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The art of cast netting involves purchasing the proper net and knowing how to throw them properly.
It was one of those sultry August summer days with a light west wind laying the ocean flat calm in close to Georgia's Cumberland Island. As our fishing party motored in close to the surf, we began scanning the ocean for signs of pelicans dive-bombing schools of menhaden.
"There they are," one of my charter clients announced with an excited voice. "Look north along the beach, I can see pelicans diving in close to the beach."
As we approached the large school of menhaden it was soon apparent that there were other predators feeding on the thickly schooled pogies. Occasionally an 80- to 100-pound tarpon would bust right through the school of menhaden and become airborne with baitfish flinging from its mouth. Sharks were also gorging themselves on the helpless menhaden, as they slashed through the thickly schooled baitfish.
Now our center console fishing boat drifted into the wild feeding frenzy as I readied my menhaden cast net. I had actually selected the eight-foot net over my standard ten-foot net because the menhaden were so thick it would be much easier to haul in the eight-foot net full of menhaden.
However I knew that I was in trouble when the net hit the water and a large boil erupted under the net!
Suddenly all I could do from being dragged from the bow of my center console fishing boat into the water was to hold on to the bow rail. Now a fairly large shark entangled in my cast net began a wild attempt to bust out of its web cage!
I literally thought that the hundred-pound black tip shark was either going to rip my hand off or jerk me clean out of my boat into the feeding frenzy. At that point, I didn't know which would be the worse of the two evils, losing my hand or going into the water with a mad shark!
Fortunately the powerful shark ripped a large hole in the net and soon escaped, leaving me both breathless and shaken.
Since that day, I have made a very sound decision, which includes attaching the cast net rope to the bow cleat instead of my wrist when sharks and other ocean predators are feeding on menhaden!
The art of cast netting has definitely produced many dramatic experiences for many fishermen like myself. I can remember several times when I have seen fishermen fall into the water after losing their balance tossing their net. And there are the many times when fishermen have forgotten to attach the cast net rope to their wrist and simply toss the net right into the ocean!
However, one of the more frustrating factors about cast netting is simply being able to catch baitfish in a timely manner. Success as a fisherman often relies on how well you can catch live baits to fish with. The longer it takes you to catch baitfish, obviously the less successful you are going to be during the remainder of your fishing day.
I have actually listened to fishermen communicating on the VHF marine radio long after the sun has peaked its head over the horizon commenting that they still have not found live bait!
The first step in becoming successful at cast netting is purchasing the proper cast net for your particular fishing applications. A good place to start is your local tackle store. Here fishermen can be custom fitted with a cast net and more importantly, expert advice can be obtained as to the proper net to fit your needs.
"I recommend a fast sinking net for menhaden," Don Whitman of "Leaders & Sinkers" tackle shop said. "If the net sinks too slowly, the baitfish will have plenty of time to swim out from under the net. Most premium nets have from one to one and a half pounds of lead per foot. For example, a ten-foot cast net should weigh ten pounds!"
"One of my more popular selling nets for menhaden is a ten-foot Betts 'Super Pro' cast net. I also recommend to my customers the 5/8ths mesh that not only allows the net to sink fast, but it won't gill the menhaden".
Once again fishermen should also understand that when they are tossing a net over a school of large menhaden, a 5/8ths-inch mesh cast net would do a better job. However, when smaller menhaden are netted, a 3/8ths-inch mesh cast will stop the smaller menhaden from becoming caught in the webbing.
A very long time ago I made the mistake of tossing a 3/4 inch cast net over a school of small menhaden, which resulted in spending most of the morning trying to remove approximately 100 tiny pogies from their imprisonment in my net! It is very difficult to remove a small pogie from the webbing when both of its gills are caught in the larger mesh.
"I always recommend fishermen purchasing two nets," Fernandina Beach, Florida's Don Whitman said. "First of all a net can be torn or damaged while cast netting for bait. A spare net comes in mighty handy when this happens. Secondly, if you have two size nets, you can have the option of using a smaller, or larger net."
Cast nets range in size from a small four-footer right up to a twelve-foot net. While an eight-foot net is more popular with the average fishermen, hardcore fishermen will often toss a ten to twelve-foot net. Obviously it takes a lot more practice and skills to toss a ten- to twelve-foot net, verses a six- to eight-foot net.
By purchasing your cast net through a custom tackle shop, they will in many cases take the time to show their customers how to throw their newly purchased cast net as well.
"I think the main thing that fishermen do wrong is tossing the net straight down to the water," Don Whitman said. "This style of throwing a cast net obviously doesn't give the net enough time to open up properly. By tossing the net upwards and towards the sky, the cast net will have plenty of time to open up properly. Especially if you are throwing one of the larger cast nets."
Toss them fast!
One problem that I see daily with cast netters is that they can't load their net up quickly enough to make a second cast. By the time they ready their net, the boat has drifted off from the fish, or the school of baitfish have moved.
I have found by gathering the cast net rope in the right hand, then grasping the net at the top with the same hand, then grabbing the middle of the net with the same hand, I can split the net in half by using the elbow of my right arm. Once the net is divided into two sections, I will grab the lead line in my mouth and a section of lead line in my left hand. Now the net is ready to be thrown, all within a few seconds. Actually all I am doing is eliminating tossing sections of the net over my left shoulder to divide the net into two sections and getting my clothing all wet.
I actually learned this cast netting trick from shrimpers that made a living throwing a cast net. Obviously they have to re-load their nets in a hurry if they are going to make a living by selling shrimp!
Make sure you know what is on the bottom before letting your net sink to the bottom!
A major mistake that fishermen make, and a costly one too, is allowing their cast net to sink onto an oyster bed or even submerged pilings. Once the net is tangled in deep water, this may well be the last time you see your expensive cast net.
Storing your cast net properly will also prolong the life of your net for many fishing seasons.
After you have used your net, make double sure that all the baitfish have been removed from the net! This makes for a very smelly experience during future fishing trips.
Cleaning your cast net properly involves using a mild dish detergent and a bucket full of freshwater. Spread the net over the dock, or any hard surface and rinse the net out first, removing any grass and fish slime from the net. Next place the net in the bucket of soap and water and allow the net to soak from fifteen minutes to an hour. Finally remove the net from the bucket and rinse, then hang the net up and allow the net to dry. Store your cast net in a bucket until you are ready to use it.
The net results, you hopefully will not be included among those fishermen that are still commuting on the VHF marine radio at high noon to locate baitfish!