Florida Keys charterboats usually spend time in the morning castnetting live bait, and a BIG cast net is the weapon of choice. It’s fast and deadly, but it takes a bit of skill to throw. Pancaking a 14-foot net that weighs as much as a bowling ball is easy for an experienced charterboat mate, but can you learn to make something other than a big splash with an XL net? Well, if you have used small cast nets previously, moving up to a 10- to 12-foot net will not be difficult with just a little practice and a proven throwing method.
There are numerous ways to load and throw a cast net. All do essentially the same thing: divide and conquer. Divide the net into sections small enough to throw, allowing a portion of the lead line to pull the net open, and it becomes easy. However, some of the throwing styles that work well with small nets just don’t cut it with a large, heavy net. Here is one technique used by professional fishermen throwing nets as large as 14 feet that is a proven bait-getter.
Start just as you would with a small net. Attach the loop at the end of the drawstring to your left wrist if you are right-handed. (Southpaws, everything will be opposite for you.) Now coil the drawstring into your left hand until you reach the horn of the net. Then grab the horn of the net and stretch the net and brail lines away from the lead line. Continue coiling the net into your hand so that when you are done the last remaining section of net hanging from your hand is equal to the distance from your waist to your ankles (photo 1). It is best if you use a maximum of two coils with the net itself so that you are only holding the looped drawstring and three sections of net in your hand.
Now you should be holding the whole net with your left hand. With your right hand reach down and gather a small section of the net closest to that hand (photo 2). About six feet of lead line will be sufficient. Control this section of net by holding the netting itself about a foot from the lead line, just as if you were holding a sack full of potatoes.
Now, hold the large portion of the net that is in your left hand slightly away from your body. Take the small portion in your right hand and swing it under your left arm and over your left shoulder. With the lead line now draped over your shoulder, grab the inside lead line and slide it along your shoulder toward your neck, allowing the outside lead line to hang off your back (photo 3).
You need to divide the remaining portion of the net hanging from your left hand into two sections. To do this, use your right hand to flip short sections of net over your right shoulder until slightly more than half the net remains in your left hand (photo 4). Now lower your right shoulder so that the net slides off onto the top of your right wrist (photo 5). Move your hand back until you can grab the net, holding the lead line with your thumb and forefinger and the netting itself with your other three fingers (photo 6). That’s it; the net is loaded and ready to throw. Sounds complicated I know, and it is the first time or two. But after that it becomes second nature.
To throw the net, begin with your hands together and start a back-swing opposite the direction you plan to throw the net (photo 7). Before starting the forward swing, allow the net to come to the top of the back swing. Don’t try to force the net into moving forward while it is still moving away from your body. As your forward swing begins, your upper body should rotate toward the direction that the net is going. You should throw the net up at a slight angle; this permits it to clear any obstacles that may be around you (photo 8). The net should be released from your hands as your arms reach full extension and your torso is facing the direction of the throw. Once the net is airborne it will start to open and if the angle is right the lead line closest to you will hit the water first, assisting in further opening the net (photo 9).
If your first few throws look more like a banana than a pancake, don’t get discouraged. Everybody has to start somewhere. Practice by making two or three throws at a session with a long break between additional throws. You can experiment to see how it affects your throws by varying the amount of net you place on your shoulder, in your right hand, and the distance from your left hand to the hanging lead line. These three items will affect how the net opens and the distance you are able to throw it. Once you figure out what works best for you just load the net exactly the same way each time you cast it.
Unloading the bait from a large net is a little different from unloading a small net. Once you have the net up to the side of the boat, don’t just heave the whole thing aboard. It makes for tangled mesh and extreme difficulty in removing the bait from the net. Instead, with your right hand grab all the brail lines about three feet down from where they connect to the drawstring. With your left hand grab the horn of the net and bring it to your right hand. Hold the horn and the brail lines with your right hand; don’t let the horn slip any farther up the brail lines.
Using your left hand, shake all the bait down to the bottom of the net into what is now a much smaller “bag.” Once that is done use both hands to bring the net in over the side. All you have to do now is move the horn the rest of the way up the brail lines and all the bait should dump easily out of the net.
It is nice to be able to throw a perfect pancake with the cast net every time you use it, but it is certainly not required to catch bait. Remember, a banana with bait is better than a pancake without. FS