Being a Good Netman - Randall Bonner
The moments leading up to the landing can have emotions running high if the chemistry between angler and netman aren’t in snyc. Guide Ryan Beck nets a fish for the author.
Being a good netman is like being a good wingman. Sure, you’d rather be the guy reeling one in, but if your buddy has one on the line, you want to help him land it. Being a netman seems like a simple task, much easier to get a fish into a big hoop than try to fool one into biting. It’s not that easy though, because there’s that anxiety that you could make one wrong move and blow it, and become the scapegoat instead of the hero. There’s an element of trust between an angler and netman to perform in harmony. Hopefully some of this knowledge will increase your odds of snychronicity when the time comes to scoop one in the bucket.
To net a fish, you have to think like a fish. By that I mean that you have to predict the behaviors of an unpredictable wild animal. There is a formula of deductive reasoning and rational thinking that can increase the probability of netting a fish. A lot of the variables are based upon the conditions and surrounding environment. If a fish has depth, it will likely dive, if it’s in shallow water, it’s more likely jump, so on and so forth. For each situation, placement is crucial to being in the right place at the right time to capture a fish during the fight. These guidelines generally apply to salmon and steelhead, but are useful in netting all species.
Work As A Team
Keep in mind that the angler with the fish on should be attempting to get control over the fish or at least tire it out until it gives in a little easier. As the angler, there’s a few things you should attempt to do in order to keep the fish in a good position for it to end up in the net. After the fish has its initial freak out of being hooked up, you ideally want to be able to pull it upstream with the netman positioned below you. Once you’ve got the fish pulled upstream and pinned by pointing the rod tip at an upstream angle with the tip held high, then transition to a downstream angle in order to turn it, dropping the rod tip slightly and reeling down to the terminal tackle. Make sure you’re communicating this strategy with your netman ahead of time. When you turn the fish, it will swim right towards the netman and (hopefully) into the net. The netman should be in pursuit of an ideal position, not the fish. The angler should lead the fish right to the net when it’s tired out. If the angler with the fish on is having a difficult time getting the fish near you as the netman, communicate this strategy and place yourself downstream. If you’re in a boat, this can be a little more a little challenging to execute on anchor, particularly if the angler is in the bow and the netman is in the rowing seat. You can make up the difference with a coordinated effort. As the angler, lean back and lift the fish into the net while the netman leans forward to stretch out with the net. If the situation allows for it, swap seating positions so that the netman can be downstream of the angler. If there are very few obstacles and you’re okay with drifting past where the hookup occured, you can also position the boat to free-drift in a manner that allows the netman to be downstream or at least level with the angler fighting the fish.
Don’t Spook The Fish
As the netman, you want to do your best to be stealthy with your approach. The idea is to trick the fish into the net, rather than swat them like a horesfly with fins. Some-times if you play your cards right, you can trick a fish into the net before it’s tired out. For larger fish that overpower the gear of a typical angler, sometimes your best bet is to trick it into the net on the first try, rather than taking stabs at it until you’ve got it in the bag. Often a fish that’s seen an unsuccessful attempt with the net during a fight will focus on avoiding the netman rather than fighting the pressure of the line from the angler. If you thrash around in the water when the angler has a fish pinned, it’s going to panic. Try to sneak into position and take your time instead of rushing to net it before it gets away. Imitate the natural environment and be like a tree, only you’re holding a net. Be still, keep the net out of the water until the time is right. This also means having the patience not to take stab at the fish if you’re unsure you’re in a good position or close enough to bag it. If you miss, the impending panic could be the end of the fight, be it broken line, pulling out the hook, or straightening it. If you get the hook tangled in the net but don’t bag the fish, you could easily pull it out of it’s mouth. You could bang the line with the hoop and break it or pull the hook out as well. Much like hunting, you ideally want to go for the one-shot, one-kill scenario.
As simple as it may sound, and as many times as it’s been said already, you want to trick the fish into the net, not stab at it, or hammer down on it. Even if you have to scoop, you want to be in front of the direc-tion the fish is swimming so that you have a little more room for error if it decides it wants to split and bail at the last moment. If you’re swiping at it’s tail, the fish is already in position to swim away from the net without having to turn itself around. Take into account the body shape of the fish, and that most of it’s heavy mass is in it’s head and “shoulders,” while it’s shape tapers towards the tail. Consider that a dead fish laying on the pavement would be easier to scoop from the head to tail rather than the other way around. It’s no different with a living, breathing fish.
Ryan Beck netting a fish for Kate Pospisil.
Adapt On The Fly
You can try your best and draw from experience what behaviors the fish are likely to do in certain situations, but they are only as predictable as Pacific Northwest weather patterns. Sometimes a fish will re-fuse to swim upstream, even if it’s tired out. In fact, if there’s swift current and you’re keeping them pinned so they can’t turn and burn, some fish will open their mouths wide and create resistance that puts a lot of pressure on the line, swimming from side to side in the river like a 30-inch-long plug. This is one situation where a tail first scoop may be justified. If the line breaks, the fish will likely still be facing upstream, but let the current carry it downstream, especially if it can’t see behind itself and doesn’t know you’re there waiting. Keep in mind that nets grow bigger holes that lose fish. Stay on top of frays or repair holes with heavy braid. If the bag isn’t deep enough, don’t try to fold it against the frame and close it. Lift the net parallel to the water’s surface to a secure area and deal with the fish. If you’re planning to harvest the fish, try to bonk it in the net without damaging the mesh. Be aware of hooks and line and don’t hook yourself while handling the fish. The moments leading up to the landing can have emotions running high if the chemistry between angler and netman aren’t in snyc. Try to remember you’re on the same team, put trust and faith in your fishing partner, then share gratitude and congratulations when everything comes together. When mistakes happen, be calm and examine what could have been done differently, but always with the approach that you’ll get them next time.