Fish-Friendly Landing Nets

Having the right landing net makes difference in whether a fish is released in good condition or not. Here's what to look for.
Example of Wide Mesh Net
Wide-mesh nets used to be all that was available, but now there are better options. Courtesy West Marine

I have a pet peeve. Well actually, I have a lot, but one concerns landing nets. Too often I see anglers using nets with mesh measures anywhere from 1 to 2 inches across. Large mesh netting is fine if you intend to keep a fish, but it’s horrible for catch and release. I mean, really horrible.

Tail Injuries

Here’s the problem I see with large-mesh netting: The fish’s tail (aka caudal fin) gets squeezed through the mesh like Velveta through a cheese slicer. It splits and tears the tender membranes between the rays of the fin. This can affect soft dorsal and anal fins, too, inflicting multiple tears. I’ve seen the injuries too many times on released fish, and every time it makes me cringe.

Cuts and Scrapes

The netting material itself can also hurt fish. Rough nylon netting is more likely to cut and scrape fins and the sides of fish. The shape of the net is also factor, as many nets are like sacks that literally bend thrashing fish in half, pressing the fins farther through mesh, resulting in deeper tears. There’s no way for the tears to heel, and the open wounds can lead to infections that ultimately result in the slow and debilitating demise of the released fish.

Fish-Friendly Mesh

Promar Premier Angler Landing Nets
Narrow mesh, like that found on Promar’s Premier Angler series of landing nets, lessens the likelihood of injury when fish are released. Courtesy Promar

However, there is a solution, and it comes in the form of fish-friendly landing nets, aka conservation nets, from companies such Frabill and Promar. A great example is the Frabill Trophy Haul series of nets. The netting features ½-inch mesh that helps prevent tears and splits to the tail. The netting material is also rubber coated—Frabill calls it the Coated Conservation Mesh. This material is softer and less abrasive, and that reduces scrapes and cuts to fish.

Landing Pads

Frabill Trophy Haul Landing Net
Frabill’s Trophy Haul landing net features fish-friendly mesh and a special shape for a safe release. Courtesy Frabill

Nets in the Trophy Haul series also have a special shape. The net is flat on the bottom, and that helps cradle the fish rather than bend it half, especially if you avoid lifting the fish into the boat. Promar’s Premier Angler landing nets have even wider flat areas at the bottom, not to mention fine-mesh netting, to care for fish you plan to release.

The next time you’re shopping for a landing nets, stop to think about my pet peeve. Or at least think about the fish, especially if you might need to release a sub-legal-size fish or you just plan to practice catch and release. Fish-friendly landing nets are the way to go.