As a youth in Michigan, I got quite adept at landing fish without a net. Steelhead could be tailed. Bass could be lipped. Walleye and pike could be grabbed without too much effort. Naturally, I brought this confidence out west with me and it immediately backfired. The light tippets and double nymph rigs caught up with me. Burying trailing nymph hooks into the palm of my hand and underneath the fingernail of my middle finger on separate trips while trying to hand land trout just wasn’t a recipe for enjoying myself on the water. On top of the physical pain, I noticed that it was also taking me longer to land fish on light tippets -- putting additional stress on fish that I was planning on releasing. It was time for me to invest in a net.
It’s become clear to me that buying a net is just as personal of a decision as buying a particular brand of rod, reel, or clothes and is likely to change over time. To give you an idea of how each person’s criteria is different, here is what I currently look for in a net (in no particular order):
Durability. When you fish 30+ days a year, your net will take a beating. Bouncing around in the back of the truck and getting slammed against rocks can cause cheaper nets to chip, break, or split. Landing a big fish in heavy current can cause bags to rip or handles to bend or snap.
Handle Length. I prefer to keep my net jammed into the belt of my waders or lumbar pack, so I prefer a longer handle. This also comes in handy when landing fish with spey or switch rods.
Aesthetics. Early on in my fly fishing journey, I did not care about the looks of my net. As I’ve gotten more interested in photography, aesthetics has grown in importance. A good-looking net isn’t going to catch more fish, but your pictures will look better.
Bag Material. This starts and ends with rubber. Rubber is easier on fish and easier on the angler. Anyone who has ever had to dig hooks out of nylon mesh understands this. If you weren’t already convinced, the old style nylon mesh nets are also harder on trout, removing more of their protective slime coating and risking splitting their tail fins.
Below, I’ll compare my three most recent net purchases (dating back about 5 years).
Measure Net with Rubber Bag (Large): ~$46
It won’t win any beauty contests, but these nets are tough and, when combined with the rubber bag, easy on both fish and your flies. The handle on this model is long enough to jam into my wading belt, but it also extends out giving you a little more range to net fish from a float tube or with a longer rod. My MeasureNet lasted over three years of constant abuse before the handle finally sheared off in netting a thick fish in extremely strong current. For the price, the durability was more than adequate and the conditions that caused the handle to fail were extreme.
Verdict: The price point of this net will make you feel a little less guilty when you accidentally leave it on the side of the river. Be warned, the ruler built into the netting has a tendency to turn your 20” monster into a 16” dink. This can be resolved by flipping the netting inside out or never letting your buddies peak into the contents of your net. For the average weekend angler, this net is a great value.
Fisknat San Juan: ~$100
Fisknat nets are handcrafted in Tacoma, Washington. The San Juan model that I own has a solid wood handle (Purple Heart) with ash/walnut around the rim of the net. The finish is gorgeous and holds up well to daily abuse. The rubber netting on these nets seems more lightweight than the other nets in this review. This has proven handy when packing the net on hikes and when removing flies. Meanwhile, I have seen no drop-off in durability in the rubber. The San Juan model is 27” long with a 9” handle making it more than adequate for the majority of trout that you’ll find in Western rivers. The handle is a bit short for tucking into your wading belt, so I’d recommend using a clip.
Verdict: The craftsmanship on this net is impeccable.This is my go-to net for smaller streams and high mountain lakes because of its packability, fish-friendly rubber netting, and because it simply loves being photographed.
Fishpond Nomad (Mid-Length): ~$150
An expensive carbon-fiber net is not for everyone, but if you love the finer things in life you’ll appreciate the Nomad Series from Fishpond. The Mid-Length model above (color is River Camo) has additional length in the handle making it ideal for wedging into lumbar packs and wading belts. For its size, this net is very lightweight and be used one-handed in most situations without much trouble. The spacing and thickness of the rubber netting lends itself well to removing hooks. The material and finish on the handle/rim has proven to be durable, surprisingly grippy (even when wet and cold), and buoyant. While not as good-looking as the Fisknat, the Nomad is sharp and dresses up well for pictures. The size of this particular model’s frame (37” long) and bag (12” deep) leave it prone to hanging up on branches and brush, but comes with the territory when hauling around a big net.
Verdict: A great do-everything (big water, boat/float tube duty) net that doesn’t leave my line of sight without getting locked up. It’s light enough to use one-handed, floats like a cork, and handles fish far bigger than I am ever likely to catch. This doesn’t stop me (and many others I have noticed lately) from wedging this big net into my belt, strutting up and down the river bank, and pretending that I only catch 30” fish.
Now go out and do yourself (and the fish) a favor, visit your fly shop, and invest in a good net!
Review Disclaimer: I pay out of my own pocket for all items that are reviewed.