How many times, as a lover of the outdoors, have you held some outdoorsy piece of gear in your hands and thought, “This works pretty well, but I wish they would ... ?”
I recall a favorite spinning rod of mine. It had just the right tip action for vertical jigging with heavier slabs, but, for whatever reason, the manufacturer placed the hook-keeper on the top of the blank.
Occasionally, when I cast the rod with 20-pound test braid, a loose coil of braid would catch on that misplaced hook-keeper and foul the cast. I never mentioned that to anyone and, after just one season, that model was discontinued.
Many of you know that opaque white is a deadly color for freshwater fish focused on shad — my personal go-to, high-confidence color. On a number of occasions, after getting tired of powdercoating lures of other original colors to white, I contacted lure manufacturers to see if I could request white. A few listened; most did not.
When Minn Kota first came out with the i-Pilot GPS-based technology in the form of the Terrova trolling motor, the green and red LED status lights were blindingly bright when operating at night. I covered mine with duct tape and let them know about this figuring, if it annoyed me, it must annoy others. And, if enough annoyed people let Minn Kota know about the issue, change might be effected.
I could go on.
I tell you all of this because it is gratifying when a company actually listens for a change. Such was the case with Fitec, manufacturer of cast nets used for catching live bait.
We are right at the leading edge of what I think is the single best window of opportunity for catching both quality and quantities of hybrid striped bass. This will typically peak in May and then die quickly in early June as the thermocline sets up.
During this window, using live shad will be more effective than any other presentation.
As this window opens (and during the entirety of the winter months) smaller threadfin shad, down to 2.75 inches in length, will often outperform larger shad. Smaller shad will also ensure more action from smaller hybrid, white bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, blue catfish and freshwater drum.
Up until now, all we anglers have had in our arsenal to choose from to catch these ideal threadfin were cast nets with a mesh size of either 3/8 inch or ¼ inch. Both are problematic.
The 3/8-inch mesh will typically wind up “gilling” about 30-40 percent of the useable baits. By this, I mean that a shad’s head will fit into one of the mesh diamonds, but the circumference of the body will not permit it to pass through, thus, it gets hung and the effort required to remove it usually kills the bait.
The 1/4-inch mesh, aside from sinking slowly, gathers a lot of undersized shad and other species of baitfish, especially once the young-of-the-year shad hatch out. The slow sink rate allows bait to escape before getting trapped in the net, and the gathering of bait which are too small requires a culling process, typically killing the bycatch.
On a cold morning on Belton Lake about two years ago, as fellow guide Jason Weisberg and I were comparing notes about shad netting, and as both of us were frustrated about picking gilled shad out of our nets with cold, wet hands, I texted him, saying, “I sure wish they’d make a 5/16-inch mesh to avoid these gillers.”
I got on Google and started typing and researching. I looked at all of the cast net manufacturers. No one was filling that gap between 1/4- and 3/8-inch.
Soon after, I made a suggestion to Blythe Wilson, the marketing director for The Fitec Group, manufacturers of cast nets, based out of Memphis, Tennessee. I had begun using Fitec nets because they made quite a number of 3/8-inch mesh products in heavier weights which were attractive to me, given their fast sink rates were helpful when netting bait in deep water. I also liked their “Komfort Kuff” — a neoprene wristband used to keep the net secured to the thrower.
Incredibly, Fitec listened! Not only that, Wilson actually seemed genuinely excited about the idea of producing a 5/16-inch mesh net.
First, we tested our theory up in shallow water where netting is easy, using a 7-foot radius net with the new 5/16-inch mesh in a net with 1.5 pounds of lead per radius-foot. Those ideally-sized threadfin just slid out of the net beautifully, as anticipated.
It may be hard for those of you not overly familiar with netting bait to appreciate how much of a difference 1/16th of an inch makes, but it absolutely does.
Next came the step of making the net into a tape net. A tape net is a net with some manner of solid webbing attached just inches in from the lead-line which acts as a wing, causing the net to spread wider as it sinks in deep water, instead of collapsing and narrowing as non-tape nets do. Fitec uses a material which looks like fiber-reinforced strapping tape used in sealing cardboard boxes for their tape nets; it is about 2 inches wide.
This step was accomplished over this winter, and I have now had a chance to use the fruit of that effort in water up to 40 feet deep. It performs like a champ.
If your current net is a lightweight “big-box store special,” you will immediately notice the extra heft of this net. You may even have to adjust how you throw a bit to account for the extra weight. That weight is what makes this net fall fast and trap bait before it swims down and away from the net.
The final version of this net includes a 50-foot poly handline for deep water use, and a neoprene wristband instead of the traditional cinched loop of rope to secure the net to the thrower. Fitec has named this net the GS-1500 5/16” Tape Net. Readers of this column are, literally, the first in the fishing world to learn of this new tool.
It is so new that Fitec has not yet updated their catalog to showcase it. According to Wilson, if you would like to place a pre-order, you can email Fitec at firstname.lastname@example.org until it is available on their website (www.castnets.com) and/or other retail locations.
Yes, when shad are cruising the banks spawning, even a kid with a 4-foot net could catch a few shad, but many of you know just how unreliable that approach is. Any wrinkle in the weather, a big boat wake at just the wrong time, or a water level rise putting the lake up into standing vegetation, can throw off the shallow shad collecting effort.
For consistently and efficiently catching large quantities of quality shad in a short period of time, deep water netting using sonar under the cover of darkness is a much surer path to follow.
As the old saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In retrospect, I am very glad I “squeaked” on this one to just the right organization at just the right time. We are seeing the first innovation in castnetting in many years come to market right now.