By Nick Simonson
It’s playoff hockey season and while the Minnesota Wild may be out of competition, some great goalies are keeping their teams in the mix as Lord Stanley’s Cup awaits after a long, cold road. Truly memorably hockey teams are anchored by excellent goaltenders, just like a truly great fishing experience is sealed by a great netman who helps convert big fish at boatside and turns exciting moments of battle into photos, trophies and stories that last a lifetime. To join the ranks of these legendary lunker landers, take today’s handful of hints onto the water this season, whether fishing solo or helping to save the memory for a buddy in the boat.
Before hitting the water, make certain that all landing equipment is in good shape. Inspect the mesh of a net or cradle to be certain there are no severed threads or missing loops which would allow a fish an untimely escape. Check the frame and handle for wear, bends or other issues, and be certain on sliding-handle-models that everything moves and locks into place properly before heading out. As a quick-fix on the water, pack a few plastic zip ties, in case rips or damage occur on a trip or an unfortunate in-boat snag happens. These can be used to cinch the hole shut and continue net use until a new net can be purchased after the trip.
Stow It Properly
A good net remains out of the way until needed, and away from obstructions as that moment of need approaches. Dedicate a rod holder or specifically install a piece of PVC pipe to hold the net so that the mesh is away from rod tips, lures, antennas and the dreaded boat cleat so it can be removed and deployed in a moment’s notice. Keep nets off the floor of the boat where they can tangle with shoes, tackle, rod butts or other items and incur unwanted damage. Also avoid stepping on the frame of the net, especially curved-lip nets, as this can raise the handle in a quick and dangerous manner and cause injury.
Match the Catch
The net should match the quarry and fishing environs on each trip. When after big fish, use a net or a cradle that is deep and wide that can accommodate their length and allows them to be held well under the metal frame at boatside when landed. If fishing from a deep boat with high sides or from a higher bank, a longer handled or extending model net may be in order as well. A short-handled net can be used for those anglers who fish from canoes, and the handles on standard aluminum options can be cut down and covered with the rubber grip or duct tape to accommodate this seated form of angling.
Reeled Up & Ready
When springing into action, anglers and would-be netmen should reel up and stash their rods in an area that will not impede the angler engaged in the fight. Take the first moments of the battle to clear tackle, ropes, anchors and other obstructions in the area of the boat where the angler and netman will stand. Any other anglers in the boat should step out of the way, most often up to the bow and observe the contest or film it from that vantage point. When the fish comes into view, or is close to the boat, the netman should have the net fully extended with all movable parts locked into place.
When getting ready to land a fish, it is not the job of the netman to swoop up the creature at boatside. In fact there should be little movement of the net once it is in position. A good netman will simply lay the net in the water parallel to the surface, or slightly angled toward the fish and about a foot or so below it, (adjusting for the apparent girth of the fish) and wait for the angler to steer the fish over the net. The netman should remain calm, stay low and out of the way, and instruct the angler on where to move in the boat to get the fish over the target. Never jab a net into the water or swing it toward a fish, the commotion will spur an unwanted reaction or wild run which generally goes bad at boatside. Instead, when the fish is over the net, with its bulk within the round, metal frame, lift up on the net to surround the fish totally; ensuring it is securely in the mesh below. Lift the fish up and into the boat when planning on keeping a few, or raise the frame up high enough to account for any frantic thrashings or attempts to escape for those sportfish that will be released.
With these tips, it’s easy to be ready when a big fish comes to boat and become an expert netman – someone everyone wants on their team, whether for Blades of Steel or for bass and salmon.
(Featured Photo: A netman lowers the net in preparation to land a large (and unexpected) muskie as it nears the boat. Simonson Photo)