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April 20, 2012

Choosing and Using Cast Nets

Tips on picking the one net that's right for you

After getting the fish in a bucket, I re-baited and sent the treble hook down again. Almost immediately, I felt another “bite,” and pulled up gently to set the hook. Feeling some heavy resistance and a little give, I reeled down hard to keep the fish out of the rocks and away from the nearby concrete piling. But the fish didn’t move — because it wasn’t a fish. After tugging and jerking to free my hook from the bottom, I noticed that I could actually lift whatever it was I was attached to. You guessed it; I was hung in a cast net that someone had tossed off the bridge without first securing it to their wrist!

As soon as I lifted the net up to where I could see it, I switched from trying to free the hook to full rescue mode. I got the net up, and it was a brand-spanking-new 10-footer without a single hole in it, and I was stoked! Now I was going to be able to get my own bait without having to pay for it! If you’re a bait fisherman, having a good cast net that’s matched to your primary bait targets is not an option; it’s a necessity.

Size Matters
I call that rescued net my first real cast net, because I had previously owned a couple of small 3-foot cheapie cast nets made out of cotton thread, which were easy to throw but wouldn’t sink fast enough to catch the faster baits, like mullet, that I was targeting. I mainly used them to catch tiny white bait at the edge of the Indian River. As I started chasing larger baits, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the little cotton job wasn’t going to cut it.

Although cast nets come in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from small 3-footers to commercial nets measuring up to 14 feet (the maximum size you can use in Florida), most recreational anglers use nets measuring 8 feet and under. Nets are measured by how tall they are with all the leads touching the ground, which is actually the radius of the net when it opens up. A 3-foot net opens up to a diameter of 6 feet across, an 8-footer to 16 feet, etc.

Shawn Gore, the owner of Black Pearl Cast Nets, says, “The 8-foot net is our best seller for several reasons. An 8-footer covers almost twice the area as a 6-footer, and it opens up with the same effort. The 8-footer makes a good first-time net and might even be easier to open up than a 6-footer because the guys aren’t trying to throw it too hard, which is the main mistake most guys make when throwing a small net. You only need a small net when you’re in a canal or around trees. When you step up to the 10s, 11s or 12s, there’s a dramatic increase in square footage and weight, so you need a bit more experience to throw one of the larger nets.”

Tim Wade of Rockledge, Florida, has been building cast nets for 43 years, and if you see a commercial fisherman heaving a cast net in Florida, odds are it’s one of Wade’s. “If you’re a recreational fisherman, a 6- to 8-foot net should be just fine. If you want them to sink a little faster, you can bump up the weight a bit. With bigger nets, it’s going to be harder to get a lot of distance, and you’ll need to use a different throwing technique. It’s more difficult to throw 10s, 12s, or even 14-footers. I consider 10- and 12-foot nets to be commercial nets, but I can build you any size you want,” Wade says.

If you’re going to be throwing the net while wading, you’ll want to opt for an 8-foot or smaller net, unless you’re NBA-player height.

Materials
While natural-fiber nets made from linen and cotton ruled the early days, nylon nets were all the rage before monofilament came along. “Mono doesn’t absorb water, and it’s clear, not white like nylon, so the fish don’t see it coming. Also, the old nylon nets used to absorb water, which meant that they would gain weight. All the good nets are made out of mono these days,” Gore says.

While most nets have to be finished by hand in some way, the actual mesh body of the net isn’t hand-tied; it’s weaved on a loom. “The mesh is machine-made and -tied. A hand-tied net will look puffy,” Wade says. “And although they work just as good, they won’t sell as well because they don’t look as nice. When the machined web comes off the loom, they stretch it with steam, which makes it lay flatter and look better. Older, hand-tied nets would have more spring and bounce up and down, while today’s nets are straighter.”

Besides the switch from nylon to mono, most materials haven’t changed much; however, Wade says that one product has made a drastic difference in how long his nets will last. “I now use a Spectra fiber twine to attach my weights to the lead line,” he says. “This stuff is about the same thickness as dental floss, yet you can lift 150 pounds with it. It’s so dense that I had to invent my own knots and coat the material in bee’s wax to make it stay in place. Once it sets, however, it makes the perfect material, because it’s so small that there’s less material for abrasion, and that’s the part of the net that takes the most beating.”

Gore says that while materials are important, it’s the construction and size of the net’s individual panels that determine whether or not a net will open up properly. “Larger panels means more material, and more material allows the net to open easier and stay open while it’s sinking,” he says.