Largely overlooked in the rush to learn new techniques, uncover fish-holding locations, and stock our boats and tackle boxes with the latest lures and gadgets, fishing nets are the extra-point kickers of the fishing game. You can do everything right to hook the fish of a lifetime and fight it boatside like a champ. But if either net or net-minder falters at the moment of truth, your well-played engagement inevitably ends as an epic fail.
For example, I'll never forget the fateful afternoon I spent hours baking under a hot July sun on Minnesota's famed Mille Lacs Lake with my father. I was about 12. The walleyes weren't biting. But finally, mercifully, my bobber went down. I set the hook on a dandy 'eye. After a short, sweet battle, my prize was at boatside. Dad deftly dipped the net under the fish and scooped it up. But when he hoisted it above the waterline, the well-seasoned mesh bag opened like a trap door and my walleye plopped back into the lake. With a flick of its tail, it was gone.
Thankfully for today's fishing faithful, netting and other components are better than ever. Each season, net-makers render a host of fine options for corralling catches great and small. Consider the following picks as you upgrade your arsenal, to make sure your endgame is as deadly as the rest of your presentation.
Bass Pro Shops Catfish Net
Beefy blues, flatheads, and channels are no match for this heavy-duty net. The 52-inch gold-anodized handle is octagon-shaped for better gripping when scooping up prize cats, while the 32 X 36-inch hoop is forged from sturdy 5/8-inch black-anodized aluminum. Plus, the 1.75-inch, rubber-coated mesh resists snagging hooks and fins. basspro.com
Beckman BT304243 Original
Milo Beckman's legacy of bulletproof, high-performance landing nets lives on. The Original Series that bears his name features rugged, drawn aluminum hoops and handles, with a lifetime guarantee on the yoke. On the business end, Beckmanet bags are spun from strong, bonded, commercial nylon seine material that's anchored to the hoop with a custom, 300-pound-test woven edge. Original Beckmans come in a host of hoop sizes, from a modest 22 X 28-inch model to a cavernous 34 X 65-incher. Likewise, handle lengths run from 4 to 9 feet, with detachable slide and extendable options. For battling hefty muskies, salmon, pike, and other super-size catches, the BT304243 — which has a treated bag and 4-plus-3 extending handle — is a fine ally. lindyfishingtackle.com
Beckman PT221843 Pen Net
If you've ever had a trophy trampoline out of a rubber net, you'll appreciate this knotless, coated, hook-proof nylon standout, which offers the benefits of rubber without the bounce. Plus, the squared-off, pen-style design allows the fish to lie flat on the bottom of the net, where it's less likely to flex back out, or twist and tangle in the mesh. As a bonus, Beckman's legendary drawn aluminum hoops and handles add admirable strength to the equation. Hoop sizes run from 20 to 30 inches, handle lengths from 44 inches to 9 feet, including detachable slide and extending options. If you're looking for a utility player for panfish, bass, and walleyes, the PT221843's 22-inch hoop is an all-around good fit; its treated bag is easy on the fish; and the 4-plus-3-foot extendable handle boosts your reach to 7 feet. lindyfishingtackle.com
Brodin Gallatin Ghost Series
Brodin blends the classic look and feel of teak with modern stylings and clear, thermoplastic mesh with this fine fly net. At 24½ inches long, it features an 8.75 X 17.25-inch hoop that handily scoops fish stretching up to 26 inches. Taking transparency to new heights, the see-through plastic net is low-vis beneath the surface, to reduce the fish-spooking factor. It also resists the jabs of dainty but needle-sharp hooks, and is gentle on your catches. brodin.com
Cabela's Fold-n Stow
Thanks to a sliding handle and folding hoop, this slick net tucks itself into compact, 10 X 39-inch package that fits most boats' rod lockers and under-deck storage areas. But it's more than a contortionist. The .50-inch-diameter, heavy-wall extruded aluminum hoop hoists heavy catches with ease, while the knotless, coated nylon mesh is easy on the fish, fights tangles, and resists hook penetration. Available in a Standard version with a 20 X 24-inch hoop and 36-inch handle, as well as a Kayak model, which sports a 14 X 18-inch hoop and 22-inch handle. cabelas.com
EGO S2 Slider
Extending a handle has never been easier. Just press the release button and pull the foam-rubber handle until it reaches the dimensions you desire, then release the button so it reseats into the slotted interior, locking in your chosen length. Once the fish is in the boat, you can just as easily retract the handle to keep the net handy, yet out of the way. Three handle options cover 48 to 108-, 29 to 60-, and 18 to 36-inch length spans. All feature functional grips that boost control while eliminating bulky, line-fraying yokes; and extruded aluminum hoops with an upturned scoop design. Netting options include PVC rubber-coated nylon, black rubber, and clear rubber configurations. egos2slider.com
Frabill Crankbait Net
Actually a series of nets offered in three sizes and a variety of hoop and handle options, the Crankbait Net shines for several reasons. Its knotless, snarl-resistant hexagonal mesh is cloaked in poke-resistant vinyl, effectively ending headaches brought on by thrashing gamefish and multi-treble presentations. We also like its flat-bottom design, which is decidedly gentle on fish. frabill.com
Frabill Power Stow
Blending form with function, members of Frabill's Power Stow series pack plenty of punch to tackle trophy fish, yet conveniently collapse for easy off-duty storage. Features include a glass-filled nylon yoke, sliding handle, and folding hoop. For multi-species action in a variety of settings, including kayaks, we like the model 3706. Unfurled, the hoop spans 20 X 24 inches, with a bag depth of 21 inches, while the handle measures 36 inches. By comparison, stow-mode dimensions are just 10 X 39 inches. frabill.com
When Leon Leonwood Bean began outfitting anglers with quality gear back in 1912, he sparked a tradition that continues today with his family-run company's offering of Katahdin nets. All are crafted in Maine from eye-catching laminations of ash, walnut, and maple. The series includes the fish-friendly Ellipse Catch-And-Release, a sweet, shallow, oval-shaped cradle designed for gently dipping your catches and unhooking them in the water. At 23 inches in length, with a 6½ X 16-inch net, it's ideal for streamside adventures. Other options include the 19-inch Medium Teardrop, built for small streams; the 21-inch Large Teardrop, for general trout, landlocked salmon, and bass duties; the Canoe/Float Tube, which extends your reach out to 32½ inches; and the 50-inch Boat Net, which sports a deep, 14½ X 20-inch net. llbean.com
Ranger Octagon Handle Big Game Net
With roots tracing to founder Don Golde's frontline WWII service as a U.S. Army Ranger, these nets are geared to unflinching performance under fire. The company's lineup covers everything from a competition-grade Tournament Series to shrimp and smelt nets. For boating muskies, stripers, salmon and other large, scrappy quarry, the Octagon Handle Big Game Series is a standout. Features include black, anodized-aluminum hoops and handles. The eight-sided handles are also easy to grip, and assure perfect alignment of the snap button on every extension. The sturdy, 5/8-inch reinforced hoops are available in sizes from 20 X 20 to 40 X 37 inches; handles run 36 to 48 inches long. Netting choices include nylon, heavy-duty, catch-and-release, and hook-resistant options. Two-piece, telescoping handles in 8- and 12-foot lengths are also an option. rangernets.com