Casting Call

In Search Of The Perfect Pancake

FSF Staff May 16, 2013

Throwing a cast net is a necessary fundamental that many anglers learn as they climb the ranks of sport fishing. Those who perfect the tactic often advance to throwing a 12- or 14-footer, the largest legal cast nets for use in state waters, but with these large nets you’ll need an alternative tossing technique to combat the heavy weight and ensure the net fully opens as intended. If you’ve never attempted to throw a cast net, then do not start your bait catching career with such a large net. Instead, learn the ropes with a more manageable cast net in the 6- to 8-foot range. As you gain experience and your bait needs increase, step up in increments.

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An unobstructed beach offers the ideal setting to perfect your throwing technique. Photo: doughertyphotos.com

If you fish live bait on a regular basis you need to be able to throw a cast net. Without relying on a local bait boat, there really is no other way around filling your livewells. Even if the local bait guy can supply your needs, this can get expensive! Baits caught on a sabiki rig are an option, but you’ll never acquire the quantity you’re really looking for. Live chumming is such an effective approach, and with today’s well adapted fishing machines equipped with tremendous bait carrying capacity, large cast nets that are capable of capturing hundreds of baitfish per toss are the most efficient and affordable means of getting the job done.

As with many aspects of successful sport fishing, proper technique is much more important than brute force.

Cast nets are measured from the horn—a round plastic piece at the very top of the net where the netting is tied—to the lead line around the bottom of the net. A 6 foot net stretched to its maximum capacity covers 12 feet. Advance to a 12 foot cast net and you can double your coverage area to 24 feet, but the weight and management of mesh requires a detailed approach that you won’t learn overnight, and one we would be unrealistic to think we could instruct in less than a thousand words. What you should do is visit youtube.com and search “cast net instruction.” If you have friends that are well versed in throwing a large cast net even better, but no matter the circumstance you need to practice. Head to your local beach or find an open area in your backyard and start throwing (never throw a cast net on concrete or pavement). Practice isn’t about catching bait, so don’t try to be a hero. This is time well spent perfecting technique, which can be accomplished without the presence of water or baitfish.

There are many techniques used to throw a large cast net and the one you choose will be based on personal preference and comfort. Some are straightforward and others attempt to keep the user dry by eliminating the need to divide the net over the shoulder. Throwing a cast net may not be the most enjoyable job onboard, unless you get a kick out of being covered with hundreds of tiny scales, but blacked out livewells can only lead to good things. One common mistake many anglers make no matter the size of net is that they try too hard and throw with too much force. As with many aspects of successful sport fishing, proper technique is much more important than brute force.

Nets are available in various mesh sizes and weights for specific depths and baitfish species. Most cast nets include 1½ pounds of lead per foot, so a 12 foot net weighs about 18 pounds, but can exceed that amount for certain applications. Cast nets can also be cutsom made to suit your specific needs. The common goal no matter your net size is to split the net into small sections so once thrown the lead line pulls the remainder of the net open.

Even if you don’t throw a perfect pancake but you open most of a 12 footer you’ll still catch a lot more bait than a perfectly thrown smaller net, provided there is ample bait in the area. If you really open it up and hit a bait school on the head it should be difficult to lift the net out of the water by yourself. Grab the braille lines with your right hand just below the drawstring and slowly raise the horn to your hand. This will pull in the bottom of the net and effectively trap the bait. As you slowly lift the net, the idea is to gently shake the bait from the upper portions of the net so they gather along the bottom. Now grab the loaded net firmly with both hands and raise it over your livewell. Fully raise the horn when you are ready to dump the net and all of the bait will fall into the well.

Throwing a perfect toss and capturing hundreds of baitfish does no good if you kill the bait in the process with an improper mesh size. However, when considering the bait size you must also think about the depth of water because mesh size also influences sink rate. Ideally, you want to throw a net with the largest mesh size possible that won’t gill the bait. With the proper net you will achieve the fastest sink rate and most effective catch ratio. If you select a net with an improper mesh size for the baits you are targeting, or choose to throw on a school of baitfish that are too small for the net you are throwing, you will be left with a huge mess.

Cast nets are handcrafted from monofilament and to get the most out of your net it is imperative you take extremely good care of it. Be sure to inspect your net before each use. If your net is stiff from the last use you can use fabric softener to soften and relax the mesh so it is easier to open. After using your net be sure to rinse with freshwater and hang until the leadline is dry, but do not let the leadline hang off the ground. Your clean net should be stored in a dry environment protected from the sun. Whatever you do, don’t ever store your net with bait residue or you will return to a rotten mess.

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