Guidelines for Netting a Salmon,
or Any Large Fish




Netting a salmon or any other large fish for that matter, is something some of us seasoned fishermen take for granted, while others shutter at the chance they may knock a good fish off.   It is a task that is learned, so if you have the chance, pay close attention when someone else is doing it.   Watching how it is done by guides may not be high on the right way to do it as they normally use LONG HANDLED nets and anticipate the fish's behavior better than even most, or experienced fisherpersons.  There are specific things needed in the equation to have it go smooth and successful.   And in the Buoy 10 fishery in 2015, I watched a well known river guide cracker a large Chinook, so don't feel to bad if you do it occasionally.


One thing to think of BEFORE you even put the gear in the water, is to have a place for the net where it can readily be accessed.  And you may really consider having two nets onboard because of a possible net failure, or one lost over the side, OR if you happen to get more than one fish on at the same time if multiple fishers are lucky.  These nets need to be large enough to handle the targeted fish.  For salmon sized fish a net bow of 36" works well.  The net bag needs to be as deep, at least 36", and 48" is better.  The big push in recent years for a knot free net (the knots of bags made of hard Nylon abate the scales on salmon that need to be released).  For a while the rubber covered nets was the big push, but it makes for a heavy/bulky net.  I have one soft Nylon net that is 50 years old that still works great, except it is so soft that if a fish rolls in the bag before you bonk it, your lure may be pretty well tangled.  My newer soft Nylon braided net is probably the best I have used yet.


Also remove all clutter.  You need to check for having the tackle boxes stowed properly, spare rods put away, loose spoons or plugs laying around on the deck/gunwale, or ANYTHING even a rod holder base nut, that the net bag can get tangled with at the last second where seconds count.  It's rather hard for the netter to get the net in ready position when the bag has become entangled with a rod holder knob or even a mooring cleat.


The fisherperson has to do their part also and part of this which may be to do not bring a hot/wildly acting fish into the boat to soon.  Set the hook, reel in KEEPING tension on the fish (especially if using barbless hooks), let the fish run, tiring it out with the drag on your reel, but try not to bring it in near the boat (if possible) until it is tired out.  A hot fish near the boat can result in it becoming tangled in the prop/transducer or running under the boat, etc.


It has been said many times that most fish that are lost are within 10' of the boat.   From personal observation, it appears that this may be divided about equally between the rod handler's and the netter's responsibility.   For best performance, the rod man AND the netter need to be on the same page.  This means at the final moment, both know what the other will do.  This is hard for some inexperienced, (even some experienced) rod persons.  The percentage of lost fish goes up dramatically in direct relationship to the decline in fishing/netting experience.   Then occasionally the fish gods happen to smile on some of us, no matter what we do wrong.


A long handle (6') is more useful than the standard 4'ers that come with the average salmon net, you can choke down on a long handle if need be, but you can't make a short handle grow when you need it.  However in trying this on my convertible topped 18' North River, I abandoned the idea (if I am fishing more than just me solo), after I got my radar arch installed, because with somewhat limited room at the stern.   I have found the rod handler (when they have a fish on) can not comprehend what I am trying to tell them the location where I want them to fight the fish from even when I position the boat in relationship to the fish.  And I lost a fish because I could not close the bag soon enough because the rod handler crowded me, wanting to see the fish in the net along side of the boat, and my new longer net handle got hung under the radar arch.


Consider aligning your gear with the aptitude/needs of those fishing with you.  Some fishers like to use a long leader (6' or 7') for Chinook.  Now add a diver and a extension to the flasher and you have a lot of line if fishing a 8' 6" bowed rod at net time.   If you are fishing with someone less skilled in fishing, help them out and shorten their leader length a bit.  That will give you an edge for both the rod holder and the netter when the fish is up by the boat.  Sometimes shortening the leader length to 3" or 4' depending on rod person is in order, and it still catches fish.


The fisher needs to keep in mind that the fish HAS to be netted from the head, NOT THE TAIL.  Just getting the fish near the boat is not enough.  If you are netting off the Starboard rear side and the netter is right handed, I have found that the netter needs to try to position the boat/fish more off the bow so that when the fish is brought in it will be heading rearward giving the netter a chance to net it head on.  Just bringing the fish in off the rear corner and thinking it is close does not relate to a netted properly fish.   And Coho are a lot harder to effectively net than Chinook, because of all the jumping/fighting they do right up to the end.  Sometimes the boat operator/netter can position the boat in a more favorable position using the kicker motor, but this requires a bit of time for the boat to react and if there is a wind blowing repositioning the boat may be impossible, especially if the fish comes in early and is still fighting.


Fish have, and will be netted in nets where the bows and bags were many different colors.  But think about it especially if you ever get into the situation where you are alone and need to net your own fish.  The net bows can be plain aluminum, anodized gold, blue or black.  Net bags also come in different colors.  If I was setting out to purchase a new net, ideally a neutral color like light gray or brown, which would be hard to find, therefore as a second choice, I would look for a dark, preferably black bow and bag.  The reason is, in my estimation, you want a color that would seem to have the least chance of the fish seeing and be spooked if it is either slightly above, OR in the water.


Another thing I do that has nothing to do with netting, but may save the day, is to use the "foam in a can" that is used for household crack insulation.  Pull the net handle's end caps off.  Place a 3/16" plastic tube about 2' long on the spray snout, reach in as far as you can and spray this insulation INSIDE the handle, backing the plastic tube out as you spray.  Turn the handle around then do it from the other end, filling the handle with a foam floatation.  Otherwise complete nets have been known to sink if dropped / lost overboard.


The difference between a good netter and great netter is that a great netter has learned to compensate for the lack of skill of the guy handling the rod.  Which in and of itself, is at least 50% communication of expectations between the two.   The problem seems to be when a fisher may portray themselves as more experienced than they really are, so the skipper/netter may have to lay out the netting rules to everyone BEFORE leaving the launch/dock.  If you have a fisherman that owns his own boat and fishes a lot, this does not mean that they may even understand the necessities involved in this process.  You have spent a lot of time and money to get to this point and the smell of a stinky fish box is right a round the corner, but the fish has to be in the net before this smell is complete.


Ideal Netting, Drop the Rod Tip ;  Below is a bit of information from my good friend, Francis Estalilla, who has netted thousands of salmon.


"Personally, since my boat has relatively high sides, I generally prefer folks stand next to me by the kicker, tight to the gunnel where they have a clear UNOBSTRUCTED view of the fish and it's next move.  When folks back away, they lose sight of the fish (especially little folks!) and are unable to react quickly enough for any sudden moves the fish makes next to the boat.  That's when leaders get popped against the chine, or worse yet, the prop!

The angler can only gain maximum control of the fish by constantly keeping an eye on the fish.... not the rod, the line, or the reel.... watch the fish!

The rod man's job is not to winch the fish back to the boat. Instead, think about the mechanics of getting that fish to the net as efficiently as possible.  Allow the fish to provide all the necessary forward momentum and only use your gear to "steer" the fish in the intended direction.  The rod man should maneuver that fish so that it does NOT pop its head out of the water right next to the boat. This only makes the net man's job a case of "mission impossible".  The goal is to have the fish surface at least one rod length away from the boat..... preferably 15-20 away.... then skate that fish across the surface horizontally toward the netman.

The netman's job is to simultaneously steer the boat into the most advantageous position for a clear and easy "head first" netshot.  When all the planets line up, the point of contact with the bag occurs 6-8 ft away from the boat.

Get that head going past the hoop, and once it does, it's just a matter of releasing ALL tension on the line by dropping the rod tip.  That fish will instinctively and instantaneously charge forward.... right into the bottom of the bag!

The netman simply draws the hoop quickly back to the boat by pulling straight back along the axis of the handle. There is no scooping on the part of the net man in the perfectly executed netshot..... it's strictly push-pull.

Netman pushes the hoop out in front of the fish's snout.... rod man drops the tip when the pec fin clears the hoop.... fish bolts for the bottom of the open bag.... netman draws straight back to close the bag around thrashing fish.... GAME OVER. "


I can't stress enough how important a well-timed "drop" on the part of the rod man can be when it comes to a successful netshot.  As soon as that fish's head and pectorals clear the hoop, a sharp reminder from the net man to the rod man to "DROP HIM" will ensure the fish lunges deep into the bag the instant tension is released.  This has to be discussed AND UNDERSTOOD by the rod man before the lines go in the water.

Fish don't jump out of the net or swim out of the net.... they are led up and pulled out of the net by continued upward tension on the rod tip!


In the photos below, you will notice hard time the netter has with the LH photo, as he has to push the net OUT to keep the fish from exiting it.  However in the RH, once the fish's head is inside the hoop, she drops the rod, the fish lunges forward and the netter pulls the bag closed, which is a lot easier to do, ALONG WITH ensuring no lost fish OR broken rod. 


Lucky lady  AND AN EXPERT netter

This lady learns fast

How it is Done ;  Ideally you have to net the HEAD of the fish, don't really worry about the body, it will follow IF you are fast enough to close the bag.  Fish do not have a reverse gear, but can turn on a dime and give you 9 cents back.   Concentrate on the front part of fish, but it really helps if the majority of the fish is headfirst in the net at the end of your swift scoop.   Concentrate on getting the head and pectoral fins clear the hoop of the net, usually the rest will follow if you do your part of a good follow thru, (slightly raise the net and pull it in close to the boat rapidly with the handle straight up in the air, closing the bag).   You normally will want the fish to tire out before you try to net it, however sometimes you have to take the fish when the opportunity presents itself. 


Sometimes if the opportunity is right, netting the whole fish broadside works, if you can get the bag slightly raised and retracted soon enough.   However when doing it this way, be sure that the fisher/rod handler drops the rod tip as the fish is netted, otherwise there is a very good chance he/she will will pull the fish right out of the net before you can get it closed.  This can also be a prime candidate for a broken rod if the fish then goes under the boat.


By carefully watching others, after a while you will get the hang of how each different specie of fish will react when being fought and landed.   This is important in the fact that you will, after a while be able to anticipate what the fish will do, and possibly be ready to intercept it.


Lead him in a little closer

Turn him around, I can't net his tail


If you are fishing in an area where you do have to release a fish, because of selective harvest regulations, it is best to be able to identify the specie while it is still in the water way before the netting time.   Here it takes studying the characteristics, markings and also just how the fish reacts.   If it is a non targeted fish, (like a non clipped adipose finned Coho) there are other less stressful methods of releasing a fish without netting them.   Under this non targeted fish situation, some state's regulations say that you are not allowed to raise a fish above the gunwale of the boat.   


Here is the place to use a dehooker instead of the net, and not take the fish out of the water.  CLICK HERE FOR LINK


If you have to net the fish and then release it, you can hold the the netted fish against the side of the boat.   Here it has been found that if you roll the fish over onto it's back while still in the net but just at water level, it will usually calm down enough to unhook it without taking it out of the water, then you can flop the net over, releasing the fish.


This fish is not ready yet Not even


If the fish is a legal keeper, still in the net at the side of the boat and thrashing around, you may want to "Bonk" it on the head, with your "Welcome Aboard" Billy club.  Otherwise bring it aboard, then bonk it while still in the net.   Remove the hooks, take your pictures etc.    To make for better eating of any fish, it is best to bleed them as soon as possible.   This is done by cutting or pulling some of the gills loose.   Some fisherpersons who do not have special fish-boxes built into the boat, may tie a rope thru the gills, out the mouth and drag it over the side of the boat for 10 min or so, allowing it to bleed out and keep the blood out of the fishbox.  This however can be a good way to loose the hard earned fish to a seal or shark, or forget to bring it in when you pickup and run to make another pass. 


If it is a non-targeted fish, like a "WILD" unclipped salmon or steelhead, it is best to not net them, but bring them along side and use a "Dehooker", letting them go. 


Most well prepared fisher-persons will put their fish in a chest cooler that has ice in it.   Sure you will get blood accumulate in the bottom, but there is usually a drain plug in these coolers.   Many fishermen make a slightly raised slatted false bottom in the cooler, so the blood and water will drain down, allowing the fish to still be in the non contaminated ice.  If you happen to know a retailer who uses the shopping carts that have the plastic square grating on the bottom and sides, see if they have any damaged ones then if you can get one, cut the bottom out to fit the size of your ice cooler bottom.


One thing you will see in these pictures is that the skipper is wearing Polaroid glasses.   This helps him see into the water better, cutting out the surface glare.   This allows him to see the fish better and to help anticipate the fish's moves.


A 26# Chinook the net, with the bag closed, note the downrigger swung rearward out of the way A nice 20# Chinook in the net at Johns River 2012.    This photo was being taken while the resisting fish was still in the water, but snapped just as guide Nic Norbec scooped it in.  A lucky photo shot.


The pictures using the black net bag were taken at Sitka Alaska in May of 2005 fishing with L&M Charters with the exception of the above RH photo.   The Alaskan raingear was standard even during a nice day as the skipper could hose down the deck along with any bloody pants of the crew to keep the boat clean.


A nice Coho in the boat Smiles, with photo taken in Sitka harbor


After being hooked, some fish will want to stay on one side of the boat, or to go one certain direction.  This could be caused by just were the lure's hook is located in the fish's mouth.   If they want to go to one side of the boat, let them, not because you are right handed and prefer one corner of the boat to do the netting your way.   But trying to make a fish go to the other side of the boat if it does not want to, can create problems in itself and can very well contribute to loosing the fish.  Been There - Done That.  Or if possible, maneuver the boat to the opposite side of the fish more to YOUR advantage so you can take it on the side that helps you.  Or learn to net left handed.


Another thing to do that puts things in your favor is to put the boat in a slow turn that keeps the fish on the side of the boat you want to net him from and away from other gear, if it is still in the water.  This also helps keep the fish from going under the boat.


If the fish heads under the boat, have the fisherman place the rod tip or even the whole top section even to the reel if need be, into the water deep enough to clear the hull and prop.   You do not want the line dragging across the bottom of the boat or to get snagged in the prop, rudder or even transducer.  If the fish wants to stay under or go to the other side, have the fisherman keep the rod in the water deep enough to clear things, then have him move around to the other side and resume fighting the fish.  Maybe not possible on some boats, but do the best you can.  Some salmon (especially ocean Chum) may even want to hide right under the boat.


Most times if I am trolling with downriggers and get a fish on, I DO NOT shut off the trolling motor, I may slow it down some, and may even leave some gear out hoping for another out of that school of fish, but NEVER off, or even out of gear, UNLESS it is a BIG fish AND is putting up a fight OR taking out line, which is when I may have to decide to chase it.  If this is the case pull the downriggers in QUICKLY and pull the other gear up, clear the downrigger balls then take it from there as the fish determines.  If the fish is really taking out line in the opposite direction, you may have to make a decision very quickly (to give yourself enough time to get your gear in) and possibly have to chase one to be able to recover some line.  This doesn't happen often, but be ready if the situation presents itself and recognize it before it is to late and you are spooled.


DO NOT put the net in the water and hope the rod handler can lead the fish into the bag.  Hold the net at ready just above the water with your leading hand hold the bottom of the bag lightly with a finger, this keeps t


Under most conditions, the fish will have to get tired out enough to be able to be led into the net.   As shown above the netter will have to wait for the right moment.   Then he can quickly jab the net into the water in front of the fish, when the fish is in the bag,  jerk the handle back and up, closing the bag.   For most salmon, do not try to lift the net plus the fish horizontally  out of the water and into the boat as if you were lifting a frying pan as seen in the photo below.   You can bring the net close to and against the side of the boat with the handle pointing straight up, this will trap the fish against the side of the boat, somewhat immobilizing it.   Then if the fish is large and or legal, you can get ahold of the upper net hoops and lift it in that way.  Otherwise you put a lot of strain on the net handle and the bow, thereby running the chance to loose a nice fish when the net breaks.


Not the recommended method to bring the fish aboard, and it can be rather hard on net hoops as the net designers never dreamt it would be used this way.  Pretty obvious the netter was probably an exited novice.



Something Extra That May Help ;  In any netting process, the surrounding area needs to be clear of ANYTHING that the net bag can become entangled in.  Many times I fish alone and have to net my own fish, so to somewhat rectify this possibility, I made up a 3/4" PVC Tee with the bottom of the Tee reduced to 1/2" PVC.  This was made from scrap PVC pipe, with the overall length of the upper arms to be about 3" longer than the net's hoop, (mine being 34" OAL).  And the rear section which turned out being about 3 or 4 " longer than the front section.  The bottom part of the Tee was only about 6" long, or enough to not bump anything below.


On my boat there is an extra Tempress rod holder base at the rear of the boat next to the kicker motor.   I even removed it because of it's so far aft position, but in surveying things, have replaced it and now it acts as a support for this PVC Tee, which is free floating when in place, but just high enough to allow me to steer the kicker motor under the Tee arms if I need to jockey the fish into position.  I did have to drill out the internal pivot lock tab inside the rod holder base and open it up just enough top allow this 1/2" PVC pipe to slide in.  My movable swivel seat is near the rear for steering the kicker motor.  Now when fishing solo, when I am getting near the netting time, I may slide my swivel chair away a slight amount, grab the PVC Tee and drop it in the rod holder base, then lay the net hoop and bag on top of this Tee, which makes for the net readily available and a lot more tangle free.


You will also notice that this net bag is secured to the handle with a Scotty "Net Minder", which helps keep the net bag in position.  This net minder is simply a rubber figure 8 that attaches to the handle and has a small downrigger clip attached to it which is simply clipped into the bottom of the bag.  This eliminates the need for the netting hand to also hold the bag during the netting process and gives the netter the ability to reach approximately another 2 feet.


Here the net is simply laid on top of the PVC Tee just prior to net time


My Netting Procedure ;  I prefer to have the netter standing in one of the rear corners of the boat.   This gives him a better chance to take the fish on the side or slightly at the rear if need be.   This also means if you are downrigger trolling and have the downrigger mounted on the rear corner, you will have to pull the cable and ball in then swing the downrigger around (usually rearward) out of the way.  You can net from the center of the boat with the downrigger wire still out, BUT the netter has to be GOOD, the rod person be experienced and the fish small enough that it will cooperate.  This will probably only present itself if there are more than one fish on at a time.  In any case it is best to pull the downrigger wire up as soon after the fish is hooked as you do not want the fishing line tangled around the downrigger wire.   All the more reason for electric downriggers with an automatic retrieve button.   I will almost guarantee that if the ball is still in the water and you bring a fish in, it WILL become tangled in the wire (had it happen a couple of times and the results were not in our favor).

Initially the fish may make a run or two, maybe even 3 or 4.  Sometimes they will initially come right into the boat then decide this is not where they want to be.  If it is a Chinook, usually it will make deep runs.  A Chinook, may early on, show on the surface ONCE where you can get a chance to see it, or parts of it.   Chinook will USUALLY NOT jump during the fight, however I have seen then do it, which may have been where it was hooked.  If it is a Coho, it will and usually stay near the surface, and will normally jump and roll repeatedly, even right up to the time of netting.   I was once in a guide's boat on the Keni River that a Coho hooked from another client aboard, even jumped right in the boat landing at my feet before the guide had a chance to get the net out.


During this initial fighting time, the rod person usually needs to keep the rod at about a 45 degree angle to use the backbone of the rod to subdue the fish.  With the reel's drag set properly, if the fish decides to dive, run or move suddenly, between this reel's drag along with the whippy tip section of the rod act like a bungee cord allowing the fish to do it's thing without breaking off the leader, line or even the rod.   If a large fish is not making long runs anymore, but is being stubborn and diving that you can not control, DO NOT THINK THAT YOU NEED TO TIGHTEN THE REEL'S DRAG.  In many cases, just the opposite, loosen the reel's drag slightly, but be prepared to thumb the spool if the fish makes more runs.   Sure this may extend the fight somewhat, but it will also possibly ensure you a better chance to finally net the fish by not having it break off by a sudden move that YOU can not react fast enough to, when the fish is right next to the boat.  And as said above if you loosen the drag slightly, you can supplement this drag by thumbing the spool at your discretion.


An example of this was back about 1990, fishing out of Westport the last day of the salmon season Chinook were scarce, so my little brother grabbed his Steelhead rod with 17# mono line, thinking it would be fun on the Coho we were catching.  However what took his bait was a 35# Chinook.  He could not control this fish.  I told him to not worry as we had the whole ocean and the rest of the day.  He would work the fish in a bit and then loose more than he gained.  This went on for a while until he wore her down.  As he got her closer, I could see this fish, head down at about a 30 degree angle, trying to dive, pushing with her tail to get deeper.  This went on for a number of times until he got her close enough for me to net her.  Here he had the drag set light enough that she could not break the line and he simply wore her out.  That is a fish he will never forget.


In the photo on the right below, we were fishing on the Cowlitz River, this Spring Chinook of about 25# hit the lure, missed then turned or slapped it with the tail, where it got hooked in the tip of the tail.  It took us downriver about 1 1/2 miles even before we could even see the fish.  Then OH  $HIT when we saw the situation, then many dogged runs, but the netter did not have a chance to net the head.  It finally made a run under the boat and somehow got close enough to the jet unit, pulling the hook out.


Here is a August 2010  16# Willapa Chinook Not an easy netting, & usually the odds are with the fish.   This Cowlitz River spring Chinook would probably have weighed in at about 25#


During the final stages of the fight, if it is a large fish, and after the fish is close to the boat, (like say within possibly 20') a good method is to drop the rod tip to near the water, now if the fish is to the right, place the rod to the left.  Keep tension the fish and keep reeling, then when the fish then goes to the rod, switch sides and then place the rod to the right of the fish, continue reeling, allowing the drag to function if the fish is resisting.  This prevents a large fish from diving right at the boat thereby possibly breaking a high rod because you can not react fast enough.  Using this method also puts more strain on the fish and not the fisher.


Then approaching net time, the rod can still be used right or left but slightly raised more upright to raise the fish enough for the netter to accomplish his task.   But at this point, the rod handler also needs to be very conscious as to what the fish may do, like make possibly another deep run, if so, the fisher needs immediately drop the rod yet at the same time keeping tension on the fish and let the rod take up the pressure. 


If the rod is held high and straight up when the fish decides to dive, the rod WILL probably be broken as it can not flex enough.  This is called High Sticking.   It is about impossible to bring a fish to net with a 8' rod and 10' of gear/leader to the fish and a very bowed rod unless the fisherman is a VERY tall person.


When a fish is on, and being fought, the net person, becomes the deck boss.  They can see the fish, when usually nobody else can. They can guide the skipper to maneuver the boat if need be, the rod handler and anyone else as needed to secure the fish as needed.


On the final stages with the fish at the side of the boat, the fisherperson should not pull hard enough as to lift the fish's head out of the water, but get it just at the surface.   Fish seem to get very excited when their head is out of the water and could pull the hook out (unless they are completely tired out).  Again, the fish needs to be at the surface but not out of the water for the netter to do best.   A NO -NO for the rod person if they can not control the fish and raise it to the surface during the last phase just before netting is DO NOT reach ahead of the rod's cork front handle, hold onto the rod's lower section to gain leverage.  This puts a lot of strain on the rod and again IF the fish decides to make one last run, can very well break even the best rod.


Also as said above, this may be the time to lessen the drag a bit as the fish may be worn down somewhat, but right at net time, if they are spooked for any reason, they can find super-fish strength and a tightened drag will result in a lost fish and/or a broken rod.   When fishing with newbies on the rod, as the fish nears netting time and coming to the boat, one bit of good advice is for the net man to tell the rod person to lift the rod right over the netters head.  That usually helps them understand.


The guy with the rod can see the fish all they want once it is in the box.   Prior to that, their job is to mind the rod and let the netter do the looking for a proper timing for netting of the fish.


At the final netting time can also the time for the fisherman to step rearward (toward the center of the boat) to bring the fish closer to the boat while at the same time not put any extra stress on a high rod.   With the fish in the boat, you can look and admire it all day, but trying to do so before it is netted as it swims near the boat, the rod handler will usually allow the rod tip to drop, releasing tension on the fish and with barbless hooks could result in a lost fish right at the boat.


As soon as the fish is in the net, the fisherperson needs to drop the rod tip down relieving tension, then strip some line off the reel, giving slack so that after the netting when getting the fish aboard that the rod tip does not get broken or the hooks pull out or impregnate someone.


The rod man and the net man must have a common objective in placing the fish in the ideal location to seal the deal.  For many experienced fishermen, that's about an 8 ft radius from where the skipper/netter stands to also be able to run the kicker.    As the fish is being reeled in, you don't want that fish to surface anywhere INSIDE that zone when it first comes to the top.   In fact the preference is the fish come up about twice that distance and have the rod man skate it across the surface listing on one side into the magic 8' zone as seen in the photo below.  However many times miracles happen as fairy tales situations go, but real world happenings are rare.


A beautiful example of tiring the fish out, then sliding it into the net headfirst.  Note the long handled net.


It's a 50/50 deal between the rod man maneuvering the fish and the net man maneuvering the boat to put the fish in the ideal position for the slam dunk net shot... fish on its side, approaching that 8 ft radius headfirst toward the waiting net man.


Another good method is the net man must time his forward thrust of the net perfectly, pushing the hoop HEAD FIRST directly in front of the fish's flight path ...  BUT ... the rod man MUST follow through with the all important rod DROP the instant the fish's gills clears the net hoop!   Instinct tells the rod man to keep pulling but it can be disastrous by contributing to a lost fish, therefore a friendly (or even a not so friendly) reminder from the net man to the rod man to DROP the rod never hurts.   With the fish interring the net, when the rod man drops the rod tip, this gives the fish slack, which will instantaneously lunge for freedom, but right into the bottom of the net bag.  Now it's just a matter of the net man closing the bag by pulling straight back on axis with the handle.  So remember,  PUSH ... drop .... PULL.... and it is all over.


With all the above said, there will be exceptions.  This could be if you can see the hooks are not well placed, like in the skin of the outer jaw and may tear out at any time.  In this case you will have to make some quick decisions.   This could be IF the fish gets close enough AND IF you are a good netter, then within safety reaching limits of the net handle, possibly try to net a little farther away from the boat if the fish will not come near enough.  Or for the netter to make a quick jab in front of the fish if the timing seems perfect, but before the fish is tired out or really ready to net.   However this can lead to loosing a fish IF the fish is not cooperating and timing not perfect.


Coho hardly ever give up unless they have jumped and rolled enough to tangle themselves in the leader.  However do not rely on this as I have seen a number of nice ocean Coho in the 15# range fight just like a Chinook, so much so that they were brought aboard without even double checking for telltale spots or gum-lines of a Chinook.


One instance where you may want the net in the water is for Piggybacked Ling Cod that have swallowed live bait, is to have the netter put the net as far in the water as possible and hide it under the boat (before the fish comes up).  Then holds the net very still until the Ling is in the crosshairs, and then nets it in one swift, accurate, upwards scoop.

Comment on a Tail Hooked Fish :  Salmon commonly attach bait by ramming it with their body or turn and smack it with their tails, hence the possibility of a tail hooked fish.


As you can see in the photo above on the right, a tail hooked fish is rather difficult to net from the head end.  Now let us explain WDFW regulations here.  If this happens in salt water it would be legal to retain the fish IF you could net it, but if the same situation occurs in fresh water then it would be illegal.  This is apparently to enforce the anti snagging rule where fish can stack up in confined areas.  Apparently WDFW thinks that in salt water it would be about impossible to intentionally snag a fish.


I have seen a tail hooked fish netted from the tail, by a well experienced salmon fishing guide.  This fish however was only 13#, and came into the boat very quickly and backwards of course so probably it never realized what was happening.  I was the fisherman and by holding enough tension on the fish to pull it's tail out of the water, (decommissioning it's power) the guide made a deep plunge from the rear and then a fast upward pivoting motion so the bottom rim of the net popped up right in front of the nose of the fish and we had it.

After having this fish on and being successful, AND also having the estimated 25# fish shown above my thoughts would be that the only way to land a larger fish like this would be at the last of the fight for the fisherman to be amid ships or even farther forward.   The kicker motor would have to be operated in a aggressive manner so that the stern of the boat be pushed toward the fish so that the fish would then be parallel to the side (head to the rear) of the boat with the netter standing near the stern, thus allowing the netter to have a chance of netting it along side the boat from the head.


Netting From Being Anchored in a River:   Here a few hints that a more experienced fisherman has shared for successful anchor netting.   Wearing a lifejacket is important. 

One thing... netting a fish on anchor IN CURRENT is probably one of the most stressful encounters you can put a fish thru.  So don't net fish if you don't plan to kill it.  If you have to release one of these fish .... always try to position the fish with its head upriver.  This will encourage the fish to lay straight, minimizing the amount of profile against the crushing current.   Some experienced fishermen will just grab the lower lip and pull the fish upriver then using pliers remove the hook.   Or just tire and then release with pliers or dehooker, leaving it in the water as the law requires.

First off, resist the temptation to net a fish directly downstream of the boat, no matter how easy it might look.  Yes, it can be done with very experienced hands (on both the rod and the net) but do not try doing it solo.   Thrusting a net downriver puts all of the mechanics of netting in current AGAINST the net-man.

Then the current is pushing the fish AWAY from the net.  When it's time for the net-man to make his move, instead of an open parachute to freely admit the fish, the current wants to immediately close the bag... there's simply no place for the fish to DROP.   And when the rod man does drop his tip, the fish doesn't just drop, it drops DOWNRIVER... away from the net!   If something goes even slightly wrong in the netting sequence, the chances for recovery are slim to none as the net is now in the most disadvantageous position for a rescue maneuver.   The fish tends to get crushed against the mesh.  The mesh does not want to stay open for easy access to the fish for de-hooking/release.  It's just a real struggle to handle a fish in the water under such conditions.

And NEVER net from the tail.  All the more reason for a boater to drop off a hog-line to fight and net a large fish.


If landing solo from anchor, dropping off the anchor (if possible) as this creates more "soft water" and denies the fish to turn away from the net at the last minute and in general, makes solo netting simpler.   While playing the fish make sure to position the boat with the kicker so that you will remain clear of downstream hoglines, boats or shore obstructions so when the big moment comes, you are unhindered and ready to focus completely on the net job.   When clear, and the fish seems to start to get tired, turn the boat and get fish on down river side in the break created by the hull. It is much better in the softer water where as if you tried to net on the upstream side, the fish may be pushed up against the side of the boat, thereby being difficult to get the net hoop between the fish and boat.


Here is another persons method of netting (springers!!) by yourself.

"I keep the kicker running, point the boat uphill and let the rod, kicker and current work the fish.  If the fish gets close to the boat, kicker goes to neutral.

With the advent of barbless hooks and an inordinate number of sea lions, I am of the opinion the sooner that fish is in the boat, the less likely I am going to lose it.  If I am on anchor, I horse em in (as always use heavy tackle) always keeping line tight and trying to keep that head coming at me.

Considering a great percentage of fish are lost next to the boat it is my opinion when they get close to the boat and see me, the boat or the net, it spooks them and they rip off 50 feet of line, or go under the boat, or do head shakes etc.  All are not good and can cause hook to come unbuttoned.  So, instead of waiting for that special moment to take the fish next to the boat, I am aggressive and using a long handled net.  I go after that fish when it is as far as 6 feet from the boat when by myself.  I rest the handle on the gunnel, slide net out flat, slightly dip down under the fish with handle still on the gunnel. With fish in net, push inboard end of handle down with the gunnel acting as a pivot, prying net up with fish in it.  Lay rod down, pull net in and close off net.

If someone else is on board that can handle the rod, I have reached out a good 10 feet to net it. It is like sliding a pizza out of the oven.  Reach, get under the fish, raise net, pole handle and fish towards boat, close net".


Netting If You Are Fishing Alone :  Here, another set of guidelines come into play.  If you are anchored in a hog line, drop off the float for the reasons outlined above.  Fishing solo, complicates matters immensely, as you have to handle the rod, the reel and the fish, plus the net and usually even maneuver the boat all at the same time.   There are three prerequisites that will help improve your odds considerably.  (1) Beforehand, shorten your leader to 3-5 ft. long and or distance between the flasher/diver/sinker so that the fish can be closer to the rod.  (2) Use a slider sinker so you do not get it tangled in the net, and use a light enough sinker dropper line so it/you, OR the fish can break it if need be. (3) Do not use a wimpy no backboned or a short rod, but one at least 8' 6".  You need something that allows you to manipulate the fish on your terms when the time comes to net.

MAKE SURE TO NOT TANGLE THE LURE's HOOKS INTO THE NET ON THE SCOOP!!!  Go deep enough under the fish.   If you snag a lure's hook with the net you'll push the second hook right out of the fish's mouth, or prevent the fish from being able to enter the net.  Having a scared fish attached to the outside of the net is not what you want to have happen.


Here we will cover two types of solo netting, (A) areas where there is no, or minimal current, even drifting with the current (B) areas where you are netting in a current like being anchored in a river.  The above will change depending on the size of the fish, as a smaller fish that you can control would not require dropping off a anchor.


Be patient!  No wild quick swipes at hot fish.   Expect it to take a little bit longer to net your own fish than it would if you had help.  Get the fish NEAR the surface (but NOT with it's head out of water) and heading toward you with good momentum parallel to the boat and FROM upstream if there is a current (not from downstream or straight in).


Here is where preparedness pays off, as you will have to have the net handle extended and locked in place, the DECK CLEAR OF CLUTTER, also to be able to operate the trolling motor if necessary.  This is where a separate electric start tiller operated trolling motor really comes in handy.


Again, knowledge of just how each specie will react when coming to the boat will only be learned by experience.  But possibly some of what you read here will get you to thinking to your advantage when the time actually comes.

You need to tire the fish out to the point that it can be led into a net that could possibly be partly in the water this time.  Yes, I know in the previous instructions I said not to put the net in the water and try to lead the fish in, well here MAY be the exception.   However, here, still hold the net bag with the finger if possible until the last second.   When fishing alone, some will fold the bottom of the bag up using a large rubber band to secure the bag so it isn't dragging in the water.  Or, Scotty builds a "net minder"  which is simply a small downrigger clip which is attached to the net handle.  This clip can then be clipped onto the bottom of the net bag.  Once the fish is in the net the weight of the fish pops the rubber band band or the clip, and into the bag the fish goes.


As we all know, tiring out the fish, (usually a Chinook) when they lay over on their side as you bring them to the boat is a sign that they have given up.   However it may be beneficial for you to be prepared before that, if the fish comes in close enough, and is in the right position before being completely tired out AND you have a small window of opportunity where you can make your move.  AND CONSIDER, the longer the fish is hooked AND in the water, the more chance you have of loosing it as you odds then tend to decrease in your favor.
What works well for me is, I have my kicker mounted on the starboard side, and I net on that same side, so that gives me a chance to manipulate the kicker to position the fish where I can see what is going on, and where I want it.   Since I am right handed and will be holding the net in my right hand, (and I use the Scotty "net minder") I to try to fight the fish on the front 1/2 of the Starboard side with me standing near the stern.   This way, I can manipulate the boat's position with my kicker motor which gives me an advantage.   With the fish off the starboard 1/2, when they come close to the boat, most do not go under it, but veer along the side toward me.   Here I can force the fish to swim toward me along side of the boat so I can net it head on, instead of having to reach way out or just a tail shot if coming straight in when it turns right or left as it nears the side of the boat.


 Once you lead the salmons front 1/3 over the net hoop, drop the rod tip and they will dive (for freedom) right into the bottom of the net.  Jerk the net back, closing the net bag.   Again shorter rods AND short leaders really help guiding the fish in close quarters.

You may also practice netting left handed for a partner just in case you need to do that alone.  Also you might consider a longer handled net, so you can reach the fish farther away from the boat.  However by using the Scotty net minder, this allows your hand to be farther to the rear of the handle, which does extend your reach up to a couple of feet.   What this is, is simply a rubber figure eight with a downrigger clip attached.  The large rubber loop is slid onto the net handle being located so the clip can be attached to the bottom of the net bag, thereby holding it securely until the fish is in the bag, which releases it.  No need to hold the bottom of the bag with your finger.   The only bad thing is if you leave your net exposed to the weather (sunlight especially) the rubber will deteriorate.  This devise is hard to find in sporting goods stores, and probably because it is not something that the dealers even realize is available as it is kind of hid in the Scotty catalog, but I find now that they are available through


Scotty #210 Net Minder (net bag holder)


After my Scotty Net Minder rubber ring broke off, and I found it was hard to find a replacement, I proceeded to make a Red-Neck version.  This involved using a Zip-Tie, a #7 split ring, a cheap key ring and a lonely downrigger clip out of my spares box.  I like this clip better as it opens up wider than the Scotty one does, as the bottom cords of my bag were heavier, making the Scotty hard to clip on if in a hurry.  This clip I am now using is a Delta brand, made in Canada (but now discontinued) However the Offshore release clips will work just as well.  They are made in two tensions, the lighter freshwater trout/Kokanee tension and the salmon tension, (same clip configuration, but a different spring).  The lighter version is made in white, while the heavier version is black.


Red-Neck net bag holder Here it is shown in use


The positioning the boat by your trolling motor as mentioned above will pertain only if you are not anchored and have to fight the fish in the current all at the same time, so you may have to come up with your fine tuning methods for this.


You also may want to DECREASE the reel's drag slightly, but be able to thumb the spool if need be.  This is so that since you will have other things on your mind, and if you have the line reeled in so the swivel and the snap is at the rod tip, WHEN the fish makes another run or possibly jump while being right at the boat, it can pull line out with this lighter setting, possibly from preventing a hook being pulled out or even rod breakage.  If it does make a jump, drop the rod tip to lessen the chance of it breaking off when it hits the water and makes another run out again.


Another netting technique I've seen used successfully when fishing alone is to use the net like a teeter-totter.  Tire the fish, lay the net handle on the side of the boat with the bag in the water no more than 8 or 10".  Guide the tired fish over the bag and then push down on your end of the handle as far as necessary to raise the net hoop, entrapping the fish in the net.  Something to think about.


Hand Landing Coho :  OK, I know this article is on netting, but sometimes you may consider trying this.  Coho will normally jump, roll and dance on the surface right up to the netting time.  Some fishermen will run heavy leader (25# to 40#) and large hooks (4/0 & 5/0) for all salmon.  With this heavy gear, AND the fish being in the 10-15# size that is clearly deep hooked AND fin clipped, they will just bring it into the boat, grab the flasher and yard the fish over the gunnel in one swift movement.    Why not, this is what the commercial trollers do.  And if you happen to get multiple hookups at the same time, it sure saves a lot of time waiting for the net man to get the other fish in.   Just be sure the boat is free of anything that may interfere with a good landing, or the fish can get knocked it back into the water.


Remember this is where all you have worked for preparing your boat and gear really pays off when the fish is IN THE BOX.  So plan your attack, and execute it as planned.


Story of Landing the Washington State Chinook Record Fish :


Chet Gausta and the Big King


                                                                                                                 Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society

This story is told by Tony Floor   2-01-2012

What is it about salmon fishing stories that stoke the flames of the sport?   At the end of the day, itís always about the big one, the big one that got away or the big one that ended up in the net.  Too often, the stories are embellished as Iíve known anglers to turn a 20 pound king salmon into a 30 pound king within 24 hours and ultimately, over time, it somehow became a monster of 40 pounds.

Iím going to spend some time, in this writing, to tell you a story about a monster king salmon that cruised our waters in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, near Pillar Point, decades ago, that did not get away.  This huge king salmon is the current and all-time largest sport caught king salmon caught and verified in Washington.  It remains today, the Washington State record of 70 pounds, 8 ounces.  It is, the king of kings!

Turning back the pages of time to September 6, 1964, let me introduce you to Chet Gausta, his brother Lloyd and Chetís uncle, Carl Knutson, who were working the waters off Pillar Point, located about 7-8 miles east of Sekiu.  This region was particularly famous for big king salmon during the summer months of that era, as the waters were very friendly to small boats in the 16-18 foot range.  The strategy is simple: work the kelp beds early, at daylight, fishing in 40-80 feet of water, then, as the sun came up, work deeper into the 100-150 range.

Chet was fishing deep that day, using 12 pound mainline and a 15 pound leader, definitely considered light fishing tackle for king salmon, even today.  His bait was a whole herring, barely a snack for the king of all kings.  Similar to today, the king salmon back then averaged 20-25 pounds, some pushing 30 pounds, or slightly larger.  Even back in the 60ís, it was rare to break 40 pounds and a 50 pounder might happen once or twice during the entire summer.  The word of a 50 would spread like wildfire.  ďWho caught it?  Where did they catch it? What were they using?Ē  Some things never change.

When the big king woofed Chetís whole herring, nothing happened.  Chet thought he had hooked the bottom.  Then, surprisingly, the bottom took off toward Canada.  Maybe a halibut? No, it was the largest king salmon ever hooked and landed by an angler in Washington.  If your breathing has shortened, your foot is now twitching and youíre focusedÖ stay with me. According to the story, told in the Bremerton Sun (today, the Kitsap Sun), the huge king salmon made six runs, staying deep as big kings often do, and nearly spooled Chetís reel each time.  Yet, the three anglers continued to chase the big king and stayed with the fight.

In just under an hour, they saw the fish for the first time as it cruised by the boat. It was massive and they agreed, that their standard salmon landing net would not do the job.  Chet continued to keep the pressure on and with the fish completely exhausted, the three anglers manhandled the fish into the boat.  I said manhandled into the boat!  Game over.  History was made at that moment.  When was the last time you ďmanhandled a big king into a boat?Ē  Are you kiddiní me!  Thatís how Chet told the story, reported six years ago by Kitsap Sun fishing and hunting columnist Chad Gillespie on Chetís 90th birthday.

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Originated 09-22-05   Last Updated 01-01-2018