Do you ever wonder why big fish are often lost right at the net? For one thing, mistakes become magnified when fish are near the boat. There is very little line between you and the fish to absorb shock if the fish makes a sudden run or jets under the boat. The hook may have worn a hole, or the line could be nicked up after a long fight. And then there’s the “buck fever” that comes with having a fish tantalizingly close, yet just out of reach.
Having the proper gear, practicing your technique and keeping your cool can help you improve your end game and get more fish into the boat.
Size matters. Using a net that is too small is one of the easiest ways to lose a big fish. Make sure your net has a wide enough opening to accommodate the largest fish you expect to catch. The netting also has to be deep enough to secure and control your quarry once you have it in the net.
Be ready. As the fight draws near its end, the “net man” should be in position, net in hand, securing the netting to the handle with one hand to prevent snagging on cleats, rod holders and other equipment. Don’t put the net into the water during the fight, it can scare the fish and creates another opportunity for tangling or breaking the line.
Don’t rush it. Trying to net a fish that isn’t ready is courting disaster — especially when fishing single-handed. Don’t “stab” at or reach for fish that are still thrashing wildly or rapidly changing directions. Instead, wait until the fish turns on its side and seems ready to be guided into the net.
Finish the job. Have the angler guide the fish into the net head first. If you try to net a fish tail first, striking the back of the fish can cause it to accelerate out of the net. Once the fish is fully in the net, the angler should drop the rod tip as the net man lifts up on the net to secure the fish in the netting.
The river rule. Okay, there is an exception to always netting fish head first. If you are fishing from a boat in a fast-flowing river, it is common practice to approach the fish from behind. Why? Because the fish will be swimming facing into the current, and if it breaks the line or throws the hook at that moment, the current usually washes the tired fish backwards for a while before it realizes it is free. This gives you a fighting chance to scoop him up before he bolts for freedom.