How to use Keepnets

Before the introduction of keepnets matchmen would fling their catch on the bank to be collected at the end of the match.

Today, keepnets provide a humane alternative

Most modern coarse-species anglers use keepnets whether for specimen hunting, pleasure angling, or competition fishing. The match-man obviously needs to weigh in his catch at the end of the match to establish who wins the prize. The keepnet enables him to do so without killing the fish. Pleasure anglers once used to return fish as soon as they were unhooked. Nowadays we often carry a camera and record the catch;in photographs. The keepnet enables us to do this with no damage to the fish. Specimen hunters often keep a very detailed log of their catches, recording weight, girth and length and other details. They too find the keepnet a valuable accessory.

The important thing about these differing groups of anglers is that they all return their catch alive as soon as possible. All are strongly conservation minded, not only car-rying out the law with regard to immature fish, but returning also the big ones which, a couple of decades ago, would probably have finished up in glass cases.

Introduction of the keepnet

The match fisherman was responsi-ble for the introduction of the keepnet. Before its arrival, every fish caught during a contest was thrown on the bank to be collected and weighed when fishing ceased. The drain on the fish population, even in the best-stocked waters, eventually led to the use of a net to keep fish alive for the duration of the match. Although those early nets were small and made from heavy twine, they were of vital importance. Today’s nets are available in a vast choice of sizes. Naturally, the bigger the net, the less risk of damage to fish through overcrowding. Although most anglers favour a round net, there is a distinct advantage in using a rec-tangular one when shallow waters are fished. These models will allow a greater area to remain submerged, thus providing more water space for their inhabitants.

In many areas Water Authorities now specify the minimum size of keepnets to be used in their waters. Where the Water Authorities fail to do so, most of the larger and forward-thinking clubs themselves specify minimum keepnet sizes to be used by their members. Some clubs go even further and specify how many fish of each species may be kept in the net. A dozen roach in a net 6ft long with 18in hoops would seem to be in no danger, but a dozen bream, or even carp or pike, would suffer. Bream are especially vulnerable to overcrowding as their narrow body cross-section causes those at the bottom of the net to be forced on their sides and crushed if they are overcrowded. They are also the most sought-after quarry of the competition fisherman.

Vulnerable species

Barbel and carp are also vulnerable to keepnets because both species bear large serratededged spines on the dorsal and anal fins, and these often tend to tangle in the mesh during movement, resulting in con-siderable damage if the fish struggle to free themselves.

The organized match-angling world is also very concerned with this problem. To prevent overcrowding in certain well-organized matches the stewards are required to patrol the bank at regular inter vals to individually weigh the big fish and record the contents. When you consider that a match champion may take several pounds of fish in the course of the match, it requires little imagination to appreciate the suffering to fish which could arise in a single match.

Keepnets vary a great deal according to their specific function. The match angler’s net is likely to be about 8 or 10ft long, with hoops of at least 15 or 18in. His specimen-hunting counterpart will probably use a far larger net which may be anything up to 12ft long with hoops up to 3ft in diameter to accommodate larger fish.

Spacing rings

Spacing rings, to provide support and strengthen the net, are manufactured either from galvanized wire or plastic. Wire rings are joined by brass ferrules that have an annoying habit of pulling apart. They can be glued with Araldite or soldered, but will always be suspect. Plastic rings rarely break and being soft reduce the chance of damage to fish. But being pliable they tend to become oval-shaped and thus crowd fish together. They are also lighter than wire, which may cause smaller nets to roll in a strong current, but adding a stone in the base of the net will hold it down.

However big the net, it cannot do its job if it is badly placed in the water. If the net is not properly extended, 10ft of netting is of little value, and hoops of 2ft diameter are useless in 18in of water. They are usually attached by a screw fitting to a bank stick conveniently placed to allow the angler easy access to the open end. They can also be prevented from collapsing with the aid of mesh-spreaders which attach to the rings and hold them apart.

The ring at the neck, into which the bankstick is mounted, is important. Many models have a very small ring, which makes it more difficult to slide a fish into the bag of the net. Choose the net with the biggest plastic-coated ring possible, so that if a fish is dropped against it there will be less risk of injury. Some rings have a dent or curve so that a rod can be rested across the net while the angler unhooks a fish—an advantage if the net is firmly fixed in the river bed.

Nylon netting has long been available in several mesh sizes, from ‘minnow’ upwards, and if machined in a tubular run will be free of knots. This means that the only stitching should be at the base and neck rings—both weak areas that must be examined even in a new net. A recent introduction and improvement on the nylon mesh is micromesh, a soft nylon material with extremely small holes that is reported to cause little or no damage to fish. A few clubs and authorities are already insisting on its use in an effort to reduce the incidence of disease. Micromesh is expensive, but has a long life and dries quickly.


Regular maintenance is needed if a keepnet is to remain efficient. Although mesh may be advertized as ‘rot-proof it is still liable to strain, especially if a large weight of fish is lifted awkwardly. Check the base of the net for signs of fraying, and replace it at once if need be.

Fish slime, allowed to accumulate with repeated use, can work its way into the mesh, stiffening the net to such an extent that it will have the effect of glass paper on fish scales. Washing the keepnet in clean cold water and thoroughly drying it after each outing will prevent this and leave the net more wholesome to handle in the future.

Remember that fish naturally face the current, so the net should lie parallel to the bank, the mouth facing upstream. Provided the net is long enough, there should be no difficulty in arranging this. The mouth of the net should lie close to the angler at a height which is convenient for handling.

Most damage to keepnets occurs when they are lifted with their con- tents at the end of the day. Grabbing the neck ring and pulling will eventually split open the bottom. The correct method is to retrieve the net hand over hand by the spacing rings, and then lift it, holding the bottom and the gathered rings in separate hands. Better quality nets have a small ring attached at the base with which to hold and lift.

Once onto the bank, avoid tipping the net on its side and shaking the fish free. This will dash them against the mesh, removing scales and ripping fins. Instead, collapse the net so that hands can be in-serted, and lift out fish individually. After weighing or photographing, they should be returned to the water immediately, not re-netted—a practice that can cause further abrasions if the fish are tipped back using the net as a shute.