesh fibers like in a nylon mesh net. The downside to rubber mesh nets is that they are heavy and less compact.
Detachable Net Heads and Arms
European carp fisherman have awesome nets. The are large enough to land Moby Dick, they fold up and they are light as a feather. They achieve this balance with removable net arms. The net is basically a giant forked stick with a net stretched across the fork part. The two arms insert into the handle and can be removed once the fish is landed.
Once the handle is removed the fisherman rolls up the fish in the net and lifts the whole thing like a stretcher and can then transport the fish to the place where he will remove the hooks and take the pictures.
When its time to pack it up for the day, the arms and the stinky net mesh is separated from the handle and put in a bag and the whole thing takes us no more room than a fishing rod.
The only downside or caution about these nets is that you CANNOT lift the fish out of the water while it is in the net. The net will snap. Its to long, too light and the fish in it too big. These nets are made from fiberglass and carbon fibers not steel and aluminum pipes.
Drop Nets/Pier Nets
If you are fishing above the water and need to get your fish up from the water to the pier you need a drop net or pier net. These nets are basically collapsible net baskets that you lower down to the water by a rope. You play the fish on the surface of the water above the submerged basket and then lift the basket with the fish in it up to the pier.
Pier nets can be purchased for less than $20 but they are not a realistic option for fish over 20lbs. Its hard on the fish and the net. I have torn several pier nets trying to bring 20lb thrashing carp or catfish up. If you are fishing from a pier, before you put your line in the water come up with a realistic plan for what you are going to do if you hook into a trophy fish. If you cannot safely and humanely land a large fish the tough but right decision is to find another place to fish.
Keep nets are 10-12 foot long net tubes that are closed on one end. They are used as giant collapsible live wells for fish under 8 lbs. You anchor the open end to the bank, out of the water and the other end as far out into the water as you can with a rock in the end. When you land a fish, you unhook them and put them in the submerged keep net for storage.
Storing fish like this is useful when you are going to eat them and want to keep them alive without lugging around ice and cooler. But I tend to use it for the photo ops. If you are not ready to take a photo of a fish immediately after unhooking it you got to get it back into the water regardless. So put it in the keep net, get you stuff together, set up your camera and after the fish has had a chance to catch its breath and relax, then take some pictures and release it.
It also allows you display all the fish you’ve caught for a triumphant end of the day picture. This is convenient when night fishing. The photos aren’t very good at night, so throw the fish in the keep net and take all the pictures in the morning before you pack up.
I find that a keep net is a good way to teach kids catch and release fishing. Many kids want to keep their catch (even if they don’t want to eat it) and the keep net offers them a chance to hold on to the fish for a little while until they are ready to let it go.
Caution: You shouldn’t over crowd a keep net with too many small fish or use it to store multiple large fish. Overcrowding keeps the fish in a perpetual panic mode rather than being a calm quiet place to recuperate.
A carp sack is basically floating micro-mesh sack used as a personal keep net for a single large fish. It serves the same purpose as keep net but is designed for one big fish at a time. You should securely anchor your carp sack in 1.5-2 feet of water that is not excessively weedy. Your carp sack should also have a float on the tether in case it comes lose, so at least you can send someone with a boat out to get it rather than letting the fish die and go to waste.
Carp sacks are just a sack so the fit in a relatively compact stuff sack and don’t weigh too much or take up a load of room in your tackle bag.