For me, the use of a landing net has always been dictated by the situation. I always carry a net when I am guiding or fishing with others; I almost never do when wading by myself. It doesn’t matter how big the fish are, which species, or even where I am.
But my views on this are changing and I wonder if any of yours are as well. The thing is, with the latest generation of rubberized mesh nets and the light composite materials the frames are now made from, I have found myself using them more on my own. And a beautiful net is, as I have said before, a piece of art that’s every bit as much of an heirloom as a favorite rod or reel can be. I’m proud of my net. By using nets more often now, I wonder if I getting lazy or am I starting to see the light?
I strive to be a minimalist when I fish on my own. The less I carry, the better I fish. I think it’s good for the fish to play them to hand, never take them out of the water, gently remove the hook, and let them swim away. Yes, one can argue that an angler can tire a fish out more by playing it to hand, and “beaching” a trout probably does more harm to their protective slime layer than a net does. But this is less of a concern if you are adept at fighting fish, and I trust my ability to hand-land fish. And if a fish spits the hook before I actually grab it, I honestly do not care.
When I am fishing with others (sometimes people I do not know well), especially in guide trip situations, I know those people want to take pictures and so forth. I know they do care if they land the fish or not. I don’t trust my ability to hand-land those fish, especially when I am not in charge of the rod and reel. So, “working with a net” is all about security.
I do strongly feel that if you’re going to use a net, and you’re going to catch and release fish with the hope that they live, it’s silly to use anything that doesn’t have rubber-coated mesh. I flat-out don’t believe in nylon nets for catch-and-release fishing.
I also think fishing from a boat, or a float tube for that matter, also necessitates the use of a net. There’s too much that can go wrong–for the angler and the fish–if you’re fumbling around and leaning over to grab a fish with your hands.
I don’t think it’s a black-and-white scenario by any means. How about you?