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Cast net fishing can be a fun and productive way to catch baitfish and small forage fish. With some practice and the right techniques, you can master the art of the cast net and bring home plenty of fish. Here are the top tricks and techniques to improve your cast net fishing success.
What is Cast Net Fishing?
Cast net fishing is a unique and fun method involving casting a circular net out over the water to trap and surround baitfish. Cast nets have weights attached around the perimeter of the mesh netting which allows the net to open up when cast and fall closed once it hits the water and traps the fish. Cast net fishing requires good aim and accuracy to properly position the net over schools of baitfish like shad, minnows, and smelt. These smaller fish are then used as live bait for catching larger gamefish species like bass, catfish, and flounder. Cast net fishing can be done from shorelines and docks and wading in shallow areas. It is low-cost and effective for catching bait for other forms of fishing.
Casting Techniques: The Wrist Flip
The wrist flip is a basic and easy casting technique for cast nets. It involves holding the net handle with one hand and simply swinging the net in a circular motion from your wrist. To perform a wrist flip cast, grip the handle firmly with one hand and bring the net up behind you. Keeping your elbow slightly bent and your wrist lose, flick your wrist forward in a snap while releasing the net. This will allow the net to unroll and open up in the air. The wrist flip is best for shorter distance casts of 10 to 20 feet and is a good starting point for beginners to learn the throwing motion and timing needed for accurate casts. With practice, the wrist flip can become very effective for catching smaller schooling baitfish in shallow water near docks, seawalls, and shorelines.
Casting Techniques: The Overhead Cast
The overhead cast is the most powerful and far-reaching technique for casting a cast net. It involves swinging the net around your head and releasing it in an over-the-shoulder motion. To perform an overhead cast, grasp the handle firmly with both hands, one near the top and one further down. Swing the net over and around your head to build momentum. As the net reaches the top of the arc behind your head, release the bottom hand and swiftly throw the top hand forward in an overhand motion. This whipping release will allow the net to unroll far out in front of you. The overhead cast is best for going after baitfish schools in deeper water or at longer distances of 30 to 50 feet. It takes practice to master the proper timing, arm movement, and release point for an accurate overhead cast. But once you nail it down, this technique will give you the most distance and control over where your net lands.
Casting Techniques: Skipping the Net
An advanced casting technique is the skip cast, where you throw the net so that it bounces or skips across the water's surface before sinking. This can be especially effective when fishing shallow areas or targeting baitfish near the surface. To perform a skip cast, use an overhead or wrist flip cast but release the net earlier so that it lands at an angle and skims across the water. The net will continue to unroll and open as it bounces, allowing it to cover more water.
The key to a good skip cast is finding the right release point where the net will land at just the right angle to bounce instead of sinking immediately. With practice, you'll learn to judge the distance and adjust your cast to achieve the desired number of skips. Skip casting can cover a wider area, is less noisy than a direct drop, and can be more enticing to baitfish near the surface. It does require patience and finesse to master, but it can improve the productivity of your cast net fishing.
Finding the Best Casting Spots
When using a cast net, it's crucial to focus on casting areas where baitfish tend to gather for the best results. Consider the following factors when searching for these locations:
- Structure - Areas with a cover like docks, seawalls, pilings, or overhanging vegetation often attract baitfish. They provide shade and protection from predators.
- Shallow Flats - On calm days, baitfish will spread out over shallow flats and sandbars to forage. Wading out and casting along the edges can be very effective.
- Dropoffs - Where deeper water meets shallow water, baitfish will hang out along dropoffs. Cast just above and below these depth changes.
- Tide Changes - As the tide rises and falls, baitfish will move in and out. Fish higher ground on an incoming tide and lower areas on an outgoing tide.
- Bait Balls - If you spot a flock of feeding birds or jumping baitfish, you've found a bait ball. Cast net throws here can be extremely productive.
By scouting different areas and watching for signs of baitfish activity, you'll figure out the best spots to target with your cast net. Over time, you'll develop a knowledge of the "hot spots" that consistently hold bait on any given outing.
Choosing the Right Bait
The type of bait you use in your cast net can make a big difference in how many fish you catch. Here are some things to consider when choosing cast net bait:
Size - Match the size of your baitfish to the species you're targeting. Large gamefish prefer larger bait, while smaller panfish do well on miniature bait.
Color - Some baitfish, like shiners, have silver sides, while others, like mud minnows, are more olive green in color. Pick baits that mimic the natural forage.
Freshness - Live or freshly caught baitfish will swim naturally and attract the most strikes. Try to use your cast net bait the same day you catch it.
Species - Different gamefish favor certain baitfish. Shad is a favorite of bass and catfish, while minnows work well for panfish. Experiment with various types.
The more natural and lively your cast net bait is, the bigger payoff you'll get when you hook a targeted gamefish. Live bait rigs like swing rigs, flippin' rigs, and Carolina rigs allow the bait to swim naturally, attracting follows and bites. So put in the effort to catch fresh, lively baitfish with your cast net, and you'll significantly increase your chances of a big strike.
Handling Your Catch
Once you've made a successful cast and trapped some baitfish in your net, there are a few tips to handle your catch to maximize their lifespan as bait properly:
- Lift the net out of the water quickly and completely. The longer the baitfish are in the net, the more stressed and likely to die they will become.
- Gently shake or rinse excess water from the net to make it easier to handle.
- Pick out any dead or injured baitfish first and remove them from the net. These will just attract predators and waste your bait.
- Transfer live baitfish to an aerated livewell as soon as possible. This provides them with oxygen and helps keep them active longer.
- If you can't use the baitfish right away, sort them by species into separate containers or compartments with aerated water. This reduces fighting and injury.
- Feed your baitfish regularly to keep their energy up. Commercial bloodworms and plankton formula work well.
By quickly and carefully handling your cast net catch, releasing any dead or injured baits, and properly storing the live baitfish, you can significantly extend their lifespan as bait. With any luck, you'll be able to use that live bait for hours, giving you the best chance at catching a trophy.
In conclusion, cast net fishing is a fun and productive way to catch baitfish for other fishing techniques. With the right casting techniques, knowledge of the best spots, use of lively bait, and proper bait handling, cast netting can be very effective. But the real joy comes from perfecting your cast over time and figuring out how to catch more bait with each throw.
The techniques discussed here, from the basic wrist flip to the advanced skip cast, will help you improve your accuracy and distance. But remember to keep it fun and experiment with different methods to see what works best for you. And most importantly, be mindful of preserving this fishing tradition and practicing sustainable cast netting to protect the baitfish populations we rely on.
With enough practice, patience, and a stewardship mindset, cast net fishing can provide you with a lifetime of joy and successful fishing adventures. So get out there, throw your net, and tighten your lines - the bait is biting!