Alan Scotthorne looks at the pros and cons of netting or swinging a fish in
Whether to reach for the landing net or risk swinging a fish in is a decision that I am sure we have all had to make at some point in our fishing. It is a common dilemma when you’re after small to medium-sized fish such as roach, perch, dace and small skimmers. Usually fish of 3oz to 6oz are what I would class as borderline swingers when you are using standard silver-fish tackle on a typical English venue. When you get to fish around the 8oz mark I think you should almost certainly be reaching for the landing net.
Knowing when to reach for the net and when to swing the fish is key to optimum efficiency
The first thing I must say is that if you are ever in doubt you should always net your fish. However, it perhaps isn’t ever quite as simple or straightforward as that. Sometimes netting every single fish is not really necessary, especially when they are small. Netting fish can sometimes upset your catching rhythm and slow you down. The extra time spent netting could even cost you a pound or two of fish over the course of five hours. On the other hand, risking swinging a fish that then falls off midair can be an even worse predicament, especially if it leads to a tangled rig. Mistakes like that can cost you all-important extra ounces that are often so vital at the weigh-in.
There are clearly other factors that have to be taken into account and, once you’ve decided to swing or net that fish, you then have to consider using the right tackle for the job.
Alan's Elastic Secrets
A central cone helps Alan's elastic run smoothly...
... while a Drennan Tensioner bung helps him set his elastic just right
Spare elastic on the bung means a connector can be changed without rethreading the top kit
Speed is the most obvious reason. After all, in a match situation, we are all trying to amass as big a weight as possible in the shortest amount of time. Another is efficiency, because it can be a bit awkward and time-consuming reaching for a landing net all the time (although if you spend some time on your setup you can make sure your landing net is always in the same place and easy to grab when you need it). Sometimes you can scoop a fish and wish you hadn’t bothered after the hook inexplicably goes into the landing net mesh and causes all sorts of messy problems as you try to unravel it.
Another reason for swinging fish is when you need to extract fish quickly to stop them disturbing the rest of the shoal. Catching perch close in is a great example of this. Even small perch can fight hard and jag around all over your swim if you let them. By stepping the elastic up a notch you can normally persuade them out of the peg much easier and swiftly lift them out. This can really help to prevent spooking any other fish close rather than unnecessarily splashing around with a landing net.
Pike are another reason why trying to get that fish out of the water as swiftly as possible can be better. On my local Stainforth & Keadby Canal, for example, you sometimes have to ship back with a fish on really quickly to make sure a pike cannot grab it! If you are doing this then slightly stepped-up gear is required – stronger elastic, bigger hooks and a more robust hooklength. When I might typically use a No3 elastic to 0.07mm hooklength and a size 22 or 20 fine-wire hook, I wouldn’t hesitate to step that up to No5 elastic to a 0.09mm bottom and size 16 if pike were an issue. You might sacrifice a bit of presentation, but when a hungry predator is lurking you cannot afford to mess around playing fish cautiously. Don’t take control and that fish becomes a pike’s next meal!
Softly-Softly For Skimmers
In some situations, it is safer to net everything you hook, especially on really hard days. It is also good practice when you are targeting soft-mouthed skimmers. A good way to force yourself to net everything is to use much lighter pole elastic. Anything from No3 to No5 is ideal for soft-mouthed skimmers. Going lighter is better for smaller fish and on a shallow venue when you need to stop them coming straight to the top and splashing on the surface. Skimmers don’t have much of a reputation for fighting hard, so there’s rarely any need to fish stronger; you’ll probably just pull the hook out if you do.
The length of elastic in your top kits is a subject that I touched upon last month and is worth going into in a bit more detail. Top kits are not all a standard length between manufacturers, so it all depends on the make of pole that you own. Some top-two kits can be as short as two metres, while others as long as three. Fitting the same pole elastic into either of these extremes will greatly alter the way your elastic behaves. For instance, a No5 through three metres of pole will be much softer and mellow compared with the same No5 through just two metres. The same elastic can, therefore, behave very differently according to how much of it you have inside your pole and I think that is something people don’t always appreciate.
It is really popular these days to have pole elastic fitted through a full, long top-two kit. However, for a lot of my out-and-out silver-fish work I still only thread elastic through the long tip section of my Drennan Acolyte pole. This means I can have a really soft and forgiving elastic to cushion the strike, but the power can kick in relatively quickly. This allows me to control and guide any better fish in a lot easier than if I had the same elastic through a full top-two kit.
The main advantage of this setup is that it enables me to swing in slightly better fish and still be in control. If I were to attempt to swing in the same fish with more pole elastic the process becomes a lot more unpredictable because there would be a greater variation in the height that a fish came through the air. This makes it much more difficult to anticipate exactly where the fish will be when I need to catch it. Small points like this can make all the difference over the course of a session and ultimately help you to be much more efficient.
Incidentally, the top section of my Acolyte is 1.45 metres and a top two is 2.89 metres. You can elasticate these wide-bore kits as they come but I prefer to chop them back around 10 centimetres further to accept a 4.5mm internal Drennan Super Slick PTFE Bush. This allows me to use a wider range of elastics and still have all my kits the same length.
Elastic soft enough to stop you bumping roach but meaty enough to tame bonus skimmers like this is a must!
I normally like to have plenty of elastic coming out of the tip when I connect with a bite. This helps to set the hook and then cushions everything when I am shipping back. By having several feet of elastic coming out on the strike it also buys you a few seconds to do other things, such as throwing or catapulting bait immediately after hooking a fish. If you tried doing this with stronger elastic the fish would come straight to the top, splash around and potentially come off while you fumbled around to feed.
"I won't hesitate to stand up to catch or net fish if I ever need to. You have to do what's necessary to make sure that fish ends up safely in your keepnet."
The more elastic you fit the softer it will become, so always bear that in mind if you decide to use less of it in your pole. For example, a No5 elastic through two sections will behave very similarly on the strike to a No3 elastic through just one section.
If you are faced with the occasional better fish on the end that is a potential swinger, a little trick you can sometimes try is to leave an extra pole section on before lifting the fish out. This should hopefully compensate for the extra elastic and enable you to swing the fish swiftly to hand. So, if my pole rig corresponds to the top two sections of my pole I might unship another section longer and swing the fish in with three sections of pole. It can sometimes take a bit of skill and judgement to do this properly but it’s quite an efficient way of catching on certain days.
I must add that I won’t hesitate to stand up to catch or net a fish if I ever need to. You have to do what’s necessary to make sure that fish ends up safely in your keepnet.
I have already touched upon the importance of stepping up your tackle if you are expecting to swing fish in. As soon as a fish leaves the water its downforce is increased and puts greater strain on your hook-hold. You therefore need to ensure that you have a big enough and strong enough hook and sufficient elastic to cushion the fish as it flaps around. If you are using an ultra-fine-wire hook and gossamer-thin hooklength then a landing net needs to be on standby all of the time.
It can pay to have a couple of rigs set up – one for catching normally and one for a red-letter bagging day. Being prepared to step up a gear can help you to really capitalise on a peg full of fish. Failing that, just make sure you have plenty of spare hooklengths tied up so that you can quickly switch to a sturdier arrangement if you think the fish will accept it. Even one hook size up can make swinging in those better fish so much easier.
Even when I am targeting better fish that all need netting it is still worth experimenting with the amount of elastic in your top kits. For instance, last winter I had a lot of success with our lightest Drennan 4-6 Aqua Bungee hollow elastic through a full top-two kit. This was ideal for catching a mixture of F1s, small carp, skimmers and silver fish on tough days when every ounce was vital. However, when it warmed up I felt I was lacking control with this setup and sometimes had far too much elastic coming out. As the fish became more energetic it was taking longer to get them up to the net, even with a Side Pull Kit.
I overcame this problem by using the same elastic through a Drennan Double 2 Side Pull Kit instead. These are exactly the same length as my standard kits but with an extra joint in the No2 section. This enables me to elasticate just one and a half sections of pole (approximately 2.1 metres). This new arrangement still offers plenty of shock absorption but with much-improved control at the netting stage. There is also still a side puller slot for even greater control. Again, this is a good example of being able to control the amount of elastic you have in your top kits.
Whether to swing a fish or not is a decision we all get wrong at times. On several occasions, I have had my wife Sandra tell me off for trying to gamble and swing a fish that could have been costly had it come off! However, it all boils down to confidence and experience, plus having the right tackle for the job. Being a bit more positive and having the courage to attack has definitely won me a few matches over the years. It’s all about sizing up the situation and knowing what the right thing to do is on the day. Hopefully, I’ve given you some food for thought and the next time you hook a fish you’ll know exactly what to do.