The Do's & Don'ts of Castnetting
Now that fall has begun, I think about breaking out the cast nets and getting them ready for action!
From mullet to majua, there is a net for every purpose. If you are just looking for an all-purpose cast net, I would recommend a 10 foot diameter net with 3/8 inch webbing. Be sure to make it relatively heavy. Many times bait holds in deeper channels and holes, so you may never see them except on your sounder. There are many nets on the market that you can choose from, and, just like most everything else, you get what you pay for. If you are serious about doing the live bait shuffle this winter, I would suggest purchasing a net made with high quality (more expensive) materials. It may feel like a lot of money at the time of purchase, but you will soon realize the difference in how well it performs and lasts. Some of the cheaper nets lose their suppleness and elasticity over time and start to become “pillowy”. That is the best way I can describe it. They become hard to load up and throw, especially when the wind is blowing. Being able to load your net quickly and consistently is as equally important as the actual act of casting it. You can’t do one without the other. Most of the local shops carry high quality nets. Talk to the people there and they will steer you in the right direction. Always buy local!
There are so many different ways to load and cast a net. Few people cast one exactly like someone else. For me to describe my method in words, would be impossible. I grew up throwing smaller nets for finger mullet in little creeks and off the beach. It wasn’t until I lived in Puerto Rico did I learn how to cast the 12-14 foot nets we had to use there. Some of the guides took me to the basketball court in our marina and made me cast over and over until I was finally consistent. I have two words that will help if you are new to casting nets and want to learn the method that best suits you--YouTube! There are countless videos on how to throw one of these things. One of the most informative is from Jose Wejebe. He takes a slow, step-by-step approach on the loading and actual casting of the net. I mean, why not learn from one of the best? If you spend an hour at the park or in the backyard practicing your technique, muscle memory will kick in. Throwing the net will be like riding a bike.
This time of year, pilchards are probably the most abundant and relatively easy to find. There are certain spots that they consistently congregate. Some of these places are well known, while others are a little harder to find. Most guides who depend on these baits are notoriously tight lipped about where they are loading their livewells, with good reason. Although the bait may be thick in a spot, it doesn’t take long for them to be cleaned out once a bunch of nets have been thrown on them. A great way to find baits is to cruise the beach and look for the pelicans diving. Find the birds, find the bait.
Sometimes Christmas will come early when there are lots of different sized baits in one school. In deeper water, the smaller baits will be suspended above the larger ones that you want. Sacrifices must be made! Christmas comes in the form of a cast net so clogged with the smaller baits, that it looks like a fishy Christmas tree. Not to worry though, there is an easy way to clean it up.
After each use I hang my net over a rail to stretch it out, repair and clean. When it is full of gilled baits, take the dip net from your livewell and swat at those little bastards until their heads pop off and all fall right out. Rinse it out and leave it hanging to stretch out and dry. Do this and your net will last a long time.
Now, there can’t be an article about cast nets without talking about safety. Being out on the water is inherently dangerous. There are so many variables with weather, tides, other boaters, etc., that vigilance is a must. Nonetheless, accidents do happen. How we prepare ourselves before we leave the dock can make the difference between a normal day on the water and one that ends with a mishap or worse. The main safety issue with a cast net is how the caster is connected to the net. They are designed with a loop that you create with a cinch around your wrist. When tension is applied to this 1000 lb. plus line, it tightens and cannot be removed without the tension being alleviated. Would you tie a cinderblock to a rope, permanently locking it to your arm and then throw it overboard while standing on the rail of your boat? Probably not. This is essentially what you do every time you use a cast net that does not have a quick release cuff on your wrist. With all of the rocks, coral, tree limbs and other debris on the bottom, it is very easy for a net to get hung up. Combine that with a swift current and you can easily be pulled under. 95% of the time, the boat is running while the net is being used. Believe me, a propeller spinning in gear at idle speed is more than enough to pull you over board. A simple, loose fitting neoprene cuff is all it takes to prevent a serious accident. Please, all of you using a net, make sure you have a system in place so it will break away in case of an accident. There, safety speech done!
So, this fall, go get those livies! Inshore, on the reef, and offshore, fish go crazy for them. Be nice to your net and it will perform for you. And please, get back to the dock in one piece!
Capt. Grif Helwig
Fish the backcountry flats and basins with Captain Grif on his 16 ft Maverick skiff or 20 ft Hewes light tackle boats. A Florida native, Grif will guide anglers of all ages and skill levels on fly and spin tackle. Call 904-699-2315 or visit kwfishcharters.com
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