How to Net a Fish — Here’s a Boatload of Tips on Doing It Right!

By Darl Black

Don’t assume everyone knows
how to use a fishing net!

Two anglers netting a fish together

When fishing from a boat, it’s always nice to have a partner to handle the net when you hook a big fish. But be sure everyone knows the best way to land a fish with a net. (Photo: Darl Black)

A landing net … practically every fishing boat has one. And if you head out on the lake without one, you should feel inadequately equipped.

A net seems like a foolproof method for landing a nice fish. It will minimize injury to the fish and help the fisherman avoid being impaled by hooks, cut by the fish’s teeth or whacked in the face by a tailfin. I’ve been taught by experience — using one incorrectly or using a net too small for the hooked fish is a recipe for disaster.

Use the Right Size Net

Landing nets come in many styles, handle lengths and hoop sizes to meet anglers’ needs in pursuing a wide variety of freshwater fish. A “normal” size net with a hoop of roughly 20″ x 17″ to 20″ x 20″ is suitable for bass, walleye and the average catfish. However, when targeting large walleye, monster cats, northern pike and almost any salmon you should be looking at something in the 25″ x 30″ or even 30″ x 38″ size.

When it comes to catch and release musky fishing, skip the regular hoop net and get Frabill’s Cradle Net, which does less harm to the King of Freshwater Fish than a hoop net. (Scooping up a large musky in a hoop net often causes substantial internal injury by bending the fish into a “U” shape.)

Rubber net used to catch fish

Nets with rubber mesh do the least amount of damage to a fish’s slime coat, scales and fins. The rubber bag may look shallow, but it stretches to accommodate the fish. (Photo: Darl Black)

Use the Right Net Mesh

The mesh material of a net is of critical importance, too. Inexpensive nets of knotted nylon can injure a fish you plan to release; it’s like rubbing a rasping file on the side of a fish. Furthermore, the standard nylon net bag acts like Velcro when it comes in contact with hooks — you can spend a lot of time getting hooks out of the multi-stranded mesh while the fish gasps.

Alternative mesh materials less harmful to fish include soft knotless nylon, coated mesh and “rubber” (a smooth stretchable polymer). Collectively, these nets are often referred to as “catch-n-release” or “conservation nets.”

For the bass, walleye, catfish and large crappies I typically catch, I prefer the rubber net. Hooks can tangle in coated fiber or soft flat nylon mesh, but rubber nets are 99 percent free of entanglement.

Don’t Use a Net to “Chase” the Fish

However, due to resistance of the thicker mesh material, some anglers complain rubber nets are too slow in the water when “chasing” the fish. That complaint itself is telling. It tells me they are not netting fish properly.

Never, Never, Never!

Three things not to do when attempting to net a fish:

  1. Never chase a fish with a net — the fish will always out maneuver you.
  2. Never jab a net at a fish as it surges past the boat — the outcome is often knocking the fish off or tangling the lure hook in the mesh.
  3. Never attempt to scoop a fish from the tail — you are giving the fish a clear escape route and it will be able to shoot out before you can lift the net.


In most circumstances when fishing from a boat, one angler is fighting the fish (“rod man”) while a second individual handles the net (“net man”). It is vitally important that both fishermen have a basic understanding of how to net and that both anglers communicate back and forth during the landing process. Be sure to have a conversation with any newbie in the boat stressing what to do and not to do when manning the net.

How to net a fish insertPractice Using a Net

Don’t consider a fish too small to net. It’s a good idea to practice proper netting on smaller fish — not just the big ones.

Keep Your Net Handy

When fishing, I always have the net out and easily accessible, not buried in a compartment. Make sure the net isn’t tangled with spare rods, tackle box, line tie cleats or other gear. In my 16-foot boat, I usually lay the net over the splash well so it’s ready to use.

6 Steps for Proper Netting:

  1. First, play the fish properly. With energetic fish, never rush the fish to the boat. Most fish are lost at boat side after being brought in too quickly; fish full of fight make unpredictable moves on a short line and the outcome is rarely in your favor. Battle the fish away from the boat where it is easier to compensate for surges. Engage the fish just long enough that some of its energy is reduced. But never wear it down to the point of exhaustion if planning to release it.
  2. As soon as the angler with hooked fish determines it should be netted, a second angler immediately grabs the net and stands ready.
  3. When the rod man determines the fish is tiring, he should work the fish to boat side and call for the net. The net man should never move on the fish until rod man says he has the fish under control.
  4. At this point the net man should place the net in the water (within a couple feet of the rod man) with roughly 1/2 of the hoop buried in the water at approximately a 45-degree angle.
  5. The rod man will lead the fish into the net — head first! If the fish darts left or right, or dives below the net, the net man should immediately remove the net from the water and wait until the rod man has the fish back under control.
  6. The rod man leads the fish by keeping line pressure so its head is up slightly; gently pull the fish to the positioned net. When about half of the fish’s length is inside the net, the net man should lift the net with a slight forward sweep. Success!
How to net a fish photo series 1

Net about halfway in the water at a 45-degree angle, ahead of the fish. (Photo: Darl Black)

How to net a fish photo series 2

The rod man leads the fish head first into the net! (Photo: Darl Black)

How to net a fish photo series 3

When about half of the fish is inside the net, the net man lifts the net with a forward sweep. (Photo: Darl Black)

The Solo Fisherman

If fishing alone, you will act as your own net man. The steps are the same, although you are carrying out the duties of two individuals. Trying to grip, maneuver and lift a net with one hand is difficult. However, I’ve tested a unique device called a RoboHandle which attaches to the net handle thereby allowing the angler to manage netting procedure with one hand. Check the pistol grip and arm support version out at

Angler with a fish caught in a net

A fish in a net brings closure to the fight waged with rod and line — and a smile to an angler’s face! (Photo: Darl Black)

For Your Next State-Record Fish

In addition to a standard-size hoop net, I also carry a cradle net on the chance I hook a really BIG fish. This is basically a 50-inch narrow minnow seine between two floating aluminum poles. One end of the seine is blocked with an additional netting piece sewn in place; the other end is open. The cradle net is like those box canyons we saw in old TV westerns — one way in. The net man positions the cradle on the surface next to the boat and the musky (or large catfish) is guided into the open end. The fish can be held at boat side in the cradle for photo-taking then released without lifting it aboard.

Grab your net — it’s time to go fishing!

About Darl Black:

Darl BlackDarl Black is a lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer/photographer. Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites. Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime. He may be reached for assignment at

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2 Responses to How to Net a Fish — Here’s a Boatload of Tips on Doing It Right!

  1. Dean says:

    Wow. You really went into depth on netting a fish. Not sure many realize how much goes into properly landing a fish. The will now after reading this post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. John says:

    Communication is key for two-man netting, but with technology advancing at this rate solo netting is becoming more possible by the day. Thanks for sharing!

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