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Net Gains: Load Up on Bait with a Well-Thrown Cast Net

There's no faster way to fill a bait tank than to catch your own.

Net Gains: Load Up on Bait with a Well-Thrown Cast Net

Throwing a cast net to mullet from a flat beach requires stealth, strength and accuracy. (Photo by Capt. Joe Richard)

When it comes to catching bait, I’m old school. Growing up on the Texas-Louisiana border, a fishing paradise, we couldn’t even buy live bait. We had to catch our own. Early on we had no boat, and soon realized that wading shorelines and roadside ditches while pulling our bulky 20-foot minnow seine was lame. Saltwater bait easily outran or jumped over the net floats. One day, while struggling in the mud, we noticed a guy high and dry on the seawall racking up mullet and shrimp with a cast net. So, the very next day we bought one. Our garage bait freezer was soon well-stocked with mullet and shrimp that supplemented live bait. That’s still true today.

Throwing a cast net may sound difficult, but if a 9th grader can teach himself to do it, as I did, you can, too. I learned how to throw a net well before the advent of Youtube, which has videos that show every step and trick. A word to the wise, however: Many of them show the thrower holding a lead weight in his or her mouth, which is not recommended.

WHERE TO THROW

The best venue to practice throwing a cast net is a low seawall or dock, especially one with a smooth surface that won’t snag mesh. Failing that, try it from your back porch. Leave a small target, like a can, in the yard, and try to hit it with the flying mesh. I learned to throw nice circles, with the net opening wide, by throwing in the same spot from a small wooden bridge 6 feet above the water. That little bridge stood over a gap in a levee that drained 100 acres of salt marsh. When the tide was going out, shrimp and mullet flowed through the gap. Many wound up in my bucket.

The most challenging situation is chasing and throwing after mullet on a flat beach. You really have to sling the net out there, and accurately. When the water is clear, the fish will see you or the net and take evasive action. Blindly throwing in muddy water is easier because you can save your energy and only throw at baitfish swirls. The most trying times are when the net snags on an oyster reef or deep jetty rocks. That monofilament mesh will tear on sharp surfaces.

It should be noted that I never learned to throw a net bigger than myself. That is, a net with a six-foot radius that spreads to a 12-foot diameter (ideally) upon contact with the water. There are huge, heavy cast nets out there, but a six-footer has always done the job for me. I’ve thrown in ditches and from rock jetties, docks, boat ramps, islands, seawalls, beaches, boats and even a small oil rig one time when mullet were schooling on top of the water.

THE BASICS

There are numerous ways to throw cast nets. A small one, with a three-foot radius or so, can be spun out onto the water like a Frisbee. The more standard-size nets, with a five- or six-foot radius, are mostly folded in half.

Assuming you are right-handed, start by gripping the collar ring with your right hand while resting the net weights on the ground. Fold the net downward so that the net is only half as tall. With your right hand gripping the collar and a bunch of mesh, lift the net off ground. With your left hand, grab two or three weights. A couple more weights two feet away are added to the right hand. Ease everything to your right side and then sling it out there. I release my left hand first, then the right hand a second later. Practice from both elevated positions and flat ground to simulate dock and shoreline situations.

POPULAR BAITS

Favorite targeted bait species on the Gulf Coast include marsh “mud” minnows, mullet, menhaden, croakers and pinfish. Some of the larger baits, like menhaden, mullet and croakers, are great if you’re fishing for tarpon and bull redfish.

As a guide who throws his own cast net to procure bait, I am a rarity these days. Everyone else buys bait from the marinas, racking up sizeable monthly bills in the process. Marinas selling croakers, in particular, make a fortune. I’ve heard of $6,400 changing hands at one dock on a single Saturday. That’s understandable, as many clients want to be on the fish at dawn with baited hooks, not spending time catching bait.




It’s certainly easier to plunk down a credit card, grab a bucket of live bait and head out quickly at first light. However, not all of us want to make that dawn patrol at high speed. We like to slow down. I stop at the beach and let my customers walk around barefoot while I throw the net. They get rid of their coffee as I load up on free live bait.


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