Anything Fly Fishing

What Your Net Says

3 Mins read

I was fishing a small wild-trout stream that trickled in places and occasionally pooled where the creek turned a corner. I noticed an angler crossing the stream below me and what stood out more than anything was his net. Attached to his back, the net itself looked two feet wide and the handle extended another three feet. The thought that went through my mind was, “That guy’s an optimist.”

Nets probably make a stronger statement about the angler than any other piece of tackle. In this case, the angler was carrying his giant net on a wild trout stream that routinely produces fish a foot long and down. In all my years on the stream, and that’s a lot of them, I’ve had three browns that might approach 18-20 inches if no one is along to modify my guess.

So, either this angler plans to carry his big net for the rest of his life waiting for a big fish, or he just wants to be prepared. Either way, he’s clearly an optimist.

Guides carry big nets for a reason.

Guides, on the other hand, carry big nets for a different reason. I’m convinced they want to give optimism to their clients. No guide would wade into a stream with a small net and let his client think he was looking at a day of catching tiny fish. Either that or the guide is compensating for poor netting skills by covering a swath so wide he’ll never miss a fish. Given all their practice, I’m sticking to the optimism theory.

Some fish just don’t require a net.

Now, there are anglers who carry small nets. I can think of many reasons to do so. For instance, small nets are easier to walk with through the brush. Any angler who has navigated rhododendron thickets and cat briers soon learns not to carry a net on an elastic cord. It only takes one whack on the back of the head when the net snags and then turns loose to convince you there’s a better way to carry a net.

You know what I’m talking about. I can tell by the way you subconsciously rubbed that knot on the back of your head.

One problem I’ve always had with big nets is that they make your fish look smaller. This is especially true when taking photos directly into the net. I see this on social media frequently when the only perspective is the net itself. Big nets shrink fish.

Big nets can make nice fish look smaller.

It does beg the question if two nets might be more appropriate to carry; a big one to actually net the fish and a smaller one to use in photographs. I suspect you could increase the perceived size of the fish by several inches that way.

The problem with only carrying a small net is that it works best on fish you don’t need to net anyway. Some of my fish have been so small that if they bite when I’m picking up my line I first see them as they fly by on my backcast. Pulling out a net at that point seems to be overkill.

But if the truth be told, something I’m reluctant to do both as a fisherman and an outdoor writer, small nets better fit the fish I catch.

You could opt for something in the middle, though I struggle to think of a good argument for a midsized net. It might be too small for a really big fish and would still be too big to show off a really small fish. Instead of having the best of both worlds you might just have the worst.

So, it’s a conundrum, which is just a nice-sounding word for not having to take a side.

To settle the matter, I suppose I should confess which size net I carry myself. My net falls on the small end of the range, which could imply I’m a pessimistic fisherman. But I look at it a little differently in my case.

I tend to fall back on the old saying, “It’s not the size of the net that matters, it’s how big a fish you can put in it.”

Or something like that.

Jim Mize likes the look of a fish that hangs out of his net. You can purchase his new book, The Jon Boat Years, at or buy autographed copies at You may also purchase his books by clicking here on the RIVERS AND FEATHERS “BOOKS” page.

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