This subject is important for any species, but knowing how to properly use a net is especially important when it comes to big predators like muskie and northern pike. Done right, it’s the most effective and safest (for angler and fish) way to land and release fish. The ‘safest’ part is true – but based upon use of a quality, fish-friendly landing device, like the Frabill “Conservation Series” nets. (The net’s mesh must have a quality coating and large enough holding area at the base.) Play any fish with moderate-to-heavy pressure, to tire it out and prepare it for leading into the net.
Head-first is an important point in netting. But without a doubt, more important is stressing one consistent movement with net or cradle/net hybrid.
Sticking the landing device in the water and hoping the fish swims in it only works once in a while. Never just stick the net in the water, especially stretched out and overextended. Netting should be one consistent movement that starts with the fish coming to you head-first. The angler should be leading the fish to the net. The would-be netter should be watching and waiting, in a position pointing toward the fish, with the front rim of the net just above water, with arms (elbows cocked) ready to thrust forward… when the fish is the length of the net handle away, drive the hoop down below the fish and forward. When the front of the hoop is beyond the midsection of the fish, start the swing up and continue the movement until all of the net hoop is above water. Pull the hoop to the boat’s gunnel and start the release process with the fish in water. I can’t stress enough that netting is one, smooth, consistent movement.