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The Low Down on Rubber Fly Fishing Nets

Dec 08, 2020

Is rubber a better alternative to traditional mesh?

Two years ago, I made the switch from a fly fishing net lined with mesh to one build with a rubber basket. Sometimes referred to as "ghost mesh", I had seen anglers fishing these nets for some time and finally decided to jump on board. Though I continue to use a rubber basket fly fishing net to this day, I will not lie in saying that it took me a bit of time to get used to. Below are a few pros and cons of the rubber basket:

Pro #1 - Immediate relief from hooks getting stuck!

During the years that I fished with traditional mesh basket nets, small flies would get caught up so badly that oftentimes it required cutting the tippet altogether and threading the hook through from the opposite side. One of the most beautiful attributes of the rubber mesh is that hooks will never get caught to the point in which you cannot get them out without cutting the tippet. This is a big win. 

Pro #2 - Fish safety 

Fish are covered with a slime composed of glycoprotein, which is essentially the equivalent of having a super-charged immune system that keeps them safe from virtually everything in their environment that could harm them (eagles, ospreys, loons, otters, sharks and anglers aside). 

One of the things I loved right off the bat about the rubber mesh was how gentle it was in terms of not removing slime and scales from a fish during the release. Studies have shown that even a cotton tailing glove can cause irreversible damage to a fish, by removing this protective coating, that is not reversible and worsens dramatically over time. Another big win.

Pro #3 - No lingering 'fishy' smell or droplets in the boat

Your net does not go home smelling like fish slime at the end of the day, and the rubber does not hold water like mesh. Shaking the net out once will eliminate a flood of water droplets entering the boat (or sliding down your back on moving water) after releasing a fish. 

Con #1 - Weight

Though I never put it on the scale, one thing I noticed almost immediately was that the rubber netting seemed to weigh slightly more than the mesh. I noticed this mostly when it came time to net my own fish one-handed with a long-handled wooden net. This was a pretty minute change, and something that was easy to get used to after the first few outings. 

Con #2 - The "Trampoline Effect"

It was late April, and I was ecstatic to slide the biggest fish of the early season into my net. Just under eight pounds of shiny rainbow trout was a welcome sight after a long winter indoors. However, the fun didn't last long as the hook popped out and the fish catapulted itself out of the net after a few seconds. 

I was shocked at the ease in which this fish bounced its way back into the water, and began pondering exactly how it could've happened. After bringing a few more fish to hand, I realized that unless I lifted the net so that the fish rested just in the surface film and allowed them a moment to settle down, big fish had a chance of bouncing themselves back into the water. Something that was pretty easy to get used to, and I have successfully been able to net many larger fish since this humiliating moment. 

Con #3 - Fish's inability to relax within the rubber basket

This is not necessarily a flaw in the idea of rubber netting itself, but fish seem to have a very hard time relaxing when they slide into the clear silicone basket. My theory is that they can simply see right through the large holes in the rubber, they spend all of their time attempting to return back where they came from as quickly as possible. I have asked many trout what their thoughts were on this, and am yet to get a straight answer. 

In closing

To close this out, especially for someone that is on the fence in purchasing a rubber net, my suggestion would be absolutely do it! I have noticed myself enjoying releasing fish exponentially more, and spend far less time digging my flies out of cumbersome mesh. 

Lastly (this is not an affiliate link), check out MOBY Nets for quality, handmade nets with options for both mesh and rubber baskets. 

Happy Fishing!

Jordan Oelrich




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