Choosing The Right Cast Net
I really enjoy working the fishing shows and expos each year as folks ask a lot of questions and it lets me see if there is a trend in thinking and gives me ideas for stories. One of the trends this year has been questions on cast nets. The questions may be about mesh size, weight, construction, or another trait or feature, but they are all leading to the big question of, “Which cast net will work the best for me?”
Unfortunately, there isn’t a once size fits all for this question. In reality, there isn’t even a one size fits most. Don’t you think cast net manufacturers would like to be able to make only a couple of designs in a couple of sizes? Betts Nets in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. is one of the larger manufacturers of cast nets in the U.S. They make 25 series of cast nets, with a variety of sizes in each series. Even many of the smaller cast net manufacturers have a wide variety of nets.
Why so many nets?
While sounding simple and understated, the reason is that no one cast net is perfect for everyone and certainly not for every situation. There are a handful of factors that influence cast net performance and these need to be understood before selecting one. Let’s cover the basics and hopefully the need for different nets for different applications will become clear.
There is even a little confusion regarding determining the size of cast nets. Cast nets are measured between the collar or neck (the ring the pickup lines slide through) and the lead line. When spread into a circle, a net would spread to twice this measurement. A 4 foot cast net will spread to a circle that is 8 feet across and a 12 foot cast net will open to a circle that is 24 feet across.
There is a little weight in the mesh that makes up a cast net, the pickup lines and the rope used to retrieve it, but the weight measurement fishermen are concerned with is the amount of lead per foot. This is expressed as 1 pound per foot, 1.5 pounds per foot and so on.
Weight helps a cast net sink, but it has to be a balance with the net size and mesh size (discussed below). Too much weigh can make a net close before it reaches the bottom in deep water. Many fishermen consider lighter nets easier to throw and heavier nets more difficult to throw. There is no debate that throwing a heavier net tires the fisherman faster. While not significant with small cast nets, a dry net is lighter than a wet net. This increases with larger nets that have more mesh to hold water.
Mesh size is the size of the hole in each mesh. This is important as larger mesh allows smaller baits and lots of water to easily pass through. It sinks quicker than a smaller mesh with an equal amount of weight, but won’t catch smaller baits. Mesh size is expressed as a fraction and ranges from 3/16 to 2-1/2 inches.
Unfortunately some cast net manufacturers measure the mesh in different ways, which adds confusion to this measurement. The preferred mesh measurement for cast nets is what is considered the bar or open measurement. This is the distance between adjacent parallel strands of the net when it is open in small squares.
The other mesh measurement is the stretch or closed measurement. This is the distance between the ends of a single mesh that is drawn closed. The stretch measurement is taken from the inside of the knot at one end of the mesh and the outside of the knot at the other end of the mesh. The stretch measurement, which is used more often with gill nets than with cast nets, should be twice the distance of the bar measurement. Therefore, a net that is a 1/2 inch bar measurement would be 1 inch as a stretched mesh measurement.
A cast net should also be measured by the diameter or thickness of the individual strands. While this relates to strength, with thicker stands being stronger, it also affects the sink rate as the thicker strands have more resistance in water and will sink slower with equal weight. Thinner diameter netting is usually softer, and sinks quicker, but will not be as strong as thicker netting and sometimes, like with mullet nets, the strength is critical. This is a personal choice.
QUALITY OF NETTING:
Unfortunately, not all netting is of the same quality. Much like the opportunity to choose fatty, medium fat or lean hamburger, there are different qualities of netting. Soft, yet still strong is preferred, but there are nets made of netting that is hard and springy. These nets have their place too. They are much less expensive and many fishermen consider them a good option for throwing in areas where it is likely to hang the net on an underwater obstruction.
It is possible to affect the quality of the netting in a cast net. There are undoubtedly other factors that also affect wear and strength, but cast nets should never be washed with dish detergents or other cleaners that have grease cutting chemicals. Cast nets are made of monofilament, which is a petroleum based plastic, and grease cutters will dry, harden and weaken the net. Clean fresh water is the best cleaner for cast nets.
Sometimes a cast net that has gotten dry and springy can be rejuvenated. This won’t work with lower quality netting, but many timers a premium net that has dried out and become stiff can be rejuvenated by soaking it for a few day in a bucket of fabric softener and water. I use Downy and put two big slugs in a 5 gallon bucket, then let the net soak for 3 days to a week. Be sure to rinse the net well before using it to catch bait.
The type of construction is a big factor in cast net performance. Smaller cast nets may be made from a single piece of netting, but larger cast nets are made of panels that are sewn together with horizontal or vertical seams. The panels that are added with horizontal seams have more netting than is needed at the top by the collar and it is simply gathered in. This can be a lot of netting and can be difficult to hold or uncomfortable in the hand. However, these nets are easier to make and cost significantly less.
Cast nets made from panels joined vertically are the most efficient, but are also the most expensive. They are made of 4 to 6 pie-shaped panels, cut from premium netting. This allows removing any excess netting, which makes the net less bulky, easier to hold, and helps it sink quicker by reducing resistance. The premium netting and extra labor to cut and sew the seams precisely are what increases the cost
CAST NET COLORS:
Most cast nets are made of monofilament and monofilament comes in colors, so why not have colored cast nets? Several companies make cast nets in greens and blues and there are fishermen who believe one of these colors is critical to their ability to catch bait. They are convinced that a certain color disappears or is more natural in their water and that other colors or clear netting spooks the bait while sinking through the water.
Betts Nets makes three series of No Spook cast nets that have several different shades of colors running through them. Many fishermen find these nets don’t spook bait as readily as clear or solid color nets. Betts No Spook cast nets are available in 3/8, 1/2 and 3/4 inch (bar measurement) mesh sizes to work for different baits.
I don’t believe the big difference in the No Spook nets is actually the colors, but that the process used to add the colors removes all shine from these nets. These nets don’t flash in the air and that lets them get out over spooky baitfish and land before the bait realizes they have been thrown. They also disappear quickly sinking into deeper water, but I believe landing on spooky bait without scaring it is the primary key to their success.
DEEP HOLE CAST NETS:
Over the past few years a new style of cast nets has evolved. I’m not sure the originals had names, but they were made for using in deeper water, which is where the “Deep Hole” name originated. For those who are curious and have never seen one, they work surprisingly well.
My first exposure to these nets was with fishermen seeking shrimp in deeper South Carolina waters. Later I found inland fishermen using them to catch shad that were holding deep for striper baits. The first were homemade versions that used pieces of lawn furniture webbing or back-to-back pieces of duct tape to create a ring around the net , just above the lead line, to help keep the net fully open as it sinks in deeper water. Now there are production versions in a variety of net and mesh sizes.
THE BEST CAST NET:
Wow, asking what is the best cast net is indeed the $64,000 question. Every fisherman has his or her own priorities. When I catch bait for king mackerel fishing, I often catch bait in the ocean or other deeper water, therefore, my top priority is a net that sinks quickly. The sink rate can be enhanced in several ways: Being heavily weighted, smaller diameter netting, and a large mesh will all help a net sink faster.
Unfortunately, not every fisherman has the same priorities. For some fishermen it is most important not to ever gill bait. That means the mesh has to be smaller and even with everything else the same, the net sinks a little slower. However, If you are catching smaller bait, you have to use a smaller mesh.
Some fishermen catch bait exclusively in shallow water, so the sink rate isn’t particularly important to them. They may be more concerned with being able to throw the net a longer distance to avoid spooking baits or just prefer a lighter net they can easily throw. Net size is a factor too. In open areas a larger net often helps, but in confined areas only a smaller net works. There are also special regulations in some areas that limit net size and mesh size. With cast nets, everything is a matter of give and take.
Sink rate, net size and mesh size are the primary differences most fishermen see in cast nets. I like to add the diameter of the netting too, especially for deeper water as netting that is 25 percent larger can slow a net’s sink speed surprisingly.
Some fishermen think that adding weight to the lead line is the answer to sink rate and with more weight the net will sink faster. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. With some smaller mesh sizes, the amount of weight actually has to be decreased, so the net doesn’t close up while sinking. Yes, you can add enough weight that it pulls the net closed while trying to pull it down through the water. The deep hole nets stay open better, but the extra drag from the webbing that keeps them open slows the sink rate.
Constructing the right cast net is a science but a bit of an inexact one. We have some generalisms, but there are very few absolutes. I catch live bait in several ways for several types of fishing and the short list below is what I use. I believe you will find this a good starting point. I use Betts Nets, so the model designations will be for them.
* Live bait (menhaden, mullets, etc.) for king mackerel – 10 foot net in 3/4 inch mesh. This net is my perfect combination of size and sink. Betts Super Pro model 22-10 or 22C-10, which has 1.7 pounds of weight per foot. The difference in the models is the 22C is a No Spook net.
* Live bait (shrimp, minnows, etc.) for inshore fishing from boat or shore – 6 foot net in 1/4 or 3/8 inch mesh. I carry both nets and switch depending on the size of the bait. My 3/8 inch mesh net has a pound of weight per foot and is a little easier to throw than my 1/4 inch mesh net which has 1.25 pounds of weight per foot. I have ordered a 1/4 inch mesh net that only has .75 pounds of weight per foot and believe I can throw it farther. There are times when the shrimp and mullet minnows are big enough to use, but not really big and the smaller mesh net catches them better and without gilling any minnows. The 3/8 net is an Old Salt PM-6 or No Spook 6C and the 1/4 net is simply called the 1/4 Mesh net and the number is 25-6. The 1/4 lightweight net is new and is in the Hi-Tider line as a HM-6.
* Live bait (shrimp, minnows, etc.) for inshore fishing from a kayak or surf fishing – 4 foot net in 1/4 or 3/8 mesh for all the same reasons as when fishing from a boat, plus the 4 foot net can be thrown from a seated position in a kayak. I also use the 4 foot net when catching bait from the beach in the ocean as I can throw it farther. I have also ordered one of the lighter Hi-Tider 1/4 inch mesh net to be able to throw it farther when catching bait from the beach in the ocean. The 3/8 mesh net is an Old Salt (PM-4) and the heavier 1/4 net is a 1/4 Mesh. There is not a 4 footer in the No Spook line.
Hopefully this will help you understand the dynamics of cast nets. There are numerous variables, but the basics can be recalled through this little ditty: Big mesh and heavy weight sink fast and catch big bait—Lighter weight and smaller holes catch shrimp and minnows for the flounder poles.