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Trappers' Corner: Netting Fish
© 2006

Part 2 of the Netting Series

If you missed it, be sure to read part one of the netting series.

I'm going to assume that you do not have access to a boat. Nobody I know of walks off with a canoe packed on his back, at least not very far. It is possible that when you reach your final 6-P destination you have one hidden away for later use. Terrific. But this article will be for those of us without access to this luxury. By the way, I hope your stored boat doesn't need gasoline. There may not be any around to refill your tanks.

Netting fish depends on where you are, and how lucky you are. Like all fishing, finding a good spot for fish depends on skill, cunning, and a lot of luck. It would probably be best that you set your sights on a lot of small fish, as opposed to the "lunker" that, by itself, is a meal for 6 people. Small fish are just as tasty as big fish; sometimes better. You just have to clean more fish.

Many states outlaw netting fish except for certain times, reasons, or seasons. These laws change frequently so I won't even try to tell you what the laws are in your local area...find that out for yourselves. But, in order to prepare for the worst, you can purchase or make your own nets for fishing. If you're not familiar with the area you happen to be in, find a comfortable spot on the bank or shoreline and just watch the water. Hungry fish may jump at bugs. You may see schools of minnows - indicating that "mom and dad" are somewhere in there too. You may see a Hawk or Fisher-type bird swoop down and catch a fish. This tells you that there ARE fish in the water, and they are close by.

Polarized sun glasses make it is easier to see under the water since the glare will not block your vision.

Unexpected Visitors to Your Net

One of the reasons that netting is so frowned upon is that while you are netting you will catch everything that is in the water. Chances are you won't catch a dolphin, but you can expect almost anything to pop up in the net.

In salt water, near the bottom, you could dredge up any number of strange creatures that may, or may not look like a fish. The rule of thumb is: If it looks like a "fish", it is a fish and is edible. If it doesn't look like a fish (as we all commonly know it) throw it back. Exceptions to the rule include clams, octopus, squid, or any other species of sea life you KNOW are edible. If you don't KNOW it, throw it back.


Pufferfish, Blowfish, Fugu, or Globefish

It's one and the same fish. It is called the pufferfish because when it is threatened, it puffs up to about twice its normal size by gulping water. In this engorged state, the pufferfish can swim at only about half its normal speed.

Poison: Many parts of the blowfish (including the liver, muscles, skin, and ovaries) contain an extremely strong, paralyzing poison called tetrodoxin. This poison is about a thousand times deadlier than cyanide. There is no known antidote for this poison. Fugu (torafugu or fugu rubripes, Japanese pufferfish) is eaten in Japan, but is only cooked by specially-trained chefs who can minimize the amount of poison. Even so, many Japanese diners have died from eating this poisonous delicacy.

Lion Fish

A Lionfish is any of several species of venomous marine fish in the genera Pterois or Dendrochirus, family Scorpaenidae. The lionfish is also known as the Turkey Fish, Dragon Fish and Scorpion Fish.

They are notable for their extremely long and separated spines, and have a generally striped appearance, red, brown, or black on white.

As recent as 2003, they have also been spotted in the warmer coral regions of the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Much like the fugu, the lionfish is a dangerous, potentially deadly delicacy.

Throw them both back...DO NOT TOUCH THE LIONFISH.


Octopus can grow quite big and do not usually attack people but there have been a few recorded incidents with divers. Mainly playing or defending themselves. Octopus have a beak and can inject a mild venom ( the small blue ring octopus venom can be deadly, read farther on.)


Most venomous fish known. Up to 12 inches long, perfectly camouflaged, it looks very much like a stone. Only dangerous if stepped on or caught. The dorsal spines can pierce through a shoe. The pain is excruciating and can last for months with tremendous swelling and death of tissues. Amputation might be required. If not treated, stonefish stings can often be deadly.


There are many species of stingrays among which some can also be fatal. The pain delivered is excruciating and can last for months accompanied with significant swelling.

Stingrays aren't aggressive. They lay on or near the bottom, submerged in the sand and only sting people stepping on them (or fisherman removing them from nets). Their sting can cause very deep lacerations and profuse bleeding. To avoid stepping on stingrays, shuffle feet in shallow water while going swimming. If given the choice the ray will flee.


Blue Ringed Octopus

Very small in size (2 to 20 cm, 10 to 100g) the beautiful blue ringed octopus is found in shallow topical water and in tide pools. The rings can turn to a bright blue to show the change of mood of the octopus.

The bite might be painless, but this octopus injects a neuromuscular paralyzing venom. The venom contains some maculotoxin, a poison more violent than any found on land animals. The nerve conduction is blocked and neuromuscular paralysis is followed by death. The victim might be saved if artificial respiration starts before marked cyanosis and hypotention develops.

Habitat is around the area from Japan to Australia. Has not been found in US waters...yet.

Cone Shells

400 species of cone shells can inject venom, a few species only are believe to be dangerous.

Effects may vary from being painless to excruciating pain. Salt water seems to make it worse. Paralysis including respiratory failure may occur. Members of the Conidae family do not predate upon humans but will sting if disturbed.

Shell collectors BEWARE of LIVE CONES.

Source: University of Melbournel

Sea Urchin

Sea urchins are spiny sea creatures of the class Echinoidea found in oceans all over the world. (The name sea urchin means sea hedgehog, hedgehog being one meaning of the word urchin). Their shell, which biologists call the test, is globular in shape, and covered with spines. Most injuries are from mishandling the sea urchin or stepping on one.

Very few fatal cases were reported (usually from respiratory problems), but most cases bring mild to severe pain for few hours to infections that could last for months, especially is pieces of spines are left in the wound. Removal of spines should be done surgically or with extreme caution not to break them more into the wound. Sea Urchin roe is a delicacy in many countries.

If you just HAVE to eat sea urchins, the photo on the left shows one just dissected and the blade points towards the edible parts. Wash off all the "goop" and chow down. UUUMMMM!

Photo: Nicholson



The most dangerous of the jellyfish group. These little critters look like clear cellophane bags with tentacles, about the size of a tennis ball or soft ball. The tentacles I saw (after storms) were short, probably from storm damage. They reportedly can be from 30 feet to 165 feet in length. It's the tentacles that do the damage.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Stinging, burning, redness, swelling of lymph nodes. Long welt lines. Severe reactions: difficulty with breathing and cardiac arrest.

The man-of-war ranges or occurs most commonly in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the northern Atlantic Gulf Stream, although found in warm seas throughout the world. It is sometimes found floating - some even say "swarming" - in groups of thousands. In Okinawa, Typhoon winds would "round up" the Portuguese Man of War by the thousands, and they would be found on all the beaches of the entire island. It was a dangerous place to walk for a while since the sting is still potent for several hours after death. Nobody walked barefoot on Okinawa beaches.

Few Portuguese man-of-war stings cause life-threatening reactions, but this is always a possibility. Some people are extremely sensitive to the venom; a few have allergic reactions. Consider even the slightest breathing difficulty, or altered level of consciousness, a medical emergency.

The sting of Physalia is very painful to man and can cause serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. When stung, carefully, pick or brush off any visible tentacles - try not to use your fingers - use your towel, fins, etc. Rinse with fresh or salt water - do not use vinegar. For severe pain, try applying heat or cold, whichever feels better to the victim. Immediate medical attention may be required as their stinging may bring about anaphylactic shock. Call for help.

The toxin secreted from the tentacles of the Portuguese Man-Of-War are about seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom. Portuguese Man-Of-War are not always obvious in the water. Tentacles may break away in the surf and inflict stings just as potent as those from attached tentacles. Even dead specimens stranded on the beach can still cause stings. Do not touch these animals with bare skin and do not enter the water if they are present.

Lions' Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

The color of these jellies varies with their age, ranging from dark reddish-brown to pinkish-yellow. In southern New England, they are usually 6" - 12" in diameter but further north they can grow to 8' in diameter. They have long yellowish-orange tentacles and lobes surrounding the mouth (called oral arms) that are attached to the underside of the umbrella and resemble a lion's mane. They have stinging cells (nematocysts) that are mildly toxic.

This jellyfish is very common in local waters in the summer.

Sea Nettle Jellyfish

Sea nettles occur from Cape Cod south along the U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The tentacles of the sea nettle contain millions of microscopic stinging cells called nematocysts that inject toxins to capture and paralyze prey as well as to defend the jellyfish from would-be predators. When a swimmer brushes against a tentacle, the resulting sting is painful and annoying. Lightweight protective clothing, like a Lycra "swim skin" or panty hose, or a layer of petroleum jelly spread on bare skin will protect a swimmer against stings.

In Okinawa, all military personnel were required to wear some sort of clothing to prevent Jellyfish stings. Most stings can be stopped (or lessened) by having the tentacles attach to the clothing, not the person wearing the clothing.

The same rule holds true for the netter if they know there are jellyfish in the area. Wear shoes, sox, and long pants (tucked into the sox). If you are going to put your hands (or bare arms) into the water, wear a long sleeved shirt and gloves.

There are many remedies that can be used to cut down on the jellyfish sting's pain. The one that worked the best for me was plain old meat tenderizer. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). It is cheap and comes in a sealed container that is light and easy to carry to the beach. All my beach bags have at least one container of MSG just for jellyfish stings. For me, the MSG works very fast. The marks and redness of the skin may remain, but the pain goes away. You can find MSG mixed in with the herbs and spices rack at any local grocery store.

That's Not All

This is just a list of the salt water fauna I have had to deal with personally over the years. When I was stationed in Okinawa, I snorkeled every day possible and have seen these fish in their natural habitat. Some are beautiful under water...but deadly. If you get any of the above "fish" in your nets, carefully (with heavy leather gloves on) remove them and put them back in the water. You don't need them. (Of course, the sea urchins can be eaten, but the stickers will cause you grief getting to the edible parts.

The nice thing is that these "EAT-ME, STING-ME, BITE-ME" critters is that they will be the EXCEPTIONS, not the rule. You will catch hundreds of common type fish before you bring in one of these poisonous fish, or encounter jellyfish. Stepping on any of them is your major concern while you are trying to net them.

EVERYTHING ELSE THAT LOOKS LIKE A FISH IS EDIBLE. Some have teeth, so watch out. A barracuda or shark will not enjoy your net very much. They will flop around and slash out at everything. Just leave them alone, out of the water. They will quickly die and you can serve them up for dinner at your leisure.

Banded Sea Snake

Just for your information: This little monster on the left is the Banded Sea Snake. It lives in the bottom of most oceans, except the Atlantic Ocean. It is an air-breathing snake and must periodically return to the surface to breathe.

Okinawa has a LOT of these things. Their bite is a neurotoxin and can kill SCUBA divers before they can reach the surface. You can't breath when they bite you. Their fangs, however, are very short and it takes them some time to get into a "biting position". Enough time so you can swat it off, if you're quick enough. Another reason to have a diving buddy.

While not normally aggressive, don't be between them and the surface when they need air. Also, during mating season...leave them alone. Their idea of courtship - and yours - is not the same. The most common injury to humans is when fishermen are sorting fish in their nets. All banded sea snakes are poisonous, it's just that some are worse than others. For my Australian readers, you probably already know about this critter. He's all yours.

On the plus side, after diving in Okinawa for three years, I never saw a shark. The sea snake and the shark are natural enemies, and sharks avoid them like the plague.

Water Snakes

Usually found lounging around the banks of rivers and creeks, the cottonmouth is very poisonous. They pose a threat to you while walking the banks using your nets, and also while they are swimming in the water. I have seen many cottonmouths swim very close to boats I have been in, and they are not afraid of anything. If you are in their way when they are headed for shore, get out of their way. If they get entangled in your net, drop the net and come back and get it later.

Any snake can swim, but the cottonmouth seems to do it for fun. Or maybe just to cool off. I had one drop into my boat when I nudged the bow into a low hanging tree limb on the shoreline. It was VERY FAST...but not as fast as I was getting out of the boat. The snake had a new name... "Captain".

Herding Fish Sure you can. Schooling fish will follow their leaders. If the leaders are spooked they will run away from the danger. If you have a net set out at a choke point in a creek or river, you can scare or "herd" the fish into the net by splashing water or dropping large rocks into the water. The fish will panic and (hopefully) swim en-masse into the net. Instant dinner.


This is a skill I have yet to master, no matter how hard I try. I keep catching myself as much as getting the net into the water. I need a better teacher. The teacher needs a better student.

from the Life Experiences of ROGUE TURTLE:

While (pole) fishing off a pier in Florida, I noticed a cute couple with a cast net standing on the shore line. She was obviously interested in learning how to use a cast net. Her boyfriend/husband did several very nice casts into the bay bringing in the empty net to try again.

One of the steps in using a cast net is to drape parts of the net over your arm so it feeds out evenly into the water. You hold a part of the net's line in your lips. The man carefully explained all the steps to his beautiful date/wife. I need to mention here the blouse worn by the young lady. It was a gauzy-type material, sleeveless, that buttoned down the front. It was not a fishing outfit. I suspect this was a date.

I was watching with amusement at her first attempt, since I'm so bad at casting a net. She gave it the old college try. She reared back and let fly with that lead-weighted net and it flew off her arm just as advertised. Unfortunately, the part dangling from her mouth was tangled in the buttons of her shirt...need I go on? Yes, it ripped the shirt right off her back and landed with the net in the drink. The screaming didn't go well in the peaceful fishing environment, so EVERYONE looked to see what the trouble was. When last seen, she was running as fast as she could towards a parking lot; and her ex-boyfriend/ex-husband was pulling in the net (with blouse) from the water.

Moral: None, I just liked the story.

If you want to see a good series of photos on how to throw the cast net, visit

On the right, you'll see one of the photos from this site, with the arrow pointing to the "scene of the crime".

Fresh Water Critters to Avoid

This is NOT what you want to find in your fresh water nets in Florida. It is a baby alligator. The baby alligators are not much of a threat. However, MOM IS a threat. Mamma alligators will look after their young for a while after being hatched and put into the water. If mamma sees you messing with junior, she will attack you HARD. Get out of the water fast, and go fishing somewhere else.

Snapping Turtle

This is one of my meaner relatives: The Snapping Turtle
The carapace (shell) length of common snappers frequently exceeds one foot with a record length of 18 ½ inches. The average adult weight is thirty pounds, but 40-60 pounders are not uncommon. The life span of the common snapper has been estimated at 30-40 years.

This is one ugly dude.

from the life experiences of the ROGUE TURTLE:

In June, 1963 I was with a group of college students in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The water was still freezing and small blocks of ice were still in the water. Our job was to assemble and set up a pier that would later be used to teach swimming classes. The shoreline of Elkhart Lake was a shallow sloping rocky-type bottom...did I mention it was COLD..?

During our work periods in the water (only about one minute at a time) we must have stirred up a large snapping turtle because he swam by our group in very shallow water. One of my friends decided he would show off and he jumped in to catch the turtle. (I won't identify this guy but I'll refer to him as "the victim".)

Take a closer look at this turtle's photo. Notice the VERY LARGE CLAWS on their feet. "The victim" grabbed the aggressive turtle by the shell between the front and rear legs, one hand on both sides of the shell. He gleefully raised the turtle out of the water and over his head (with the turtle upside down). Mr. Turtle (you have to respect power) has very long legs. Much longer than you'd think. We guessed that this reptile weighed in at about 25 pounds.

Mr. Turtle struggled to get away by using all 4 feet (and claws) flailing away at everything. One rear leg caught "the victim" on the inside of his forearm, ripping 3 or 4 long gashes in his arm, from the wrist to the elbow.

Howling in pain, "the victim" dropped the turtle who escaped unhurt. "The victim", however was not so lucky. One of the claws nicked a vein in his arm and he was bleeding profusely. We quickly tried to put pressure on the wound with towels, but the bleeding wouldn't stop. Rushing him to the hospital, he got 120 stitches for his trouble. He was out of commission most of the summer.

The moral to the story is to avoid snapping turtles unless you use some sort of long tool. Like a 9mm pistol. Or a howitzer.

Snapping turtles' jaws are like cast iron and when these turtles lunge for food, they can take off a finger before you know it is gone. They do have a lot of meat though, because of their extremely long (for a turtle) legs. These turtles are tasty, but will not give up easy. These turtles don't retreat into their shell and hide when captured...they fight back.

Net Options

Cast netting is usually associated with catching bait fish in salt water. But, it can be used to catch any fish, anywhere, at any time. A "net for all seasons."

The nets come with several different sizes measured as you see on the left: 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", 1-3/8". Prices range from $125.00 to $269.00. That may seem high, but remember that the entire outer edge of the nets (8' to 10' diameters) has lead weights sewn in. Cast nets are not light.


Other web sites show other sizes and types of nets, and some of them are less expensive, some more expensive. Like any outdoors equipment, shop around. You will, however, have to have an idea on what it is you want to catch. A net with large holes will let the really little fish escape. However, the little fish make great bait for line fishing. Do you want bait, or dinner?

Cast Nets

Cast nets are light weight netting with heavy lead weights sewn into the outer edges. The weights make the round net spin into a circular pattern when thrown, and then sink to the bottom to quickly ensnare the fish you are after. When you pull in the lines, the bottom of the net closes, trapping the fish inside the net. I have seen successful mullet fishermen have to get help pulling in a full 10' net. It was that heavy.


The following is a smattering of examples of what's available to purchase for trapping fish. I would use the collapsible/net types since they take much less space to store. These would be best pre-positioned in your pre-planned shelter ahead of time.

Source: Memphis
Eel, Crawfish & Flounder, 24 in. by 18 in. by 8 in.
1-5 traps: $24.50
6 or more: $22.50

Door opening: 16 in. This Collapsible Trap allows fishermen to carry more traps per outing. The stackable nature of the trap not only adds to a higher catch ability but also adds to the safety factor due to less bulk on deck. These multipurpose traps are ideal for the commercial fisherman and the scientific and government testing and control groups. The efficient cost combined with low labor and high fishing ability make multipurpose collapsible traps the next-generation for select fishermen.

Eel, Crab & Finfish, 28 in. by 20 in. by 13 in.
1-5 Traps: $29.50
6 or more: $27.50

Door opening: 4-3/4 in.

This is a "roach motel" type trap. Bait is placed inside (both traps) and fish swim in, but can't get out. Pull up the trap, and the fish are dinner.

1 1/2" Square Reinforcement Wire Catfish Net
$34.95 each

This reinforced wire catfish hoop net is 19 in. in diameter and 60 in. long. The netting is 1-1/2 in. sq. No. 15 nylon treated with black netcoat. It has two throats, a drawstring in the tail and may be fished vertically or horizontally.

Common Sense Seine, 10 ft. deep
Price $11.04

This Common Sense Minnow Seine is 4 ft. deep by 10 ft. long and made of 1/8 in. sq. mesh polyester netting. It is sewn with nylon thread and has a 2 ft. long nylon cord at each end to fasten to poles. The corners of the seine are reinforced by a rolled-over seam.
25 feet: $23.51
50 feet: $46.87

Trammel Nets: (General Purpose netting)
Twine Size #6, 1-1/2 in. sq. Mesh by 4 ft. Deep
Priced per Linear Yard
$4.48 per yard. Does not include top floats or bottom leads.

You can get these type nets at almost any length you desire. If you need 8' depth, use more than one row, sewn together (by you). If you need a really long net, this is the easiest way to get one.

All the above information came from the very nice people of Memphis Net and Twine.


The Ancient Native Americans


For centuries netting was one of the main tools used for collecting fish, and took many forms: seines, gill nets, basket nets, and other designs were used variously by many different native cultures. Weir traps, basket traps, and scooping baskets were an alternative (Figure 1), albeit sometimes requiring a greater energy input since traps and baskets were normally only effective for fish drives (chasing fish towards the traps where they could be caught).

Figure 1. Drawing of First Nations fence weir with tripods, coastal British Columbia.
© Hillary Stewart, Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast, p.104