By Juan Verute
My kayak fishing student Tom strained hard, leaning far back in his kayak seat. The only words he could get out were "BIG FISH… BIG FISH" as he worked to gain the advantage. No sooner did he finish repeating himself than the smallmouth bass went airborne. The massive silhouette thrashed violently across the water, providing clear evidence that this was a trophy fish. The battle teetered back and forth but after what seemed like an eternity the angler was fully in charge of the fish. At least that's what he thought.
What happened next is somewhat blurry in my memory probably because I'd sooner forget. As I paddled toward the battle to assist, I saw Tom turn to reach for his net that was tucked away in a crate rod holder behind him. I wanted to yell "DON'T!" but I knew anything that I interjected at that point would be information overload. The net had become entangled in a couple of the guides on his stored rods. Now Tom was in a fight with the fish at his back while wrestling with his net in the rod holder. To make a short story shorter, that momentary turn and the focus on freeing the net gave the smallmouth bass slack line and enough of a respite to muster another leap, a last chance for freedom. The smallmouth hit the air and with just a couple well timed head shakes the spinnerbait was flung off to the side. The bass had made his escape leaving behind the bitter disappointment that comes with losing a sure citation class fish.
This scenario is one that many kayak anglers know too well. I certainly do. Over time I've learned that if you don't have your netting game down the net isn't worth the space it takes up in the kayak. The school of hard knocks has definitely taught me a lot about netting fish from a kayak. Let me share with you some sure fire strategies and tips for increasing your nets worth.
Keep your net in front of you
While actively fishing, I store my net on the deck in front of me with the handle in easy reach between my legs. This enables me to keep my focus on fighting the fish rather than searching for the net. It also keeps me from having to turn around while fighting the fish. Fighting a fish with one arm while having your back turned to it is a recipe for disappointment. I've even seen kayak anglers turn one way then the other then back again trying to get a hand on their net. I call that the net pirouette. Pirouettes are for ballet dancers not kayak anglers!
Use a rod's length of line
Once you have the fish ready to net, don't get overzealous with your cranking. Leave a length of line roughly equal to the length of your rod. Like magic, when you raise the rod tip above your head at about 12 o'clock the fish will come in close to your gunwale making it an easy scoop with the net. You should keep the reel fairly close to your chest when you execute this maneuver. I've seen anglers perform all kinds of contortions trying to get a fish to come boat side for netting. Believe me, this strategy works a whole lot better than hyper extending your arm on the opposite side of the kayak to get the fish to come closer. The rod’s length of line strategy also allows you better control over the fish if he gets a second wind.
Keep your body over your hips
Keeping your body over your hips is an all-around good practice when kayaking. It's even more important when scooping up that monster fish. You want to reach with your net and your arms without leaning over the gunwale of the kayak. Keep that body mass centered or you might be wrestling with your fish in the water.
Get that head up
The fish head! Use the leverage of your rod position as described previously to get the fish moving toward you with its head on or near the surface. That's going to make getting the net under the fish a whole lot easier. Avoid chasing a fish with your net behind it. The fish almost always wins this scenario.
I've taught these simple strategies to many of my kayak fishing students over the years. The lesson though usually comes after they've lost a fish when they are most receptive to trying something different. After reading this, tell me, what is your net worth?