Sometimes what is elegantly uncomplicated conceptually is remarkably difficult to use in practice. For no gear is this more true than for the cast net, which looks effortless when done well but befuddles beginners. A cast net is a circular web with a heavily weighted lead line along its perimeter that is thrown toward and over fish from the shore, dock, or boat. When it is retrieved, the pull of the line gathers the weights into the center of the net, trapping the catch. The technique is straightforward enough, but it’s the toss that confounds, a good throw demands two hands, a mouth, and a bit of a dance step.
To throw it, the net should be gathered in both your hands, with part of the lead line held in your mouth. The idea is to sweep your hands in a half-circle motion, as if following through on a baseball bat or golf swing while you step forward. Thrown correctly, the net should open in a graceful swirl to a full circle; a kidney shape is the hallmark of bad form. And if you forget to part your jaws when the lead line flies, you will be forcefully reminded. For those looking for an easier way, a commercially made launcher is now available that looks like an upside-down Frisbee with a handle that is said to be almost foolproof.
Most cast netting in U.S. waters today is for small-scale bait fish purposes, but the technique is used in some artisanal commercial fisheries for food fish, such as in the Gulf of Mexico for spadefish. There, fishermen idle close to oil rigs to spot hovering spadefish schools, and then try to throw twenty-four-foot saucers over them. When successful, they retrieve thirty-to forty-pound catches, with a few landing as much as seventy to one hundred pounds.
Worldwide, there are some interesting variations of cast netting. In the Philippines, fishermen leave baited lines in relatively deep water with floats at the surface, not to hook pomfrets, but simply to attract them. They then throw deep-bodied cast nests right over the floats to encircle the assembled fish. But before gathering the net, they retrieve the float and line through a special hole engineered at the peak of the net.
A more primitive cast net – one with no central line attached – is used in Asia in the shallows. The fisherman casts the net, which pins the fish in place until he empties it. Another Asian technique is to cast the net over rocky ledges in rivers. The fishermen then spook the fish from their lairs with bamboo poles, and they become entrapped along the rim of the cast net.
Nigerian fishermen of the Lagos Lagoon practice group cast netting. Eight to fifteen canoes, each manned by at least two men, form a circle. The fishermen cast the net simultaneously, either clockwise or counterclockwise. Sometimes two lines of fishermen face each other and hurl their nets into the intervening area, starting from one end and continuing to the other. In keeping with the cooperative nature of these operations, catches are shared equally among the fishermen.