There was a time when I was less than diligent about carrying a net.
It was in the days before magnetic net keepers, and at a time when long handled retractable nets were the order of the day on stillwaters. The problem lay in carrying the net. I’d clip it to my belt, but when I went to crouch down, it would hinge around and the handle would catch me in the groin unexpectedly. I would try shoving it down my trousers, which worked ok until you went down on one knee and it poked you in the sternum. This was also less than pleasant when the net had been used and was wet!
Most often I would try each of these methods in turn, and then just end up carrying it in my left hand, and dropping it at my feet wherever I stop to fish, but this doesn’t work well if you are moving about.
Other times I forgot that I had a net at my side when climbing through a fence, and I’d get caught halfway through. There are few things quite as ridiculous as being hopelessly tangled between your gear and a barbed wire fence, in a position from which only pain and damage will extract you!
The lovely wooden stream nets that one gets nowadays were scarce here in South Africa in the early days. Or perhaps it was just that I couldn’t afford one. Mostly we had those ghastly aluminium framed things with an elastic cord protruding from their plastic handle. So carrying the thing was not easy. Not being able to clip it to my nape, I would put the cord around my neck, and the bloody thing would strangle me. These nets also either hung up in bramble bushes or got left lying on the bank somewhere.
As a result I would often go without a net, either by design, or because I had lost the damned thing again. This was perhaps not an entirely bad thing, because it honed the skill of handling a fish without a net, and while I wouldn’t recommend leaving your net at home, the skill can only be a useful one.
As a rule I find bigger fish just a little bit easier without a net that others. They just don’t flap around so much, and their movements, when they are tired, are somewhat more dogged and predictable. Also when lifting them from the water they tend to hang either side of your hand. This enables you to get a hand under them, and lift.
The other little trick with a fish, if it is on the unsettled side of things, is to turn it over and hold it upside down.
This seems to confuse them a little and stop most wriggling.
In theory it’s all very good, but I must confess that as I write these lines my mind wanders back to all the good fish that I have seen or heard of, lost due to the absence of net!
Very small fish are easier of course. You can just crank them in quickly and lift their heads out of the water, enabling you to get a hand around them sooner or later, or forcing the fly to pull free, just as you want it to do.
But it’s those mid sized fish that are difficult. I talk of the one to two, maybe three pounders. These chaps are fit and fight hard. They never seem to tire. When you do get them close, and if you are lucky enough to get a hand under them, they don’t exactly droop over either side of your outreached palm. This means that they can still flap wildly once you have them, and normally before you get to turn them upside down.
So it is for these fellows in particular, as well as the fish of a lifetime, that I feel the need to carry a net.
And of course a net is essential with a better fish, if you want a better than average chance of returning it successfully, because you simply can’t hand land a fish that is still frisky. And frisky is how you want to return them.
But sometimes, for whatever reason, I find myself without a net, and with a good fish on.
At times like this I try to muster all the skills and concentration of a trapeze artist working in a high wind.
To the onlooker it probably just looks as though I just flounder and jump in the river and chase the damned thing around like a lunatic.
Some of my friends are able to do it with more class.
But the benefits of carrying a net are undoubted, and there is a slick satisfaction of having the fish nestled safely in the bottom of the bag while you reach for your camera.