Tips on landing and netting fish, with Jesse Haller
Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" Podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week is my friend and fishing buddy and coworker, Jesse Haller. Jesse always has some really thoughtful insights on various aspects of fly fishing. And one of the things that I get a lot of questions about are kinda the moment in truth in playing a fish and landing it. And so, Jesse is gonna talk about choosing a landing net and then, you know, how to get the fish close to you, the best way to net the fish, how to kinda scope the waters around you to find a good place to land the fish and finally, some really good tips on releasing fish. So, I hope that this answers a lot of the questions I have on that moment of truth in fly fishing.
But first, we're gonna do the Fly Box and the Fly Box is where you ask me questions and I try to answer them. By the way, I could use some phone calls. I've been having to really search back in some older emails for phone calls to answer and play on the air. So, if you have a question, you might wanna send me a voice file and attach it to your email. Try to keep them under, like, two and a half minutes. Don't ramble on too much. Just ask your question or make your comment. And if I can, I will play them on the air.
And you can send your question whether it's a voice file or just a message in your email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I read them all. I don't answer them all but I do read them all.
All right. Well, let's start the Fly Box this week with an email from Mitchel from Atlanta, Georgia. As a southeasterner, thank you for bringing on several guests from our part of the country such as Henry Cowen on stripers, Matthew Lewis on redeye bass, Sarah Baker on brook trout and Ian Rutter on blue lining. I know that you make it a point to try to discuss all different types and regions of fishing so I wanted to say your efforts are appreciated. Also, side note, my first fly fishing experience was with Ian Rutter and he is phenomenal. I had never even held a fly rod and within an hour, he helped me learn to cast well enough to catch trout. He is truly a wealth of knowledge and I would recommend anyone to book a trip with him to see how unique and beautiful the Smokey Mountains are. Now for my questions.
Number one, professional bass fishers often take a black sharpie to color their line near the hook to minimize visibility. It seems like that would negatively impact fluorocarbon's refractive properties but I also assume these guys know more than I do. Is there something to this? Number two, what conditions affect your decision to use a larger streamer versus a smaller streamer? Is it weather, time of year or something else? I mostly fish for bass and have caught them on everything from a size 2 aught to a size 12 streamer. I ask because at times, it seemed like a larger streamer will spook bass and in other times, a small fly does not seem to pique the interest of largemouth bass.
Those are some great questions, Mitchel, and thank you for your nice comments on the podcast and on Ian Rutter. You know, I hesitate to disagree with anything professional bass anglers do because they're so scientific and they do so much research and they have so much time on the water that we can learn a lot from them. Taking a black sharpie to color your line near the hook seems to me counterproductive because black is the most...typically, the most visible color under water. And if a fish is coming from below, I think black is gonna show up well. But, you know, I believe that fish can always see our leader or our tippet. I think fish can see 8X fluorocarbon. I think they choose to ignore it. And, you know, the reason we use finer tippets usually is not for visibility. It's really for either getting a better drag free drift or for sinking your nymph quicker. And, you know, we've always got a hook sticking out of the back of our fly so I don't think a little piece of tippet in the front of it is going to deter a fish from taking the fly.
And fluorocarbon, yeah. Fluorocarbon has an index of refraction that is a little bit closer to water than nylon but I think it's still visible. And I just think fish choose to ignore it and zero in on the fly. So maybe taking a black marker to your tippet might help. I would try it if you want to. I'm not going to. But if you wanna try it, try it and see if it makes a difference. I don't know how you're gonna tell if it makes a difference.
Regarding your second question, you know, choosing a streamer fly is often a matter of whimsy and trial and error because we're not...generally, we're not specifically imitating something with a streamer unless there is a particular bait fish that is, you know, being chopped up in a dam on a tail water. But, you know, fish take for streamer for whatever reason, you know. It's more or less a lure than anything else.
We're trying to induce the predator response and a reaction response in fish whether it's trout or bass. And I think that probably a smaller fly is a better idea in clear water, in lower water in the case of bass fishing. Maybe in open water where it's really clear as opposed to fishing in stained water or darker water or maybe early in the morning or late at night when you want the bass to notice the fly. You know, sometimes during the day time, they're spooky and a smaller streamer is a little more subtle. So that's what I would try. But, you know, with streamer fishing, it's really a matter of trying one thing and then trying another and trying different colors and sizes and see what seems to interest the fish.
Brian: Hi, Tom. This is Brian in Casper, Wyoming. I have a comment in response to your episode on blue lining. At one point, you were talking with Ian about being out by yourself and what if something happens and you brought up the issue, do you carry a GPS and he got into the navigational aspects of a GPS. My wife is always been concerned about me fishing by myself and not knowing where I am and my safety. So, I've been carrying a Garmin Insights GPS that has two nice features. One, it has a button for SOS that goes to satellite. So, it will give my coordinates to call center no matter where I am in the world and it will send help to me there. The other thing is at the basic level, I have three text messages that I can send out. I've set it up to go to her. The first one says, "I'm getting started." The second prerecorded message is, you know, "I'm in progress. Doing great." And the third one is, "I'm done for the day."
And all of those messages go to her phone via satellite. It gives the GPS. And, you know, every few hours or so I'll do that second message that says, "I'm out. Doing fine. Having fun." So, she always has a record of where I am because it does include a GPS and will actually show it on a map. And if anything did happen to me, I can get help right away. So, Garmin isn't the only one that makes that device but a GPS is more than just how to find your way around on the land. They have the satellite capabilities. That's a great way of letting people know where you are, especially if you change your plans on the fly. Say you're going to place A and you decide, "Nah, that's not working. I'm going to place B." Let them know where they are. And if something does happen, one button, you've got an SOS. So that's my recommendation.
And thanks for all you do. Love the show. And I wouldn't be anywhere near the fisherman I am today without you. Thanks.
Tom: So, Brian, that is a great idea and I'm gonna...as I get older, I wanna look into that particular device because it sounds like a great thing to do, particularly if you're like you and me and we fish by ourselves and we often get out there a ways away from a road where there's no people. So, thank you very much for that tip. We really appreciate that.
All right. Let's go back to an email.
This one is from Name Withheld. Didn't want me to mention even a first name. And you'll see why. First, thanks for the podcast. It provides me great listening while I walk my dog. I must admit sometimes she gives me a look like, "Really? The entire podcast and I gotta keep walking?" I've been known to walk several miles to finish a podcast. My dog and me area both healthier because of your podcast. Thanks. I have a question about guides and referrals. I grew up fishing but took a hiatus when I had some health issues in my 40s. As I returned to the sport I loved, I took a much bigger interest in traveling and to that point, hiring guides. As much as I love do it yourself, hiring a guide is a great way to get on the water quickly when traveling to different destinations. I love learning from different guides and different techniques. I have benefited a ton from all those guides and their approaches. I have notes and books filled with different approaches and even better, certain quotes. Tip, keep a journal of different techniques from guides and even quotes.
This question is about a scenario I don't quite understand. One of my yearly trips and destinations I've been using the same guide/outfitter for five plus years in a row. The guide is well known and I am lucky to get him. Years ago...I was lucky to get him years ago. Fantastic person and guide. So, my question may sound like I am complaining. I'm not. I just find myself in an odd situation. This guide has a very particular way he likes to fish. Each year, I have added days onto my trip. First year, only two days on the water and now I'm booking four to five days of fishing. Lucky me. As mentioned, he is an outfitter and has been fishing with me one to two days and I end up fishing with the other guides the remaining days. On my second year, I booked four days. I fished with the original guide one day and then three days with another guide. Turns out I really enjoyed fishing with the other guide. Best way to put it, I loved his aggressive approach. Nothing more to it but I like more of a hunt for fish approach. In this case, most opposite approaches to nymphing. Very interesting.
The following year I wanted to book directly with the other guide, guide two. Guide two was, is now an outfitter but was getting some of his clients from original guides, guide one. He asked me to book through original guide and not upset the situation. I did as I was told but the following year, I had one day with guide one, the original guide, and four days with guide two, guide two being my preferred guide. I discussed this with guide two and he recommended I have a conversation with guide one and it was between him and me. I did. And the result, I was somewhat scolded which I didn't care for at all. Guide one told me that is how things work out there and I needed to continue to book through him, guide one. I know how referrals work and how the fees work. So, my last trip was slightly uncomfortable and I am worried about future trips as I usually book early in the year for a summer trip. I'm now thinking of going somewhere else to avoid all this together. Guide two has built up his client base and I still book through guide one to only fish with him one day and now his approach downright annoys me. Guide two isn't pleased with the situation either.
As mentioned, guide one is well known so the younger guide, guide two, has conceded to the situation. I'm also sure he doesn't like giving up a percent of his fee when he could easily book his own clients. A day on the water is special and expensive. Is the client not always right? Curious on your opinion on this situation.
Well, you know, you're right. I think the client is always right. And guide days are expensive. And I think you've done your...you know, I think you've ethically done your due diligence in booking through guide one for a while but guide two is now well established and I think you should repay guide two's maybe better approach to fly fishing, at least the way you like it and book directly through guide two. I mean, guide one may not know that you're booking with guide two but I think, you know, you've given guide one a good chance and you booked through him for a few years now. And I would have...personally, I would see no problem with booking directly through guide two who is, you know, trying to start his own business and could probably use the extra percentage. That's my take on it, anyways.
Here's an email from Simone. How delightful to hear about blue lining in my home waters. Here's a couple suggestions. I use my Gaia app. I go out in the winter hiking and looking for egress points in small creeks. I mark them. And when I'm fishing, I could access the info. No cell service needed. And it's helped me more than a couple of times find a safe exit. I use the lack of extra foliage in winter to spot good exits. The rhododendron hells are no joke. Last summer I found myself needing to exit a gorge. I pulled out the Gaia app and saw the trail was nearby. I knew there was thick rhododendron growth but decided to chance it. I took my rod apart and crawled but still got stuck, really stuck. I ended up bellycrawling and praying the timber rattlers wouldn't bite my face if I disturb them. It's a serious situation to find oneself in. I imagine it would be easy to find a skeleton there years later a mere 10 years from the trail.
I am a young and fit, early 60s woman but I go alone and I find this type of fishing brings me such joy and peace. I do carry a Garmin Mini inReach just in case but the thick tree cover, even in winter doesn't offer a lot of space to send signals. I practice using the inReach at least monthly by sending myself a text to stay current on using the gadget. This type of fishing is not for everyone. And if fly fishers aren't confident in their mobility or self-sufficiency, then perhaps sticking to well-known trails might be a wiser choice.
The other thing I'll say about blue lining in the Smokeys, be prepared. Take a water filtration device, take snacks. A small first aid kit is a good idea. And if you enter a gorge, pay attention to the weather forecast before you go to have a bit of heads up in the event of flash flooding. And keep an eye out for egress points or places to at least climb out of the way if water rises quickly. Also, in winter or even late spring, take a warm layer just in case.
Fishing here in the back country is amazing but it's also very unforgiving. Be prepared, pay attention and have fun. Well, thank you, Simone. Great tips.
Here's an email from Brandon from Northern Minnesota. Recently I've got very interested in fishing a warm water river near me. I hear it holds walleye small mouth bass, pike and muskie. Seems like the best way to explore this water is by floating it and I'd like to get a canoe in order to do this. I'm a fairly experienced paddler but I've never tried fly fishing out of a canoe. There will be times when I have someone else paddling with me and there will be times when I'm going solo which I imagine will come with additional challenges. Do you have any experience doing this or advice regarding fishing out of a canoe? Thank you in advance and thanks for the podcast and all you do.
Yeah, Brandon, actually, I have a canoe and I love fishing from my canoe. I really enjoy it. I don't use it in rivers but I do use it in lakes and in Vermont and New York State. And there's a couple things that I might recommend. One is that casting from a low sitting position is very difficult. And, you know, it's hard to keep your back cast high enough. You can't see very well when you're sitting down. So, what I do is I have a set of outriggers or pontoons on the side of my canoe. They're from an outfit called Spring Creek Manufacturing and I have no relationship or no interest with this company. I bought them online. And I found with these devices hooked to my canoe and they hook on very easily, two of us...two people can stand up and fish in a canoe without any worry about tipping. And I found it to be really, really helpful to be able to stand up when I'm fishing. You know, you sit down when you paddle from one spot to another. And then when you get there, you lower the pontoons and you stand up and you have a lot of confidence in being able to cast easier and being able to see easier. So that's one tip.
Another tip is to, you know, try to keep junk like bags and things like that out of your way because your line's gonna tangle on things. So just make sure you keep things kinda clean in the boat. You can put a towel or a piece of mesh over gear if you have it in front of you or even over your feet to keep the fly line from tangling there. And then another thing that I really enjoy in shallow water is poling a canoe. I just have an inexpensive push pole. It's a fairly small push pole that I use in my canoe and with those outriggers, when I'm by myself I can pole or when I'm fishing with someone else, the person in the rear of the canoe can pole and it's a really great, stealthy way of sneaking up on fish. So those are the...you're an experienced paddler so I won't give you any advice on any of the other things or what canoe to buy because you probably know what kinda canoe you need. But those are a couple of tips that have helped me in my canoe fishing.
Alex: Hi, Tom. This is Alex from Texas. I'd called a couple of months ago and asked a question and also made a suggestion to bring on a guest that would talk about midges because I was really curious about them. And I know last week you brought on Rick Hafele and that was a great podcast. I learned a ton. I really enjoyed that one. I saved it. I'm gonna listen to it a couple more times. So, I was out this last week fishing and it was kinda slow morning. Eventually ran into a wooly bugger. All the normal stuff wasn't working. Caught a couple but nothing spectacular. And then everything just died off. And so, it was cold, it was rainy. I was like, "You know, I'm just gonna try more stuff." And so, I thought back on the podcast and I decided, "Well, I'm gonna take Rick's advice." And I threw multiple midges on my line. I threw a 20-zebra midge and a 24 beaded zebra midge and then quickly caught 2 14-to-16-inch rainbows. And I just kinda smiled. You know, your podcast really made immediate effect right away on something I never would've thought of on my own. And I just wanna thank you for that.
The question I have is going to be if I run multiple small midges again and you're dealing with, you know, different current lanes...because I'm assuming the multiple midges are there to kinda trigger a response when you see kinda this flow of food coming in immediately. Would you put just thin...I mean, these are 20 plus size hooks. Would you go down to a five or six X tippet and run them in between or would you put a little bit...something a little thicker so they would kinda stay together if you're trying to trigger a response rather than the two different midges going in all kinds of directions? I'm just...or do you want them to go in different directions with a thicker tippet? I just wanted your thought on that.
And I have one tip for other listeners, is...so one listener talked about some time ago if you drop a fly in the water, you can use a magnet on your net keeper to go then and retrieve the fallen hook. Well, I use a mid-length hook or mid length net and don't have a magnet on there. What I've done is I've got a little, one inch plastic carabiner and put that...I just break my rod down into a small piecer and then hook it onto a guide and then drop that magnet into the water to pick up that fly. That's just something another listener gave advice that ended up helping me on the water. I can't thank you enough for this podcast. It's been tremendous. It's really accelerated my growth as an angler. And God bless you and merry Christmas. Thank you.
Tom: So, Alex, so glad you liked that Rick Hafele podcast. I enjoyed it as well and learned quite a bit. And glad that on that slow day you got a couple of nice rainbows on those midges. Throwing two flies at once in my view is usually giving fish an option. And I don't think that you wanna use a heavier tippet. I think that you want those midges to drift freely in the water because midges don't swim at all. Midge pupae and larvae don't swim at all. And any kinda drag on a subsurface midge is probably gonna put the fish off. So, I would use...yeah, I would use 5X or 6X definitely. And I'd use a fairly long dropper between the two. You know, maybe at least eight inches and maybe more because again, you want those midges to dead drift and a longer, lighter tippet is gonna help you get a dead drift.
And also thank you for that tip on the magnet. That's a great idea. And, you know, I'm not sure if I'd wanna take my rod apart and put a magnet on the end of it. Maybe if people use that method, they might consider just grabbing a stick on the bank and sticking the magnet on the end of that.
Here's an email from Jeremy S from Northern Catskills. I really enjoy listening to your podcast and thank you for answering questions of mine in the past about appropriate harvest in small streams and how to cast best from the first cast on the target pool. Your suggestions were very helpful and I've had a much more successful season as a result. My question today is in my limited experience of fly fishing over the last three years, I found the bigger water streams over 20 feet wide to become increasingly harder to catch fish on the bigger the water gets. It seems to me as though the target spot to land my fly is the same size as would be in smaller streams, even though there are in theory many more fish per pool on the bigger water compared to small. Is this actually the case or do I just need more practice on the big water? Second question. Winter fishing for trout recently opened here in New York and around the Catskills and I'm trying to find appropriate water to find them seeing as how they are likely to have moved from their fall locations. How deep a pool should I be looking to find trout in? At the same time, I am hoping to find walleye in the head waters of the Susquehanna. What water structure types do they typically go to in deep winter? Thanks so much for all you do and happy fishing.
You know, Jeremy, you know, in general, when you go from a small stream to a larger river, there's a couple things that happen. One is that in my experience, in larger rivers, unless they're extremely productive, trout are gonna be in fewer available places than they are in small streams. In small streams, they don't have very far to go and you generally...you know, you find a good-looking pocket, there's probably gonna be a fish there. In larger rivers, that's not the case and you have to kinda get a bigger overview of the river and see where the main current flows are and then fish along the edges of the main current flows. Probably stay away from the really slow frog water. And I would also...in most cases, stay away from really, really deep or really shallow water. You wanna look for water that's about two to four feet deep. But it is harder to find fish in bigger waters. In small streams, it's not rocket science. You know where they're gonna be. In larger rivers, it's a little bit harder.
The other thing that comes into play is in larger rivers, there's generally more fishing pressure and... because more people fish larger rivers than tiny streams. And the fish are gonna be a little bit more sophisticated and a little bit less likely to jump on any fly that goes by them. So those are a couple of things to consider and I think...yeah, I think just more practice on reading the water. Maybe go to the Orvis Learning Center and watch the videos on reading the water. Might help.
And your second question. Yeah, you wanna look for deeper, slower water in the winter time for trout. You don't wanna fish totally dead water. Trout need a little bit of a current but you want slower current and you want deeper water and generally around some cover where the fish are protected because they're not feeding that often and they're gonna be a little bit closer to protection. So, a little bit deeper water, a little bit slower water, some protection nearby. The fish may be in really, really deep pools but that's gonna be tough with a fly rod, you know. If they're down eight feet deep in a great, big pool, it's gonna be tough to get your fly down to them. So, you know, look for places that are a little bit shallower. And I would assume...I've never fished for walleye during the winter so I would assume the walleye are gonna be in deeper, slower water as well. Even slower than you'd find trout. But that...for that, you're gonna have to probably do some more research on...from, you know, experience walleye anglers. I've caught walleye on the fly but not a ton of them.
Here's an email from Trent. Like many other listeners who listen to your podcast, I appreciate the great work you and Orvis do for conservation, education and advocacy. I'm a new angler fishing small creeks in Tennessee and North Georgia. For brevity, I just have two questions that may help beginners and inspire thought for experienced anglers as well. First question. We have a local creek that has recently been stocked with trout. Say between 200 and 300 fish. On any given day, the creek will have locals that walk up and down the trail parallel to the creek. There's a lot of great hiking around here. Fishermen that frequent this creek range from wader wearing fly anglers to those with jeans and mechanical reels. All are welcome. However, inevitably, there will be a family with kids running around throwing rocks or a dog that jumps into a nearby pool nearly spooking fish and disturbing the water. I usually don't say anything but I thought it would be common courtesy for people not to disturb someone who is already trying to be extra cautious around clear water and spooky fish. Often this happens without any regard from parents. Understandably, these are public waters and anyone should be able to enjoy them.
I never say anything because I don't wanna come off as a curmudgeon. However, I was just thinking that this was a universal code of conduct. After spending the time quietly wading to a spot, tying cast to fly ever so gently just to have a big rock splash next to you is the pits.
Second question. We have mild, beautiful winter days in Tennessee. I've read several articles about etiquette on the water and you talk about it on the podcast. But I was just wondering about how anglers should handle those busier days when it just seems there's just too many people on a creek or river. Is it okay to pass around people or skip a whole run that's already taken by a couple of people or should you wait until they're done and they move upstream? I typically walk around them on the bank and head upstream but there's only about a half mile of really good fishing on this particular stream. Honestly, this seems like more of a race to the same fish sometimes. Also, I try to spend only 10 to 15 minutes working a particular seam or run before moving on and I've seen some folks spend hours in the same spot. Anyway, I thought these were worth cycling through. Thanks, Tom.
Well, those are good questions, Trent. And regarding the kids throwing rocks and dogs, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. As you said, people have a right to enjoy this public resource and, you know, if kids are gonna throw rocks, they're gonna throw rocks. I did it when I was a kid. You probably did it when you were a kid. And yeah, dogs are a pain in the butt on trout streams, especially dogs that splash around the water. However, since you say that this is a stocked stream, you know, rocks being thrown in the water probably are not gonna spook those fish for very long. The fish are used to commotion and they're not that afraid of people if they've been freshly stocked. So, I wouldn't worry too much about it but I don't think there's anything you can do about it. You just pick up and move and try to find a place where kids aren't throwing rocks. That's what I do.
Anyways, regarding the crowding situation, I don't think it's a good idea to stand on the bank and wait for somebody to leave a spot, you know. Some people will park themselves in a spot and fish there all day. And that's their prerogative, you know. It's not really great but, you know, if somebody wants to stand there and fish in one spot all day, then I guess we have to let them do that. And, you know, standing there waiting for them to leave is...and making them nervous is not really a cool thing to do. So, I think you're right by, you know, just walking around them and finding another place to fish. And you say there's only about a half mile of good water. And, you know, if that half mile has got people in every likely spot, then maybe you ought to explore water that you don't think is as good just to get away from the people and give them some space. You know, those stocked fish are gonna move around a little bit and, you know, by going well below or well above the places that are stocked or maybe away from the trail, you might find a really good place to fish. So, I wouldn't...you know, I'd move around a bit. And maybe, you know, you get outside of the good water and you might be catching bass instead of trout or sunfish or something but you're still having fun fly fishing.
So, the other option is to find another stream. You know, if that one's really crowded, I bet you that if it's a stocked trout stream, there's going to be other ones that maybe people don't know about as well. So do a little exploring.
Here's an email from Brian. I live in Virginia, have gone to the South Holston River just across the Tennessee line several times. It's been a drive so I've only been a few times. Twice when I have been there, I have observed a lot of fish rising all over the area I was fishing. They were not fully breaking the water as they were feeding on flies on top of the water. It seemed they were feeding on something just a few inches under the surface. They were coming to the top just enough to disturb the waters so you could tell they were there. I saw no bugs on the surface of the water and could not tell what they were eating. I assume they were feeding on some type of midge but I could be wrong. I threw very small dry flies at them, Griffith's Gnat, some other very small, black flies I had in hopes of maybe they would take something off the surface. No luck. I then tried nymphing with some zebra midges but no luck. I was trying to think how to target that one-to-three-inch range just under the surface but came up empty. Eventually, tried swinging some small flies on a somewhat tight line in hopes of fish should be in the range they were feeding with no luck. I suspect the amount of fish I saw at the surface indicated they were keyed in on something very specific to eat and were ignoring everything else. Any idea how to target that area of water first couple of inches under the surface? What techniques to use? What type of flies? I wouldn't imagine...I wouldn't expect you to know an exact fly but maybe a certain style, something like an emerger pattern.
You know, Brian, that could be a difficult situation. And first of all, the South Holston is very heavily fished and those fish are pretty pressured. So, you know, sometimes they're just gonna be difficult to catch. You know, they've seen it all. They've seen a lot of flies. So that is only gonna compound the problem. But if you suspect they're feeding on something just under the surface, there's a couple approaches. One is to use a larger dry fly like a parachute and then a small on a...and then tie...to the bend of the hook on the dry fly, tie a piece of 6X probably and attach that to a small lightly weighted midge pupa pattern. You know, if you tie your own flies, a simple fur thorax and a quill body or a thread body can work pretty well. And the dry fly becomes your indicator. And, you know, if the dry fly goes under, you know that a fish took that small midge.
You can also use an indicator but a dry fly is a little more subtle. It lands a little lighter and is less likely to spook these fish that are feeding just under the surface. And the other thing you could do is you see them visibly rising so you can just fish a single lightly weighted nymph under the surface. Another suggestion is to grease your leader and leave the last, like, four to five inches untreated. So, what you're gonna do is take some paste or gel floatant and run it down your leader and then stop about four or five inches from the fly. And generally, a fluorocarbon tippet helps with this. And then you can watch that leader on the surface and when it twitches, set the hook. The other thing is that since these fish are visibly feeding, you can see them feeding just under the surface, you might just try throwing a lightly weighted nymph or an unweighted nymph out there, an emerger pattern that you don't put any [inaudible 00:8:58] on and just look for the rise. And if a fish boils in the vicinity of where you think your fly is, set the hook.
The other thing is it does sound like those fish are eating midges and you may not be going small enough. Sometimes when fish are on subsurface midges, they get really picky about the size. And you may have to go down to a size 24 or even a size 26 midge larva or pupa in order to interest those fish. You know, there are certain rivers, particularly really heavily pressured tail waters like the South Holston where you sometimes have to go really, really tiny. So, I would try those things, you know. And then talk to other anglers in fly shops in the area and see if they have any suggestions for specific fly types.
Here's an email from Dan. Hi, Tom. In years past I've had the good fortune of hitting the Hendrickson Hatch when the water is alive with fish taking bugs. Yes, I'm already thinking about late April and early May. In a setting like this, what would you do? Is it better to target a specific riser or a prospect, a likely run or seam for the next fish? Thanks for all the ways you've helped make fly fishing even more fun.
Well, Dan, you know, it really depends on the river you're fishing. For instance, the Battenkill where I do a lot of my Hendrickson fishing, there aren't a ton of fish and generally, it's funny, you don't see the smaller fish early in the season when the water's running fast. I think it's just because they can't handle surface feeding in that faster water. And generally, the fish you see are gonna be large. And you have to do sometimes a lot of walking and a lot of looking to look for those big fish that are coming up for the Hendrickson hatch. So, in that case, I would target a specific fish.
Now other rivers where there are a lot of fish and, you know, maybe less current where the smaller fish are gonna be feeding as well, I would prospect. I would walk along, you know, a riffle or a run or along a pool and look for fish feeding. And I like to look for...you know, if there's a lot of fish around, I like to look for a pot of fish, maybe four or five fish so that I have different options if a fish doesn't take one fly, I can fish to another fish. So, you know, it really depends on the type of water you're fishing and the density of the trout population.
Matt: Hey, Tom. This is Matt calling from North Carolina. Just curious if there is a go-to beginner setup rod wheel for salt water fishing. [inaudible 00:42:03] North Carolina between the mountains and the coast. Don't know really anything about salt water fly fishing. Would like to get more into it. And I'm just wondering if, like, the nine weight five...sorry. Nine-foot five weight rod is the kind of go-to to get started in trout fishing, if there's an equivalent to salt water. Thanks for you guys and all you do. And I hope to hear an answer. Thanks.
Tom: So, Matt, the most popular rod for heavier fishing, in other words, bass and salt water is a nine-foot eight weight. However, if I were just fishing in salt water and I wanted one rod to start out, I would start out with a nine-foot nine weight. You know, where you're in North Carolina, you're gonna have some surf, you're gonna have some wind, you're probably gonna be fishing bigger flies and, you know, an eight-weight rod is fine for bonefish or redfish in shallow water with smaller flies. But if you're gonna be fishing bigger water and bigger flies, I think a nine-foot nine weight is the way to go. And that's not a bad rod for largemouth bass fishing as well. So, you know, you can use it for that. Or even pike fishing. So, my advice would be for you to get a nine-foot nine weight outfit.
All right. That's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Jesse Haller about netting fish.
Well, my guest today is the fabulous Jesse Haller. Jesse is one of my fishing buddies and a product developer for Orvis. Jesse's been a guide and he's worked in retail shops before and Jesse is the guy who's responsible for cool things like wading boots and waders and packs and luggage and nets. Right?
Jesse: Yeah, that's correct. Everything except for waders but wading boots, correct.
Tom: Oh, wading boots, not waders, okay, yeah. That's right. Natalie does the waders, okay.
Jesse: That's right.
Tom: Okay. So, we got that straight.
Jesse: That's quite the introduction too. Fabulous. I don't know...I've been called a lot of things but fabulous is not one of them.
Tom: Jesse, you are fabulous. You are fabulous.
Jesse: Well, it's a pleasure to be here again, Tom, as always.
Tom: Yeah. It's always great to talk to you even though I just talked to you the other night in person.
Jesse: I know, wow.
Tom: But we're doing this over the phone. And the topic today is netting because honestly, I get a lot of questions about netting fish and, you know, playing fish close to the net on the podcast. And also, you know, I think a lot of people think that netting a fish is this smooth, cool motion that, you know, an expert angler just, you know, sweeps the rod over, nets the fish and it's all over. But, you know, it's often a struggle and you often look like a klutz when you're netting fish. I do, anyways. I don't know about you.
Jesse: Well, it is another live, you know, thing. So, it doesn't always behave like you're hoping it's going to.
Tom: Right, yeah. Yeah.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah, it's like anything, you know. You get some repetition, you might get a little bit more better at it. But yeah. It's not perfect. Even the best of people still flail around a little bit. But hopefully some of the things we talk about today might give some tips to make people's netting experience and, you know, hopefully their fish capturing and releasing experience a little bit more fluid.
Tom: Yeah. So, let's start with net types. Let's talk about...you had a great outline that you gave me. Let's talk...you know, go ahead and talk about net types.
Jesse: Well, there's...you know, obviously, like many things, there's a variety of options out there and, you know, the nets that you use and are available. And that can be defined by a lot of different things, whether it's the frame material, the actual frame type or model, the hoop size and then the bag size and depth and what those things are made out of as well. All kinda come into the different opportunities of nets out there. Obviously, there's the tried and true, the been around forever, the wood framed handle net. But there's a lot of other materials for making nets out of these days. Obviously probably in the last, you know, decade, eight years, we've seen a huge rise of the composite nets built with, you know, carbon and fiberglass and other materials to kinda make this lightweight, you know, frame. You know, you can equate it obviously like a tennis racket as, you know, sort of that, you know, really nice construction. And there's a lot they can do with it now.
Obviously, there's the aluminum nets that have kind of...some have been out for a while and there are some newer brands that are making aluminum framed nets and there's a great advantage to aluminum because of its, you know, strength to weight ratio. It's still a little bit heavier than wood and the composites but overall, it's, you know, very indestructible but definitely something that we've seen a few more of recently on top of what's out there.
And, you know, the advantages of wood are it's light, it floats pretty well depending on the weight of the bag and, you know, it's been around forever. Most of us have owned a wooden net at some point in their life, probably have a good memory or two with one. So, and then the composite, same kinda thing. It just depends, you know, on how they're constructed. Most of them float. But they are a little bit more susceptible to, you know, breakage depending on what the layup of the materials are. But wood as well too. We've all...I don't know if we've all fallen on a net. I know I sure have and cracked a wooden net. Obviously not the problem with aluminum but it still, you know, it still has a little bit more weight. Usually, it doesn't float as well.
So, you know, that's what you're kinda seeing. There's obviously, you know, some plastic versions out there and other...but those are really the three main types that come to the head. And from there, you know, you're gonna kinda start looking at the frame type. Like, what model do you need based on your specific fishing editions or trying to generalize your fishing conditions. You know, hand nets are pretty still the most used. You know, smaller, usually hangs from the back of your vest sling, anything like that. You know, the bow size is, you know, decent in some situations but not gigantic. You do start to see some models out there and hand nets that are now incorporating a really large frame type or a really large hoop.
And along with those, you're seeing a huge rise in sort of the mid and long handled nets. And obviously there's a lot of advantages to having a mid and long handled net and a few disadvantages. The reach is the hugest thing and I think that's why we've seen such a growth in that. Tom, have you been using a hand net still or are you in, like, a mid or a longer [crosstalk 00:49:55]
Tom: No. You know, I went to that guide net that you designed and I want you to talk about a little bit that we're selling now and yeah, it's a long handle and, you know, you have to usually stick it in the back of your waders. There is a place in the new waterproof pack for it but the problem is that it kinda goes sideways and I know they're going through cattle guards and brushy areas. It's always, you know, banging on things. So, I often sticking it, just stick it in the back of my waders which I think is what most people do or they carry it. But, you know, my arms are short. And I struggle with netting fish. So, the long-handled net just makes so much sense. Let's talk a little bit about the new nets that you designed and why you designed them that way, you know, the shape, the net bag, the handle because I think that'll give people an idea of the, you know...what goes into a good net because I think they're the best nets out there.
Jesse: Well, that's a... yeah. So, we designed the new wide mouth net series which is a composite, you know, layup of materials. So, we're getting that super lightweight. We focused a lot on strength for these nets in general just to avoid some of those things that, you know, we had noticed. So, I think wood is the most prone to [inaudible 00:51:25] fall. It gets fell on, it, you know, can potentially crack. The composites, though extremely rare, we have seen, you know, that some people have been able to fall on some of the composite nets out there. Maybe a little crack in them. So, we put a lot of thought into our material layup. Obviously material layup is something we know a little bit about with our own fly rod factory. But so that kinda went into the material selection of it.
Really, I think the most exciting part about all of the wide mouth nets in my opinion or one of the things I'm most excited about is the hoop size. And the hoop size was...it was selected that way because, you know, I personally and then have sort of built a coalition of, you know...big target makes it easier to get fish in the net.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Jesse: So, we're making...yeah. You know, making a, you know, a hoop just a little bit bigger makes a huge difference. That's less time with the fish kinda swimming around or doing whatever. A bigger target to guide that fish in. And then if we increase our hoop size, you know, by X amount, you know, we can still work within sort of the handle types that give people a myriad of different options. So, you know, our hand net is available in the composite wide mouth net, you know, family as well as our guide net which, you know, some people equate to what is considered a mid-length. I always call those guide net because I used to carry around a net just like that for guiding. And those two models are starting models that...there's more coming. Sneaky, you know, peek behind the curtain maybe at some point.
But the guide net just has that longer handle, easy reach to be able to get out there and they're great for both individually, you know, fishing by yourself or helping a friend land a fish. Some people, we've even seen, use those as a boat net because the hoop size is still really good.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Jesse: Yeah, which is great. And then...so having that hoop size obviously for all those reasons are helping to, you know, land fish. And then once the fish is in the net, being able to manage the fish well, having a bag depth and hoop size that is kind of, you know, conducive with the shape of a fish allows you to keep the fish in the water a little bit better and then the fish isn't necessarily being cradled when submerged. It's actually able to just kinda sit within the net depending on the size of the fish. If you're getting into fish all the time over 18 inches and, you know, it may not work as well but that was definitely part of the thinking when we did that making it just a little easier to release the fish. And then the bag depth as well. I don't know if anybody else has experienced having maybe a shallow net but getting a fish in there and having to...almost having to kinda, like, trap it with one of your hands also was a little bit of a pain, right. You know, it's a good problem to have. But the bag depth makes a big difference. So once the fish kinda gets in there, setting the right depth where the fish can actually get into the net and you can capture the fish, you know, securely but also not so deep that it's, like, you're swimming in the net trying to get to the fish if you're gonna pop the hook out or anything like that.
So, a lot of thoughts are going in there. And some of the inspiration was from when I was doing a little bit of competitive angling I used to do. Seems like quite a while ago now. But, you know, larger hoops, getting that fish in the net quickly and a bag that could manage the fish really well made a big deal. It really did going from a small hand net to some of these larger hoop nets really aided and sped up the whole process of catching and releasing fish. And in the end, that's just a better thing for the fish. So, I brought that little bit of inspiration from there also as some logic in there why we build their shapes the way we did.
Tom: Yeah. And something else about that net is the bag is flat and it's deep enough so that you can hold a fish in the current upright and let it, you know, let it recover. And then when you wanna take a picture, all you have to do is lift that net up to the point where the fish is on its side and you've got that nice, big, wide flat net and you can get a picture of the fish while you could still keep it in the water and keep it controlled. So, you know, I find that net great for taking pictures of fish.
Jesse: Well, yeah. Agreed. You know, having that bottom being that sort of more circular, flat platform versus as much curvature, it definitely aids that and that was definitely part of the logic behind sort of selecting that bag type and the depth.
Tom: I forgot. What color is that net bag? It's kind of an olive color?
Jesse: It's mainly, like, a dark gray, black.
Tom: Yeah. And, you know, there is a huge advantage to a dark gray net when taking pictures. I found that white nets or, you know, clear nets will often fool the autofocus on a camera and it won't focus on the fish but it'll focus on the net for whatever reason. That whitish...that bright white background when you got a fish in the net really fools the autofocus. And so, I've appreciated that dark net because it doesn't screw around with the autofocus on my camera.
Jesse: Yeah. There's definitely different schools of thought on netting color and it's interesting because it is, you know...it's somewhat subjective. Like, I'm sure somebody could do a study and actually, you know, see how fish incorporate...go into nets of different colors. You know, you obviously...well, it's clear the fish doesn't feel like it's being trapped, is sort of one of the clear advocacy reasons that I've heard. But whether or not that's true, I haven't been able to get a word out of a fish yet. But if one does finally start talking, I'll make sure to ask on that one.
Tom: Yeah, if you find that talking fish, let me know because I've got a lot of questions to ask him.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. Well, and it does sort of bring up the last sort of component of that aside from the net bag gap. It's just like the actual types and it's, you know, a very good segue into kinda discussing that. And one of the first and foremost things I think, you know, we'll say it a couple of times talking about...making sure we're keeping fish wet. We'll say this over and over. But also doing things in practices that are, you know, good for the fish because obviously a well caught and, you know, safely, you know, recovered and released fish goes a long way to continuing to perpetuate our valuable resources and our catch and release fisheries. But in that same discussion, I would also, you know, note that old, you know...nets, you know, prior to the last 10 years, maybe even 20 years, you got to see a lot of just, like, bare nylon netting. And there have actually been studies that show that that particular nylon netting, just raw nylon is really not good for the fish.
Jesse: So that's why you've seen all of these, you know, net series kind of go into these other materials. And the net that we have...actually, we did a kinda sorta combination. We basically...it's a hybrid style net where it's got a base, you know, monofilament woven material underneath it and then that is taken and dipped and rubberized. And that gives you the attributes of having, say, a PVC silicone or rubber base style net. But it gives you the long-term durability. For any, you know...we've all probably experienced again something like getting a decent size fish in a net on a streamer and, you know, it does the old gator roll. And that can pretty quickly end a silicone or rubber net. So, you know, we wanted to add durability as one of the other metrics to the wide mouth net series and so we...that's why we use that dipped base material because we can get the attributes of strength as well as, you know, the protective, you know, coating over it that really is better on the fish's membrane. I can't speak specifically to the biology but I've been routinely told and read about how, you know, certain nets can cause certain issues with fish. So, I just wanted to call that one out, yeah.
Tom: Yeah, they can scrape the slime layer off the fish. They can also slip fins, you know. And another pragmatic reason for having a rubber net is, you know, we often fish two or even three flies and getting a fly out of...that's stuck in the net, out of a rubberized net is so much easier than in a nylon or, you know, a braided net. It can save you a lot of time and agony.
Jesse: Yeah. And, you know, also the net bag that we're using has a little bit of a smaller hole, the pattern that we designed for that was smaller. So, it was less likely to get those fish. Obviously, you get those, you know, inch, inch and a half holes in some of those other nets. It's easier for one of your nymphs to, you know, drop in there or, you know, your streamer to get a little bit easier tied up. So, by having those smaller holes that you can cradle the fish a little bit better, avoid splitting fins as well as offer the protective, you know, protective material to support the fish but not, like, the flies get all tangled.
Tom: Yep. And those nets float.
Tom: Which is a good thing when you drop them.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, you can wave goodbye to it as it goes down the super-fast river?
Tom: Yeah. All right, so we have our gear. Let's talk about the act of netting a fish and, you know...and I won't say right and wrong but recommended ways of landing a fish.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there's a lot of little pieces that sort of go into the entire process as we're talking about it and I think you...you know, I think you made a good point. It's not necessarily right. I'll certainly give what has worked well for me in my experience but there's a lot out there and I'm sure somebody might have another great solution that we either didn't quite mention or maybe weren't even thinking of. So, you know, between you and I, I think we've caught, you know, a few fish. So, I think we might be able to get some points. But perhaps I'm mistaken. You've got a lot more experience too. So, chime in as we're going through here.
Tom: All right. You go ahead.
Jesse: All right, well, I do think that, you know, understanding about where you're fishing and the type of water you're gonna be in and sort of, you know, the surroundings can help dictate, like, what kind of net you're gonna take. I mean, if you're...I was guiding that person because you need the reach, then you're always gonna have your guide. But there are definitely smaller streams where I'm like, "I don't need to carry this monster net. I can switch to, you know, a smaller hand net." Certainly, the length of rods also dictate that, right.
Jesse: I mean, if you're going out...if you are euro nymphing and you're gonna fish an 11-foot rod, you're sure gonna be a lot happier with a longer handle than that if you don't mind carrying it.
Jesse: But if you're fishing, you know, small cutties [SP] and brook trout in, you know, faraway places, you probably don't necessarily need to take the monster net if you're catching fish that are, you know, 12 inches or sub most of the time.
Jesse: You know, and then obviously getting in, right. Like you were saying, you gotta put that thing on your back at an angle or it's hard to get in and you're busting through willows, you certainly don't, you know, wanna always have a long-handled net that's gonna [inaudible 01:03:56] getting caught or if you have an overhanging bank. But that's sort of like...you know, that's the first thing that might dictate, like, what I'm gonna do, where because of where I'm going. I usually keep two different nets in my car and I'll grab one depending on what I'm expecting to see. So that's kind of the first thing that goes into it with me.
And then just thinking about, like, the whole layout of the thing. Now I know this isn't specific to the action of landing the fish but understanding, you know, how you're accessing your net. This is another thing that kinda came out of the comp scene for me was, you know, the quicker you can get to your net, the easier it is to access or if something changes when you're about to net a fish, you know, how are you gonna quickly manage your gear and, you know, do what needs to be done and then land a fish. So, I always talk a lot about and think a lot about, like, my next...my access to my net and then specifically how are you, you know, connecting it to yourself and is it just a, you know, a protractor, is it a kind of a metal thing, do you have a leash. All those sort of things kinda play into it. And being able to quickly get to it and get it out to land a fish if the opportunity comes to you, then that's what you...that's how I sorta, you know, think about workflow again. Same thing with a lot of the stuff that we, you know, design is thinking about how quickly you can access something, how quickly, you know, you can get it back into its place.
So, each person's different. Where do you wear your net? You said in your wader belt? That's kinda how your net is typically with you?
Tom: No, if I'm using a small net, I hook it to my sling bag with a magnetic net retractor. And then with the guide net, I just usually stick it in the back of my waders.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: Now you told me...you gave me a really good idea when we were talking the other night and we were driving and... you said that you use a magnetic net retriever on your back, you know. The net is behind you in your bag. And then you also put a second one on a loop of your wader belt so that if you are playing a fish and you've got the net out in your hand and then all of a sudden, the fish runs and you have to drop the net, you can click it onto your side while you're playing the fish. I thought that was a really cool tip.
Jesse: Yeah, that was definitely one of the things that came to me as I started thinking about this sort of system a little bit more, was just those exact sort of things. Like, I have...you know, depending if I'm wearing a vest or a pack, I have the magnetic sort of release on the back of my, you know, my vest. Hoop side up also. We do see people who, you know...they put the clips on the bottom of those nets sometimes and they wanna clip that handle, like, up to the back. But I always recommend hoop side up, you know. Attach the magnetic, you know, lock or whatever it is, you know, to the top of the hoop. And then on the bottom of the net, on the handle, that's where I actually run my lanyard when I do run a lanyard. And the reason why I run a lanyard is sort of what you were saying. If a fish does run, if I can't quickly get my net up to my hip position, I can drop my net and it can hang for a second. But having that second position where I have a little carabiner that I... on one of our belt loops I clip another magnet that will allow that thing that if...same thing. I can just bring the net off my back and I can connect it there and then it's, like, super accessible to do that.
And I might get to a spot that, you know, potentially is holding a couple of fish and it's not gonna take a lot for me to move around and run. I might actually get in the water, move the net to my hip position, fish that run and then come, you know, come back and if I'm gonna move, you know, up or down, then I just swing it around to my back. But having that there is awesome. And I think, you know, I always picture, like, myself having...before I went into that system where, you know, you get a fish in close. You know, you're starting to get ready to extend and put the fish in the thing and that just says it's not done yet. And then it pulls the line and you've gotta retrieve line on your reel with your now net hand and having some place to get it back when you have a fish on so you can focus on the fight is absolutely key. So that's why I have that hip position. And it works great.
Tom: It's a great idea.
Jesse: I've done it a couple different ways. I've also had the second...let's just call it, you know, the female part of the magnet that's on the net. I've had those in two different positions which can be a little noisy but I've had it up, you know, on the hoop by the handle for my hip position before so the handle's sort of facing up and it's easy to grab. But I've also just used that same one between the back of my neck and the hip. I just use the top of the hoop one as well. So, you know, there's a lot of different ways to do it. You can really customize it to configure your quick access, you know, to your net. So, it is not a bad idea. Something for other people to go out there and explore for sure.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. So, let's talk about kinda situational awareness. When you're getting ready to...when you get a fish in lose, you're getting ready to net it, you know, what do you look for? What do you...you know, you turn around and you plan things, right. You plan things ahead of time.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, if you're really trying to dial in everything, you know, when you're getting into a section, especially if you're wade fishing, you know, as you're walking in, you're obviously reading the water to locate where you think the fish are, where you wanna position yourself to make an attempt at that holding water. But at the same time, you know, adding one more layer or just being like, "Okay, I hook a fish or maybe a hook a great fish. What do I do, you know, here?" Looking at the run, is there soft water? If you're gonna be out, you know, more towards the middle, are you...do you have a pocket, do you have a smoother slick that if you get the fish in there, you know, it's gonna be easier to land. And really sort of assessing everything that's there. Are there snags, are there overhangs, you know, above the water? It's really important to kind of add that to your, you know, getting ready to go out into this run sort of thinking because all that work to, you know, catch the fish but you wanna make sure that you can land the fish and then release it, you know, easily.
You know, on the side, if you're [inaudible 01:11:02] upstream like I typically do depending on what I'm doing, you know, I'm always kinda...usually the side I go in is...can be a little bit softer if that run sweeps the way. And then I've got plenty of room around me. But there's times where you're gonna get on the faster side. Is there a little soft spot there or are you gonna be in the main current fishing into soft water? And then where can you go from there. So, I am looking for those little eddies and slicks, you know, throughout the sort of section of water that if I get into a fish, what am I gonna do. And invariably, you're not always gonna pick the...you know, that's where you're gonna catch the fish and it might pop up somewhere else that maybe you have to think on the fly, right. But those are...that's just one more layer I usually kinda go into.
So yeah. Just really looking around, understanding what's around you and then sort of making a, you know, a strategy [inaudible 01:11:59] on where you might land your fish. So, from there, like, you know, I'm just getting out on the water. I'm doing my thing, I'm fishing. You know, kinda just going through the process. Then eventually hopefully we hook a fish and then it's game time, right. So, there's the...obviously we, you know, need to play the fish correctly, be responsible and not letting it take too long. Hopefully we've used the right size tippet and all that and we're not having to really be super ginger with the fish. And trying to get that fish, you know, towards you into one of those positions that you've identified previously of a little bit softer water to be able to land the fish. You really wanna, like...one of the things I learned too is trying to kinda stay even with the fish. If the fish starts to move in a, you know, a direction up or downstream, you know, really quickly, it's good to be able to move as well. If you kinda get the statue thing, then the rod angles can get funny and the currents can get a little bit wonky on the leader and tippet. And I find the closer I stick to actually the fish that I'm playing, the easier it is for me to kind of make the movement and to actually put the fish in the net.
So typically, when I'm playing a fish, I'm trying to stay even with it along the run unless it, you know, really takes off from me or I'm kinda blocked by, you know, a rock or something like that. And once you are doing that, moving and sliding along with the fish, I typically try to, you know, eventually get to a spot where I'm like, "All right, this is where I'm gonna land the fish." And try to get some firm footing. If you're really trying to run around while you're landing a fish, you're adding a whole other thing because, you know, wading while playing a fish in some crazy water can be sorta difficult.
And as you're kind of, you know, doing that, get the fish. They're starting to get a little bit more tired. I try to square up to the fish, got my feet in good spots and I start moving the fish towards me. Now Tom, that probably seems like a perfect world. You know, obviously, there's a lot of different things that could happen around that. You know, what do you think when you first took a fish?
Tom: Well, the thing that I wanna prevent at all costs is...especially in fast water, is for the fish to get downstream of me because, you know, when you got a fish straight downstream of you, it's very easy to pull the hook out. Or it's easy to break a tippet because they've got all the force of the current working with them. So, it's tough to get them back up to you and you have to play them longer. So, you know, I'll try to use rod angles to lead the fish upstream if I can. I mean, you know, side pressure and steering the fish upstream if I can. You know, sometimes a big fish just goes downstream and you can't stop it. You can't lead it. And so, you know, if I can, I'll run down the bank. I'll wade into shallower water. I'll back up and I'll wade into shallower water and run down the bank or run down through shallow water and try to get below the fish, if I can. I mean, that's not always possible, right. You might be blocked by fast water, deep water, whatever.
And so, if I get in that situation, then I try to use side pressure and not just pull straight upstream on the fish. So, you know, try to get my rod at an angle. Usually, the angle is gonna be toward my bank, toward the shallow bank and try to lead that fish as quickly as possible into the softer water below me because I'm usually gonna be wading in the slower, softer water.
And then, you know, then try to reel it back upstream if I can but, you know, as you said, you wanna be opposite the fish or you want the fish upstream of you. That's the optimum. It's gonna be a lot...you're gonna have a lot better holding angle on the hook. And, you know, if you can keep the fish upstream of you, it's very easy to just put the net in the water and kinda lead the fish down to you and then just lift the net as the fish comes down in front of you.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah, and you bring up a really good point on rod angles too as you're playing the fish. Like, you know, that...first of all, it kinda depends on hook type, right, because if you're fishing, you know, a dry fly maybe with a small barb or something like that that you have a little bit extra security on, you know, the rod angle is important but it's not nearly as important if you're fishing maybe a long rod and barbless hooks as well because, you know, although they penetrate really well, those...fish can get such a, you know, a weird angle on you quickly that...and definitely that downstream, right, that it's really easy to pop a hook and it's even more easy to pop a barbless if you get a fish, you know, pretty far away from you downstream.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Jesse: And a lot of times when I play fish, like, depending on...really depending on what's behind me, you know, or above me, I play a ton of side pressure and there are times when fish are in heavier water or they start to get below me that my rod tip will go into the water. And I kinda believe that, like, you know, in certain situations...and definitely when fishing with barbless hooks. Like, I keep a very low angle on those fish and trying to keep the fish in the same, like, vertical position, you know, in the water column where I'm not lifting them up and dropping them as dramatically. If he wants to go that way, that's fine. But I kinda believe that keeping it level with that fish is a lot easier because then you're fighting them from the side and it seems like it gives a little bit more control.
I've actually seen people bring fish back upstream sizeable distance by keeping their rod tip in the water when...at all points, like, that fish should get off but I've seen it successfully done many times where someone will get their rod tip, you know, in the water on a fish downstream because they can't go any further down and actually bring fish back to them and net it. It's pretty impressive.
Tom: Well, that makes sense because, you know, the water's always slower below the surface. It's always gonna be a little bit slower. So, by getting your rod tip underwater, you're gonna be pulling the fish through a little bit less current.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah. I've also heard...again, this is probably just a belief but not necessarily accurate that when you're pulling the fish up and down through the water column, that they can feel that on their swim bladder, you know, which is, you know, their way of sort of moving, you know, in and out of a column, up and down the column and that that uncomfortability just adds to the stress of the fight. But if you can get the fish down a little bit, you know, and keep him on the same level, that apparently helps. That has...could have absolutely no scientific merit. So, everybody can, you know, take that along with a huge grain of salt. But it's definitely one thing I've heard.
Tom: Okay. I believe you. I'm buying it.
Jesse: It sounds convincing, doesn't it? Yeah.
Tom: Yeah, I'm buying it. Yeah, yeah.
Jesse: But yeah. That low rod angle is really important. And I think, you know, again that water type, your position is gonna play, like, a whole bunch into it. And you made a really good callout sort of about, you know, being in that position where you're downstream and the fish could be straight upstream and how you position the net. I mean, really once you've kind of found your, you know, fixed position or wherever you think you're gonna, you know, land this fish, where you're gonna stand...maybe you're on a bunch of uneven rocks and you finally found a good spot to kinda get your feet set. You know, you're just really getting that net out and dropping it into the water. But, you know, how you got the fish to your net is also situation sort of dependent as well, right, because you made that great callout of having that fish stray upstream. Lifting the rod tip and then dropping it into the water and allowing that to sort of drift back to you, kinda pulling but...you know, and in those situations, I assume you're trying to keep the fish's head straight upstream. Is that correct or are you splitting the ground and bringing it directly to you?
Tom: Yeah. I mean, they're gonna wanna...they're usually gonna wanna...if you're pulling on them, they're gonna wanna point straight upstream.
Jesse: Right. Right. Yeah, I didn't know if you, like, brought it up to the...kinda, like, just off the surface and sort of prod its head in. But in those sorta situations too it's, like, playing that current. You know, you can get the fish close and, you know, then just let a little less tension off the rod and the fish will actually drift back just a little bit usually and hopefully right into your net. So, from the side, I'm usually, you know, kinda keeping that side pressure, pulling the net out, kinda fixed in that position and really trying to guide the head of the fish into the net and then just sorta lift the net up. And I think you and I were talking about this the other day. It's, like, not swiping a lot, right. Like, the goal is to actually kinda get the net in a good spot and bring the fish to the net than try to manage a swiping net and a wild fish, right.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Swiping at them often ends up in a broken leader or a missed fish and it makes the fish of course...it gives the fish a new burst of energy because you're swiping at it.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But so, I mean, those...obviously, getting your position correct, dropping the net into the water and trying to keep the net as mobile as you can...I mean, obviously there's gonna be adjustments. And then guiding the fish in there and then simply lifting the net, not necessarily having to stab or anything like that but sort of have that length there. Have a little less movement of the net. Like you said, it's probably a little bit easier for the fish to deal with if you have some swiping thing around there. It might, you know, get them fired back up again.
So yeah. And I think, you know, that those different places you can find yourself on the river do dictate sort of how you're gonna be able to do. You might have to take a little bit more of a forceful movement and faster water to kinda get at the fish. But, you know, trying to get your whole, like, body set and, you know, make a simple extension is obviously gonna be the best way to go about it. But there's a lot of variables out there.
Tom: Yeah. How about rod angle and how much line you have out when you're netting a fish?
Jesse: Yeah, I think that's a... you know, I would ask you sort of the same thing. Depending on what rig I'm fishing, right...I'm usually doing my best to not get the connection of the fly line's leader into my, you know, tip top. Though there are solutions from that which you mentioned a great one the other night which you should actually comment on again. But, you know, being able to...you know, 9, 11 foot, you know, leader. Obviously, you've got some angle in there. I can usually do it, you know, like that. I personally...dry fly and I'll pull, you know, at a higher angle. Not totally vertical to bring the fish in. But with, you know...if I'm fishing barbless nymphs or something like that, I'm still gonna try to keep that lower rod angle closer to 45 as I guide the fish sort of across my body to my neck.
But I think, you know, you made a good point the other day where it's like, "Yeah, no. I don't fish a nine-foot leader and I typically need to have, you know, my connection move into my tip top." What do you do when the fish runs?
Tom: Well, you know, yeah. I often use 15 foot, 12, 15-foot leaders. It's kinda standard for me. And I'm gonna have to get that line leader connection inside my guides with a nine-foot rod. It's just, you know...in order to get the fish close enough. And I think you want about maybe a rod length when you net a fish, about a rod length of leader line out there. And that seems to be a good angle. And then you just, you know, pull back on your rod. But yeah. I often have my line leader connection inside the guides. I know people tell you not to do that but I found that, you know, if the fish runs, you have to kinda develop this reflex but if a fish runs, you just lower your rod tip and point it at the fish and that knot will go right through the guides. Even with, you know, a couple of loops, even with a loop-to-loop connection. It's easier with just a leader nail knot into a fly line but a lot of us use, you know, loop to loop connections and it'll go through the guides fine. It's not gonna hang up as long as you point the rod tip at the fish.
Jesse: Yeah, and I think, you know, just to clarify the reason that, you know, we're talking about this sort of connection transition going through the tip top, for those people who don't know, it's, you know...occasionally if you keep...certainly if you keep your rod vertical, you know, putting a lot of pressure on that fish and that knot gets in there, on a rare occurrence, that, you know, either perfection loop or nail knot or whatever was there wasn't tied, like, you know, really well and clean, that that can catch up on one of those guides and potentially break a rod, like you said.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. It can break a rod because you're putting all the stress into, you know, a couple of inches of rod and it can break it.
Jesse: Yeah. But the drop in the rod tip and pointing it at the fish...you know, if you're in that situation, you're saying it's pretty consistently been a great solution should that happen.
Tom: I've never had a knot hang up on my guides and I've never broken a rod doing that. The one thing you need to be careful of and I've noticed this on leaders, when I buy leaders, that often the perfection loop...they leave a little tag end on it and that's bad. You know, if a perfection loop is tied properly, you're not gonna get any extra insurance by having a little tag end sticking out. So, you wanna make sure that when you look at your leader, when you take it out of the package, if there is a little tag end sticking off, just clip it off with your clippers and that'll make it a lot cleaner, smoother connection.
Jesse: Yeah. Agreed 100%. They do always seem to leave a little bit longer tag end which is fine, you know, just letting that sorta not [inaudible 01:27:27] I guess but it's always good to inspect that, you know, when you're putting a new leader on.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Yep.
Jesse: Yeah. Well, I think we've gotten as far as the fish is in the net. You know, what are you starting to think about when you've got fish or you find you've got a fish, it's in the net? Where are you going next?
Tom: Well, if I'm by myself, I'm probably going to keep the fish in the water, pull out my cellphone and... if I want a picture of the fish. And I'm gonna be ready. I'm gonna have the phone in my hand and then just lift the fish up in the net, take a picture of it and then dip it back down and... if I've got my big boy camera with me, which I prefer to use, you know, I'm not gonna take a picture of the fish unless I've got a buddy there that can pull the net and hold the fish for me because you just can't with a, you know, with a big full-sized DSL [inaudible 01:28:42] It's pretty difficult to pull that out of wherever you've got it. Usually, it's in a backpack behind me. And there's too much fish handling. So, you know, I typically don't take pictures of fish with my big camera unless I got somebody there to help me hold the net and hold the fish.
But you need to be prepared. If you wanna take a picture, you need to be prepared ahead of time so that you don't increase that handling time. You wanna give your camera to your buddy or pull out your cellphone and be ready. Snap that picture quickly. Get the fish back in the water.
Jesse: Yeah, I mean, and which is totally fine, you know. Getting a... capturing a fish of a... you know, a picture of a fish is awesome. It could be a really nice fish. You wanna capture it. It's just making sure you're considering, you know, all the little components about what's best for the fish. You know, do you have help? Is it gonna be hard to wrestle this fish and put a camera on a timer on the bank? It's, like, you know, try to keep the fish wet, keep it in the bag. You know, just take a picture of it when it's in the net and then you can just release the fish easily. But, you know, there's nothing wrong with taking a picture. Just do everything you can to do what's best for the fish as well.
Jesse: Yeah. You know, maybe you don't need to take a picture of every fish but...
Tom: I don't. Just the unusually colored fish or, you know, a big fish.
Jesse: Yeah, it's been a while since I've taken a picture of my fish but usually...you know, I'm in a boat or something like that and somebody snags a good one. It's like, "Yeah, let's capture that moment." But, you know, just...you know, depending...you're gonna interact with a lot of fish throughout the fishing season and, you know, just trying to do everything you can to make sure all those fish, you know, have the best chance of survival. So, you know, getting a quick release is super important. And that's kinda, like, having that right size bag, having that position where you know you wanna go and land the fish, the slower water. All those things sorta, you know, play into, you know, having a successful release of the fish which is, you know...should be the ultimate goal.
Tom: Yeah, and, you know, as far as removing a hook, do you generally just keep the fish in the net and just lift it up a little bit to help trap the fish and then pop the hook out?
Jesse: Yeah, that's it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I mean, I think, you know, as we were kinda saying having the gear you need quickly accessible, it's, you know, equally as important. It's, like, are you a person to use hemostats a lot? Do you have, like, a little, you know, fish release tool? You know, how accessible is that to you? Is it, you know, hanging somewhere on the front? Do you have to go into a pocket for it? So those all...all those things sorta go into that, you know, master list of, you know, making the release quicker. So, if you've got hemos, you clip them. You now can use that to remove the hook. If it's barbless, hopefully you can just pop it out. And that, you know...just getting the hook out of the fish. Like you said, lifting the net a little bit, getting a little bit more of a trapped fish so it doesn't start swimming all over the net bag. But, you know, still keeping it wet. Hopefully easily reaching down. A lot of times, depending on where I am, if I can set my rod down by chance, I will but I'm not gonna walk way over just to set my rod down. I'll, you know, trap my rod under one arm. And then usually it's...and that gets switched to my left hand so my rate hand can, you know, do the hook clearing. And then if I'm on the edge, sometimes I'll, you know, kinda get on my knees and hold the net out in front of me so I can sort of, you know, control the net a little bit more with my body.
But yeah. Getting that fish, the hook out with a tool or not. And then you're clear. And then you've got the fish, you could take that quick picture. And then get into kinda recovering the fish and, you know, releasing it. And, you know, do you find, you know...like, you keep the fish in the net for a long time, Tom, or, like, how long does your, like, revival typical take for you?
Tom: Oh, you know, I can't remember the last time I had to revive a fish. I mean, I play them quickly which is what you should do. And, you know, I have trouble keeping the fish in the net because they wanna go. And I don't have to worry about...but, you know, if the fish is a little bit disoriented and kind of floating on its side or whatever, then you're gonna need to hold it in the net, submerge the net and, you know, keep the fish there until it's ready to swim away.
Jesse: Right. Yeah. I mean, the body language of the fish will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about when it's time to let the fish go. I mean, a lot of those fish can be kinda, you know, sparky and just the second you drop it...but yeah, like you said, it's, you know, good to be able to identify a fish that maybe looks a little bit more lethargic, you know. Definitely in the warmer side of the, you know, the water temp scale which, you know, we wanna avoid fish in, you know, water that's getting towards 70 for trout at least. And then even sometimes on the really, really cold side too, being coldblooded, that they could be a little bit lethargic. So yeah, keeping them in the net. You know, maybe facing them upstream a little bit so they're getting a little bit more of that oxygen flow. And then just kinda wait for them to be able to kinda take off. I mean, nothing's better than when you get that big fish that does that kinda slow gator, you know, swim away from you. But a lot of them are pretty quick to shoot away as soon as you drop that net.
Tom: Yeah. And what do you do? Do you just drop the front end of the net and scoot the fish out?
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. You know, I used to just kinda, like, help the fish out, like, the top...like, over it but actually kinda bringing the fish a little bit out of the water. And then once I pop the hook, if I'm not doing anything else with the fish, I typically won't touch the fish again and I'll just, you know, kinda hold it there, let it do its thing and then just drop the tip of the bow and let them swim off. So that seems to be the most successful way. It also limits the amount of time that I'm touching the fish. So also, another little thing that can help the success for that fish.
Tom: Yeah, sometimes you have to goose them a little bit. Sometimes they just wanna sit in the net and you just have to kinda give them a little goose and they'll take off.
Jesse: Yeah. Yeah. Give them a little look and, you know, sometimes a little touch of the net will help them get going too.
Tom: Yep, yeah.
Jesse: Yeah. But then that's great, you know. You've actually landed your fish and it's...feels great and it swims away and... yay, success. And then it's really just about getting ready to do it again. And is it a place that you're gonna be for a while? Kinda talk about, like, where do you wanna keep your net, where you wanna keep your tool or are you just gonna, you know, swing out around. It's a good moment to take a breath, you know, take in the moment. You've been out fishing and you caught a fish. So, and then go out there and, you know, do it again. Well, actually, you know, it's a great opportunity to just kinda, like, relook over everything too. After you release a fish, you gotta get your net back into position. So, it's a good time to...do I need some more flies out of my work...you know, into my working box or do, you know...did the fight ding up my leader and tippet? Just take a look at everything, make sure everything looks good, sort of a... you know, a grand reset. And then go back out there and do it again.
Tom: Yeah, one of the things after a big fish in particular is to check the leader for spots that might feel a little bit braided. The leader might feel a little rough. The tippet might feel a little rough or maybe the fish dragged you across a rock and, you know, if it does, you may need to cut back or retie your tippet.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. And no time is better than right then. So, it's right there in hand typically. So yeah, that's...you know, that's sort of the stuff that goes through my mind. It sounds pretty pragmatic but I suppose a lot of it's almost ingrained that, you know, I'm making the same assessments about where I wanna fish as where I would land a fish. But that's kinda how I go through the process.
Tom: That's great, Jesse. That's really great. Some really, really fantastic tips and good overview on landing and releasing fish. So, thank you very much.
Jesse: Of course.
Tom: We have been talking to the amazing Jesse Haller, Product Developer for Orvis on playing, netting and releasing fish. So, thanks for sharing your thoughts today, Jesse.
Jesse: Oh, my pleasure as always, Tom.
Tom: All right.
Jesse: Thanks for having me.
Tom: I'll talk to you soon.
Jesse: Take care.
Tom: Bye, bye.
Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. You could be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us at email@example.com in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. You can find more free fishing tips on howtoflyfish.orvis.com.