I reeled the trout in close to the canoe and reached for the net. A quick dip and the fish was safely landed.
Over the years I’ve made several wooden landing nets. Building a net yourself is a great project for those winter evenings when you wish you were wading your favourite trout stream. It also allows you to customize it for your own use. That can include length, size, type of material for the bag and so on. A short handled net is not only a disadvantage but it is also dangerous. Trying to lean over the side of a boat or a canoe to net a fish is asking for trouble. The traditional building material for a landing net is ash. Ash is an incredible wood to work with. Its straight grain makes it easy to bend and its great strength makes it the traditional choice for anything from axe handles to canoe paddles.
To build a wooden landing net you must first build a form to bend the net frame on. To make one trace out the shape of a favourite net on a piece of three-quarter inch plywood and cut it out. Drill some holes along the edge of the form to allow you to insert the jaws of some C-clamps.
You will need a board about six-feet long, or longer, if you are building a boat net. Rip the board on a table saw into strips 3/16 of an inch or so. Three strips will do for the average net. If you want to get fancy you can include a strip of some dark wood such as mahogany to add some contrast.
Sand both sides of the strips before bending them. To bend the strips use steam or hot water. The beauty of ash is that it is so easy to bend. All you have to do is pour some boiling water from a kettle over the strips and then place them on the form and clamp them in place with C-clamps. Other woods may require steaming. To do this place the strips in a length of plastic water pipe. Close one end with a rag and place the other over a source of steam, such as a boiling kettle.
Never plug off the pipe because the steam can build up to dangerous pressures. Leave the strips on the form for a day or so until they dry. Then take them off, apply a thin layer of waterproof glue, and put them back on in the same order and reclamp. After the glue dries sand the net frame, varnish and add a net bag. These are available at most fishing supply stores. You can drill holes around the frame of the net or tie around the frame.
Although you don’t see many on the water these days a landing net is an asset, even when releasing fish. A net allows you to control the fish while removing the hook and prevents it from flopping around and injuring itself. However it is important to use net mesh which does not remove the fishes’ protective slime layer.
Why would you go through all the work of building a wooden landing net when you can buy an aluminum or plastic one? For the answer to that I go to a book by Jerry Stelmok on building wood and canvas canoes. When asked why he went to all the work of building a wood and canvas canoe his response was “The answer comes not from the head, but from the heart.”
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.
©2013 Don MacLean