So I am on a flight today from Pittsburgh to Atlanta and as the plane took off I began thinking of landing gear. No, not the kind that just folded into the belly of the Boing… The kind we carry (or don’t carry) as we fish. To be brutally honest, I have a love/hate relationship with “landing gear” when it comes to fly fishing. The reality is that regardless of our tool of choice, it will be in your way 98% of the time and the other 2% you are thanking your lucky stars that you have it.
For those of you lucky enough to be captaining your own vessel, chances are you have the room to carry a boat net, Boga Grip, etc…. on board. Where this subject can become polarizing is for the wading fly fisher, and even more so for the hiking/wading fly fisher. Hiking through 2 miles of brush with a fly rod is challenging enough with a fly rod. Add a good sized landing net and now you are catching every branch, burr, and thorn from the car to the water and back. The complication can grow even more if you like to wade deep water.
Two seasons ago, I was chasing chrome on the Grand River in Michigan. I had just bought a nice collapsable Steelhead net with a decent sized hoop. The net had a clip on it that I attached to the D ring of my waders. As I waded over my waist, I could feel the current begin to lift and pull the net as I moved down the river. I am not sure at what point it happened, but at one point I went to check for the net and it was gone. I tried to re-trace my steps but it was nowhere to be found. I hope some lucky person has landed more fish in it than I did.
Don’t get me wrong now, I am not against nets. In fact to the contrary. I have lost too many big fish at my feet as I cursed the fact that I had no landing tool with me to close the deal. With that in mind, I thought this would be a good opportunity to go over some of the options and the pros and cons of each.
Landing fish by hand can range from simple to an absolute adventure. There are many variables at play here and the impact can vary depending on the situation. First off, let me hop up on my soap box and remind everyone that all of our fish are protected by a layer of “slime” that helps keep them healthy. Whenever we handle or over handle a fish, we are impacting that protective layer. In a perfect world, releasing a fish without actually touching it is best. In truth, that is not always possible. Wetting your hands will help significantly and minimizing the contact will help as well.
The great part about landing a fish by hand is that no additional gear is required. You will never curse yourself as you stand at the bank that “left your hands in the back of the truck”. Caution here is important even for the most practiced hands. Remember, you have an angry fish on the line that at the least has a sharp hook in its mouth and possibly even some sharp teeth to boot. A few years back I got a call from my buddy CW as he was fishing our favorite creek. He had hooked into a 10lb carp and in the process of landing the fish his fly got embedded in his thumb as the fish thrashed angrily at the bank. CW learned a lesson that day not only about care in landing but also about mashing down hook barbs!
Tailing GloveIf you tend to chase big fish like Steelhead, Salmon, Carp, etc… a tailing glove can be a fantastic option. It allows you to tail a fish with much better grip than your hands and allows you to unbutton a big fish without beaching it or having a tussle in a large net. The best part about this landing tool is that it is relatively inexpensive and it fits in your pocket! I carry one in my sling pack now even if I am carrying a net or Boga grip just in case. If you are chasing bass or panfish, you are probably going to lip your fish. You are much better off if you like all of your fingers intact working most larger toothier fish from the non-business end of the fish!
Landing NetNets range greatly in quality, size, materials, etc…. The one thing they all have in common is that they are designed to contain a fish while you remove your fly, take a quick photo, and send your catch on its way back to the water. The one must with a landing net is to make sure the basket is rubber or rubber coated which does not remove fish slime. Beyond the rest is really a discussion about what kind of fish you are landing and in what kind of water you are landing them in.The primary variables are hoop size/shape, basket depth, and handle length. If you are landing 10” rainbows from a small spring creek then a small trout net will do just fine. If you are standing on a high bank trying to land 15 lb carp then you might opt for a different tool. Much like fly rods, you may need multiple nets to cover your different endeavors. The truth is that once a fish is truly on, the vast majority of “ lost fish” will come during the landing process. You have less line out, your rod angle becomes more difficult to manage, and the fish will put in a last panic attack as it sees the shore and your feet. A well placed net can eliminate much of this panic dance before it ever ensues.The downside of nets is pretty simple, it is one more thing to carry/lose, and they can be a somewhat expensive piece of you invest in a good one. Don’t want a net you say? Imagine the fish of a trip or eve better, the fish of a lifetime making one last kick as it approaches your feet, breaks your tippet and subsequently breaks your heart. Yeah… a net isn’t sounding too bad right about now!
There have been other devices that have hit the market since the Boga but for my money, it is the best quality device out there for securely lipping a fish and having the ability to weigh it in one swift move without handling the fish. Boga’s are amazing, for many instances but remember, not all fish are meant to be lifted in this way and depending on the weight of the fish you could damage or kill it. I love my Boga for chasing “toothy critters” especially in salt water.The downside to the Boga is that is pretty darn heavy, especially if you opt for the 30lb version. I tend to leave this in my boat bag as it can be a bit cumbersome to wade with. The 15lb version is much lighter and compact and probably a better wading option. Much like nets, these tools are not inexpensive but if you take care of it, it will last a fishing lifetime.
There are many other options that I haven’t covered here that could be considered variations on the theme. The truth is that everything we do in fly fishing becomes a give and take exercise. There is not one “magic” tool that is best for all situations and half the fun for you is figuring out what works best for how you fish! Sometimes the only way to learn is to give something a try do don’t forget to “deploy your landing gear” for a great day on the water.