Fly fishing nets aren't really optional; here's why you need one.
"Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it." - Harry Middleton
It has always amazed me the amount of people I take on fly fishing trips that never bother to bring a net. Some will say they don't need them, others claim to only bring them on certain trips.
However, I have never found a situation where I am fly fishing and a net wouldn't be immensely beneficial.
Can you get by without it? Yes. Can you get by without a dishwasher in your kitchen? Yes, but it's going to make it much more difficult.
Why Do Fly Anglers Need a Fishing Net, Really?
There are several reasons that I always bring a net on my fly fishing trips, so much so that I would feel naked without one.
Let's start with the obvious: using a net increases your chances of landing a fish exponentially. Fly rods are designed to be extremely lightweight, long, and to use with low-pound leaders. Without a net, you're risking significant damage on your equipment as well as losing your catch.
Not only does a net help the angler land their fish, but it also makes handling the fish much easier. With a quality net, you're taking out a lot of the hand work that goes into catch and release fishing. If you are releasing your catch, using a net gives the fish time to regain its strength and gather itself before being released back into the water.
Finding the Best Fly Fishing Net
I have actually used several different fly fishing nets over the course of several years. This is not because of bad luck with the former, but because I was interested to see if there was one particular net that outperforms the others, and to find the net that worked best for me.
While I haven't narrowed my gear down to one specific net, I have had great experience with a few quality nets that all have their advantages on rivers and streams.
Orvis Nomad Mid-Length Net
This is the net that I use on a majority of my fly fishing excursions. The size of the Orvis Mid-Length Net is perfect for a backpacking trip, however they also have smaller and larger size options. It is constructed with extremely light carbon fiber and fiberglass. This net truly can handle even the worst of conditions, and if you're an avid fly fisherman, you've experienced it all. With a total weight under a pound and a durable construction, this is one of the best options for every fly angler.
Measure Net Rubber Net
The Measure Net Rubber Net is a great, inexpensive options for beginner fly fishers all the way up to veterans. I'll have to admit, when I first bought this net, I thought it seemed somewhat gimmicky. After using it a few times on a stream in West Virginia, I couldn't have been more wrong.
The rubber mesh basket comes with an integrated ruler that allows anglers to catch, measure, and release a fish without ever having to handle it, which is always a plus. From my experience, this net is significantly lighter than any of the other rubber nets I have used. My only con with this net is how narrow the frame is, which can cause difficulties when landing, but overall, this is a great net at a great price point.
Fishpond Nomad Mid-Length
Over the years, I have had several people recommend the Fishpond Nomad Mid-Length Net to me. After so many suggestions, I had to break down and try it. It did not disappoint.
While it's at a slightly higher price point than other nets, the quality of this net really speaks for itself. With a slightly longer handle than that of the Orvis net, this is perfect for the fisher who loves to wade. With its 19-inch handle, this makes it much easier to reach out and land a fish quickly. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this net for larger fish such as salmon or steelhead, it is a great net for what the large majority of fly anglers are going to face.
Steel-Head Reach by Hex Fly Co.
While the brands I mentioned earlier were a bit more mainstream, the Steel-Head Reach Net by Hex Fly Co. is an extremely underrated fly fishing net. As the name implies, it was built for the angler that wants to be able to "reach" out while wading.
I used this net on my most recent fly fishing trip and it was amazing how convenient it was to be able to reach out that far when I am waist deep in the water. This net was also designed to withstand the most extreme conditions, due to its solid wood handle and durable steel frame. It's also important to mention that even with the size of this net, it still works great tucked into your wading belt.