There are two things to consider when you buy a cast net for catching bait — the net’s diameter, and the size of the mesh.
Despite anything you may have heard about the amount of lead on the net, it is the size of the mesh that determines how fast the net sinks, not the weight of the lead line.
Keli Emery opens an 8-foot, 1/4-inch mesh net on the flats.
If you catch most of your bait in shallow water, a 1/4-inch mesh has some advantages over a 3/8-inch net. The larger net may sink a little faster, but if you throw it over a school of 2-inch baits you are going to have a lot of baits gilled. Baits that get stuck in the net are usually dead by the time you get them out, and sometimes they are just big enough that you can’t shake them out. And in two feet of water there is no advantage to the net sinking faster. For catching bait on shallow water flats, I use an 8-foot, 1/4-inch net. It’s much easier to throw than a 10-footer, and way less tiring. You might have to throw it a few more times to catch as much bait as you would with the bigger net, but on the other hand, it’s easier to open.
Net Should Be At Least 8 Feet
I recommend eight feet as the minimal size for any cast net. Any net smaller than that takes too much time to catch the bait you need, and is actually harder to throw. Nets smaller than eight feet are, in my opinion, designed for children.
Another consideration is the shape of the leads on the net. True cast net leads are long and skinny, kind of torpedo shaped. You will find these on expensive custom nets, but less often on cheap nets. The inexpensive variety usually comes with egg shaped leads, which are more tangle prone. But it’s really not the decisive factor. I have two nets with egg shaped leads, and both catch bait.
Nick Winger throws a 10-foot, 1/2-inch net in deep water for threadfins.
If you catch most of your bait in deeper water — say between 4- and 8 feet — a 3/8-inch mesh will get down faster and catch more bait than the smaller mesh. This is the net I use most often because it covers the most bases. It’s also a custom made net and cost twice as much as my other two nets, but it is worth the money because it has lasted so long. There used to be an old guy in town who repaired nets, and I had the brails replaced a couple of times, and had him patch some holes, but he has since passed away. This net is well designed and opens like a pancake when I throw it right. It’s also a foot bigger than my 1/4-inch net and more work to throw. But it does have proper cast net leads, and unloading bait into a plastic bin is a snap.
Dye Net Green
Finally, I also have a 10-foot net with 1/2-inch mesh for catching big baits in 20 feet of water. This net is harder to throw than the other two, but I don’t have to throw it as often. I break this net out when I am targeting threadfin herring, which are notoriously net shy. To deal with that, I also dyed this net green so that it’s harder for bait to see. I got that tip from an old-timer and it appears to work. It’s simple enough to do. Just soak the net in a bucket of dyed water overnight, then stretch it out and let it dry.
Threadfins on the surface may look easy, but require a fast sinking net in deep water.
I keep my nets in a plastic bin with a cover. Next to barnacles and oysters, sunlight is a cast net’s worst enemy. It’s also a good idea to empty the net into the bin instead of directly into the live well. This way you can pick out all the stuff you don’t want in the well — catfish, skip jack, blue crabs, etc. — things that sting and bite.
There are so many ways to throw a net that it’s not possible to go into all of them in this article. I will say that I use the triple load method, mainly because you don’t have to put the lead in your mouth. The trick to opening the net is to hang onto one lead and let the net pull that one out of your hand. And the best place to learn to throw a net is on a grassy lawn where you can analyze the shape of the net after each throw without getting wet!
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Captain Fred Everson has been a licensed fishing guide on Tampa Bay in Florida for 13 years. He has also written three books, and is a 20-year active member of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America.