If you think about it, simply carrying a net while fly fishing is like a personal vote of confidence. By bringing it with you, you’re essentially saying, “today I am going to need this, because I am going to catch a fish.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that the net is the motivational speaker of fly fishing gear, but I’ll admit that I think optimistic thoughts whenever I clip mine on my back as I head to the water.
You don’t need a net to go fishing. Growing up walking around ponds, I was used to lipping bass and grabbing catfish around their fins. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when I became enamored with fly fishing and its traditional trappings, that I purchased a net.
And fly fishing for trout is the perfect application for carrying and employing a net. Trout aren’t the easiest fish to lay hold to. Even if you did, their anatomy isn’t conducive to tolerating a big squeeze. Practically, the tippet being used is light enough that hand-lining isn’t an option. Plus, with a lot of fly fishing being done in knee- to waist-deep water, even the smallest trout have the high ground when it comes to maneuvering. Using a net just makes sense.
However, nets aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. The angler who chases trout in moderately sized freestone rivers won’t need a huge-hooped net with a long handle. More importantly, anyone chasing steelhead or salmon can’t settle for a small and unobtrusive net with a fifteen-inch opening. Size, shape, and even aesthetics all need to be considered.
Recently I spoke to Leif Mermagen, the man behind Streamwalker Nets, about what someone should look for when selecting a net. “You want something you’ll carry with you,” he says. “For some reason, we always think to go bigger. But really you should pick something you’re most comfortable with. After all, a net that you’re not comfortable carrying is a net that you’re not going to bother carrying.”
This not to big, not to small, but just right paradigm is part of the reason why Streamwalker makes eight distinct sizes. From nets that are compact and suitable for mountain trout to long, rugged, and meant to handle the largest lake-run fish, there is a right shape and size for every fly fisher.
Once you’ve got a size in mind, the look of the net is the next consideration. Visuals matter in fly fishing. Even if you want just plain or nothing fancy, that is an aesthetic you’re attracted to. With a handful of vibrant alternatives out there, most nets still look like the traditional wooden loop net. “There’s not a big difference in the performance of wood or of carbon fiber,” Mermagen says. “But if you go with a wood net, you want to look for straight lines with no gaps in between, no fills in the wood, and consistent lamination.”
Other details matter, too. Rubber baskets seem to be the best for the fish, with micro-mesh being a good alternative. The way the net attaches to you is important as well. Fasteners can be affixed to the apex of the loop or the bottom of the handle. You’ll want to think about how you’ll carry it. Will you clip it on your vest, behind your neck? If there is a longer handle, could you slide it against your back? If you have a boat, is there a spot where it will lay and be unobtrusive? All those questions will also factor into a net’s usability and comfort while carrying.
At the end of the day, a net is more than just another piece of neat fly fishing gear. Using a net correctly goes a long way to ensure the health of the fish you catch. Less human contact, less time out of the water, and less stress significantly reduces fish mortality. It might sound trite, but it is true that nets save fish lives.
As fly fishers, we take such care in selecting the perfect rod, reel, line, fly, waders, sunglasses, etc. etc. etc. Selecting the primary mechanism with which we seal the deal of the whole process of catching a fish shouldn’t be an afterthought. A good net will be there for, and help guarantee, great fly fishing moments.
Looking for a functional, beautiful, and handmade in the USA fly fishing net? Check out Streamwalker Nets. Every net is made in their new Rochester, NY shop, and each one goes through Leif’s hands before it is shipped to you. Take a look: they’re truly pieces of Americana craftsmanship.