A Friend Nets Your Large Fish - What Can Go Wrong & How To Fix It

Dec 05, 2020

The video above is an example of when the net job goes well!

If you've ever lost a large fish when your friend was netting it, you may relate to what I have to say here. Clear communication and calculated management of the fight can avoid a lost fish.

My Experience
While exploring a large river with our friend we came upon an edge riffle surrounded by big boulders, deep pockets and fast runs. If you hook up in this section you're likely in for a longer fight due to the strong current. The bank we were fishing from was a steep grade and hard to get around due to unstable basketball sized rocks. 2 feet off our bank we spotted a brown surfing a pillow immediately above a boulder. It was my turn and I was excited as I had yet to have a fish experience that day. My dry fly landed in the seam a foot above his lie and up came the head. Within seconds I'd hooked up and he was jumping his way downstream. As Dave worked the camera our friend offered to be on net duty. I jumped on his offer to help because I know that landing larger fish in heavy current on your own takes a lot of extra energy. From here on is where things started to fall apart. I began fighting the fish but was so heavily focused on watching it jump that I forgot to communicate what I wanted from our friend. I got stuck watching things unfold instead of taking quick decisive action to change my position and adjust my rod angle. I managed to steer the fish into the closest piece of calm water and our friend decided to go all in with the net. I hadn't communicated not to. He lunged to scoop the fish from the tail and I didn't allow enough tension release in the line, thereby not giving the fish a chance to settle in the net. Combine this with a hot fish that still has energy to burn and before I could blink that trout had bolted forward and threw my fly. To be clear, our friend is a good listener, a great friend and a smart angler. Through the years fishing together he's executed many successful net jobs. The only reason this particular brown was lost was due to my poor communication and indecisive behavior. What I learned can be applied to any angler and situation on the water.

The video below is a glimpse of the above experience and what went wrong.

Decisive and clear communication from the angler to the netter is key to everything going smoothly. Communication is a two way street, so here's hoping your friend is willing to listen and do what you ask of them. It's best if you talk it over before fishing to ensure you're on the same page. If not, net your own fish.

 Taking ownership, responsibility and leadership on your fish is paramount. After all, it's your fish. Your friend is there to help, but asking him or her to work miracles to overcome your shortcomings in order to land your fish is unfair. What you say and do while keeping your emotions in check is going to have a huge impact on the outcome.

 From the moment the fight begins be observant, scan the river and communicate to your friend a spot where you hope to land your fish. If you find yourself in sketchy water with numerous hazards, you may want to talk about a possible landing even before you take your first cast. The best place to net any fish is soft, calm water. It may be a tire sized eddy just behind a boulder or the only 6 foot slower trough right along shore. It's imperative to try to steer a fish out of the current because a hooked fish will always use deeper water or heavier current to its advantage.

 You may need to be willing to adjust your landing spot on the go, as a head pump in the opposite direction and you're on to plan B. Keep your head on a swivel, aware of your surroundings and flexible to change.

 Anglers need physical freedom to move around as needed during any fight, so offering verbal prompts to your friend as to where to position themselves is helpful. It will make them feel engaged but not intrusive in your moment.

Managing the Fight
Properly managing the fight will help get the fish to the net expeditiously and involves the following:

Line Control
Line control starts from the moment you hook up. If you have slack line you'll need to strip the line in to further deepen that hook set and get solid control of the fish. We've seen countless people trying to reel in the slack line by raising the rod above their head in an uncontrolled fashion. They often can't reel fast enough and the steady pressure needed to keep the fish is lost and the fight is over before it's begun. Once you've gained initial control of the fish through stripping, reeling in slack line and fighting the fish from the reel alone is preferable. The last thing you want is for sloppy fly line to get tangled around your feet only to have the fish break you off. Large fish, especially big brown trout, can sometimes show a brief sign of giving up at the start of the fight. However, one bit of movement from you or your friend and the fish bolts making you keenly aware that the fight is far from over. If the drag is set appropriately, having the fish on the reel  will help you fight it cleanly.  

Your position
Adjust to bank and stream dynamics quickly to gain the upper hand on the fish. If your casting position has you high up on a steep bank, you need to get down to the water as quickly as possible while still keeping pressure on the fish. If your fish has bolted to the opposite side of the river, pushing through heavy current to do so, you'll need to move to a shallow tailout to cross and stay in close contact with your fish.  

 As the fish pulls line out, you need to be comfortable moving your feet quickly to follow the fish while reeling in any slack line as you go. The less line you have out, the less chance a portion of your line gets hung up on a bank bush or a mid-river obstruction.

Learning to move along rocks without looking at every single one is a huge advantage. While doing this you're relying on your peripheral vision to detect major hazards you could trip over.

 If you really want to get that fish to net, you can't be shy about getting wet. If thick bushes line the shore and the fish pulls line, you may have no choice but to follow it up or down the centre of the stream. Always stay in close contact with the fish, doing your best to keep it from getting entangled in mid river logs, undercuts or deep rock depressions.

The Rod
As you move, the axis of the rod needs to be over on its side to offset the fish. If the fish pulls left, you go right and the opposite is true. Fighting a fish with the rod on a strictly vertical axis never works well because a trout will always resist you lifting its head vertically up out of the water. It's only at the last few seconds that the net is scooping it up that you lift a fish's head vertically, once it's too tired to resist being lifted.

Continuously applying constant and steady pressure with the rod is best. Jerky, erratic lifts or pulls on a fish are not recommended.

Netting it
Once you've got that fish in the pre-planned landing spot, make sure your friend is standing downstream of you versus upstream. It's far easier to surf and steer a fish towards the net while going with the current than to fight the weight of the fish against the current.

As you get closer to the landing spot be sure to close the gap of distance between yourself and the netter. Preferably you want to end up a rod length apart. This allows for communication to be heard and received and gives both the angler and the netter clear visuals of what the fish is doing, in order to adjust quickly if needed.

Only when you've got the fish's head subsurface and you're raising it vertically do you tell your friend it's time to scoop. Where possible the angler can steer the fish head first into the net with accuracy thereby making the netter's job almost effortless. With the net job completed now's the time to take a sigh of relief, let your emotions out and bask in the moment together.

Author: Amelia Jensen


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