To the basic angling essentials—rod, reel, line and hook—add one other: the landing net. This piece of equipment is vital if you wish to take fish consistently.
Watching the expert match angler swinging small fish directly to his hand, a beginner might be misled into thinking all fish can be landed like this. A quick glance at the bankside equipment, however, should dispel the thought at once. There will certainly be a landing net made up, in position, and ready to hand. When the match man merely feels a fish of better proportions he gently subdues it, and reaching at once for the landing net, gets the fish ashore.
He does this because he knows that the fine lines (of about 1lb b.s.) necessary to take the shy fish he seeks are capable of dealing with fish up to several pounds when gently played, and while in the water. To attempt to lift them bodily places the dead weight directly on the fine line, and if this doesn’t break at once, there is every chance of a light hook hold giving way.
Even with sea and game angling the same principle holds good too. Most competent anglers can subdue fish up to 20lb or so on lines of half that b.s. So long as they are submerged. To lift them clear, the use of a net is essential.
The beginner, already spending large sums on the basic rod and reel, and attracted by a host of highly coloured floats and gadgets (which catch more anglers than fish) may be tempted to do without a landing net. But floats can be home-made for next to nothing and it would be wise to save money on floats and to buy a landing net, which is as essential as the rod, reel, line and hook.
A landing net comprises a bag-like net; a triangular or circular metal frame, which can be folded for easy storage and transport; and a 4ft handle with a screw thread at one end for attaching frame and net.
The net and frame can usually be purchased for the price of a few days’ bait, and for both a minimum width of 18in is strongly recommended. A lin diameter cane or even a broom-handle can be fitted with a brass screw fitting at one end to provide a serviceable handle at little cost. Such a net will see the novice through several years of his apprenticeship in the art of fishing. It will cope with roach, rudd, dace, bream and tench, as well as the odd jack pike. When the angler is prepared to spend more, he can graduate to refinements which suit the kind of fishing in which he specializes.
The extending handle
One valuable refinement is an extending handle which is very useful when fishing from banks several feet above the water’s surface, or when fishing over extensive reed fringes. These handles are usually telescopic and can be obtained in metal or glassfibre. They should be matt-painted in dark green to prevent glare, and it is essential to test the locking device to ensure that the handle will not close or extend except when needed. More important still, check that the two halves can-not separate during use. A treaded rubber or plastic non-slip sleeve grip is a useful addition. Some anglers also like to have a spear fitted on the end of the handle to allow the net to be stuck firmly upright in. the bank, or used as a staff when wading in shallow water.
It is helpful to fit the landing net handle with a cord sling which enables it to be carried hitched over the shoulder. This leaves both hands free when, for example, moving pit-ches during a roving match, and leaves the angler uncluttered.
Collapsible folding nets
Collapsible folding nets are useful, all-purpose tools. They are usually based on a triangular shape with two metal arms set at an angle. The open end of the triangle consists of a strong cord. When folded back for carrying or storage, the frame arms lie snugly along the net handle, and a flick of the wrist splays them out, opening the net for use. In conjunction with a spring-operated tele-scopic handle, this kind of net offers versatility, especially to the trout angler, who clips the net to his belt when wading. A rugged clip is necessary, however, because it is all too easy to lose such a net when scrambling through foliage or among tall reed margins. A positive locking device, easily released with a spring-operated catch, is ideal, but regrettably, few manufactured nets incorporate such a device.
Specimen hunters, especially when seeking carp, need much larger nets than those so far described. Now that big trout are becoming more and more easily available, the trout angler too must give thought to the size of his net. The days when pike were automatically gaffed and killed have fortunately gone, and the keen pike angler nowadays carries a net suitable for landing the big ones in order to return them alive. The pioneers of 30 years ago had no alternative but to make up their own monster landing nets. Bicycle wheels, barrel hoops, bamboo hoops and even window frames were pressed into service to make nets big enough for large carp. The modern specimen hunter has several manu-factured alternatives at his disposal. Most are constructed on the triangular principle of the collapsible net.
For the specimen hunter, a 3ft-wide net frame with 4ft-deep net is not too large. This angler must remember to drag the net ashore rather than lift it, since a fish of 30lb or so would exert a tremendous leverage at the end of a 4ft handle. Any attempt to lift a fish without supporting at least the handle would place a great strain on both handle and frame—to say nothing of the angler. Some large net frames of this kind are fitted with a small metal bar near the apex of the frame, providing a hand hold for the angler to support the net as it is dragged ashore.
Net meshes have undergone recent improvement with the advent of knotless mesh, which is available in a fine minnow mesh or in micro-mesh. Micromesh nets are especially suitable for match angler keepnets where large numbers of small fish are taken. The fine mesh prevents these tiddlers slipping through and time is saved, too, in clearing fish from the net which were previously caught by their gills in the mesh.
At the other extreme, barbel anglers often find that the large serrated first spine of the dorsal fin tangles with wide-meshed netting. Clearing this takes time and can damage the dorsal fin. Fine mesh reduces the chances of a fish being returned to the water injured.
Conservationists favour knotless meshes, believing them to cause far less damage to the scales, skin and slime layers of fish. Many anglers would regard this alone as sufficient reason for adopting fine or micromesh knotless mesh, both for landing nets and keepnets.
However well a net is made or designed for its particular purpose, it must be properly and effectively used. To chase a fish around with a net is as foolish as attempting to swing too big a fish over the side of a boat. The fish must be under full £ control when brought to net. The net I should be lowered well into the water and held still until the fish can be brought safely over its rim. The net is raised sufficiently to prevent escape as the rod tip is lowered. The net and its contents are then lifted or dragged ashore.
When fishing from a pier the landing net assumes far greater importance than elsewhere because a fish has to be lifted from water level some 30 or 40ft to the pier. Without some sort of net, few piercaught fish would ever find their way on to the dining table. Obviously, a handle of 30 or 40ft is out of the question, so a drop net on a long rope is used instead. Many pier authorities provide drop nets, but the well-equipped angler is likely to carry his own. Such drop nets do not normally need a collapsible ring. A circular frame of about 2ft diameter, in a non-corroding metal is usually employed to which is attached the net itself, of the same diameter, with a bag some 4ft deep. The whole is supported by a strong rope, attached at three points on the ring.
It takes some skill to lead a skate or turbot to such a net, but the principle is the same. The net is sunk and held in position until the rodsman brings the fish over it. It is then swiftly lifted under the fish, which is held secure, as the rope is brought hand over hand to the rails and over on to the pier deck.