Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Technique Tuesday: Netting Steelhead (And Other Big Fish)

Clearly this guide doesn't know shit about netting big fish.

Using a net while steelheading is something that some believe in and some that don't.  When I'm wading I'm in the no-net category, but if I've got my boat I've got my net.  A big, soft mesh net is a great asset for landing and safely releasing steelhead.  The amount of stress is substantially less by using a net than no-net, no matter how good you are at landing them without a net.  Here are a few tips for safely and successfully landing steelhead with a net.
Note the giant basket of the net, ready for a steelhead under a double rainbow.  Kirk Werner Photo.

1.  Get a big, fish friendly net:  This fact is obviously number one on the list, but is often overlooked.  I can't tell you how many time I have seen people with a net that is too small or is that old, green knotted material that is like the bad kind of loofah for the scales of a steelhead.  Your steelhead net should be larger than you think you need, and the bag should be rubber or fine, soft mesh, similar to your Air Jordan basketball shorts.  Ideally you will find one like the above rainbow picture.  The basket on this net is 38" and the mesh is fine and coated with soft rubber so that it is fish and hook friendly.  Once a fish hits this net you can hold the rim at the surface of the water while the fish sits in the water like a live well.  This gives you a great station for hook removal and pictures if need be.

2.  Get downstream of the fish:  I guess this tip should start with get out of the boat if you are in a boat.  I assumed that was a given but have seen enough gear heads yard beautiful fish into the middle of a Willies (even with Sparky's law) that if stating it here gets to one boat-netter, mission accomplished.  So, after you are out of the boat, get downstream of the fish, or at least quartered down from the fish.  Make the angler pull firmly up above you (sideways pressure!), and when the net is in position to the downstream and side of the fish, have the angler gently release pressure.  This should let the fish coast back into the net with its head turning towards you, and then gently lift up (keeping the fish in the water!).  If you get to far below the fish and try to scoop at the tail the net-job will likely be unsuccessful as the fish will feel you and power away.

Schpanky agrees that a full net is a happy net. Kirk Werner Photo.

3.  Don't rush:  I haven't seen a fist fight break out at the end of a botched net job, but I'm sure it's happened.  Patience is key when netting fish, and getting in a hurry often leads to a fish swimming away and an empty net.  Take your time, make sure that the angler is pulling hard enough, and wait till the fish is near the surface and ready to be netted.  It is the responsibility of the angler to pull hard and make sure the fish is landed quickly and safely.  Trying to dig a fish out of the bottom or jabbing with the net is never a good thing.

4.  Communicate:  Although this is another good spot that could lead to a fight, hopefully you and your buddy that is currently fighting said steel are close enough that he is open to a little help at this point.  By communicating with the angler about what you see the fish doing you can ensure that the fish hits the net cleanly and safely.  Giving good advice at this point will put smiles on both of your faces when the net is full.


  1. Ah, THE net. Schpanky may be honored, but I'm insulted that my photos were used without written permission or credit. You, sir, will be hearing from my attorney ;)

  2. That is a sweet rainbow pic. "What does it mean?" Good read Joe. Being the net man can be a stressful job. Especially when you have a good fish on the end of the string. Those big Steelhead nets you boys have are a solid asset.

  3. @Kirk, credit has now been given where credit is due. Camera man being your number one responsibility when Schpanky the crusher is is the boat, I understand wanting the credit. The Double rainbow pics are some of my faves from my time out there, such a fun day.

    @Joey, gotta have the right tools for the job, right? Love those nets, eespecially with the new mesh he uses. So good for fish.

  4. I agree with the net, especially when you have a boat. I can think of many times when a net would have come in handy and when used fish were landed in tough situations.

  5. Mike, Couldn't agree more, if you know how to use a net it is much better for the fish.


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