There’s a long-time argument going on in the fishing and fly fishing world about nets. Are they necessary? Do they help or hurt the fish?

We’ve broken down some of the main points from each side of the net debate, and included what we at MHFF practice when guiding or fishing solo.

A client lifts a quality brown out of a Fishpond net, Photo courtesy of Matt Heron

Nets: Nets are extremely helpful in landing hard-fighting fish without stressing them too much. Securing one with a timely scoop of the net can also reduce fighting time and help the angler manage popping the hook out of the fish in less time with less risk.

An added benefit of the net is that the sooner you contain the fish, the less likely it is to come off the hook. Presumably, this means you will land more fish using a net. For those who enjoy taking photos with their catch, a net also offers more security around the fish and a safe place for them to catch their breath.

Sometimes when using heavier tippet, you can get away with pulling the fish in to your hands. Photo courtesy of Matt Heron

Quick note: We recommend that the handling time from when the fish hits the net to the second of its release be no more than one minute, and the fish be kept underwater as much as possible. This gives enough time to pop the hook out of the fishes mouth and gives them a lower chance of delayed mortality from being over-stressed during the fight/handling.

No Nets: There are plenty of reasons to use a net, and as it turns out plenty of reasons to avoid one. The most common alternative to using a net for trout is the tail-grab, where the angler gets close enough to the fish to grab it by the meat of it’s tail, release the hook, lift the fish for a quick picture, and let it swim back as quickly as possible.

Many nets, especially with uncoated nylon or string baskets are harmful to trout and all salmonids because they take off the fishes slime coat, which protects them from disease and acts as the animal’s immune system. Once released, fish with damaged slime coats are more susceptible to infection, disease, parasites, or even muscle and tissue decay.

To some, the landing net is just another thing to buy, and possibly lose while fishing. People might prefer to simply not pack a net as it’s one less thing to worry about.

When packing light for trips, the net doesn’t always make the cut. Luckily, my knots held true and I was able to leader-grab this Idaho rainbow. A risky idea, but it worked out! Photo courtesy of Ryan Rintala.

Our Opinion: The size of the fish also plays into the conversation. Even those who use nets are unlikely to spend the extra time trying to coax a spirited five-inch rainbow into one, because it’s easier to grab the line and pop the hook out, releasing the fish as quickly as possible. Bigger, more elusive fish are higher risk and more of a challenge though! So maybe a net can help us bring these in safely for a quick picture and less stressful unhooking.

Especially when guiding, a client’s first fly-caught fish is a big deal, and we intend to treat it as such! Using a net with a rubberized basket will help us get the fish in, get a memorable picture, and send the trout back on its way. The handling experience from our’s and the client’s point of view is much easier and less risky this way.

See an example of one of our favorite nets here.

If you’re prepping for a light trip, planning on catching smaller fish, or not planning on taking many photos with your catch, maybe leave the net at home. Then again, maybe don’t as it can be easier to secure a fish with one and you don’t want one to pop off the hook right at the end of a fight. You’re plan is totally up to you, but be sure to have one before you have a fish on the opposite end of your line! Just simple parameters to keep in mind when fishing can help you get fish in quicker and reduce handling time on fish.

Regardless of your opinion on whether using a net is necessary, the most important thing is to ensure the fish swims back healthy. How you do that is up to you, but a quick Google search can point you in the right direction and help you to steer clear of poor fish handling.

Stay safe and tight lines!

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing