Throwing a cast net is easy -- as long as you divide and grip the net correctly, and let centrifugal force open the net for you.
You can purchase nets online and in most local bait shops. With the right net and technique you can usually catch all the bait you need whether you’re fishing in a boat or from shore. Check out this instructional video by Fort Myers-based Calusa Cast Nets.
There are three important considerations to think about before purchasing a net: height, weight and mesh size.
Longer nets are more difficult to throw, especially from shore or while wading. Shore anglers and wading fishermen don’t have the luxury of a bathtub-sized livewell to store a lot of baits. So a net in the four- to six-foot range will do the job. A net with 1.5 pounds of lead per foot and 3/8th-inch mesh offers the dimensions you need to catch fish commonly used by shore-bound and wading anglers, such as pinfish, pilchards and finger mullet.
If you’re trying to “black out” a big livewell on a boat, you want to catch as many baitfish as you can in the fewest number of casts. That requires a longer net with a wider diameter. You will usually find eight- , ten- and 12-foot nets aboard the boats of professional anglers that fish or chum with live bait.
I keep three nets on boat. These include:
A custom, eight-foot “glass minnow” net with mesh so fine it resembles small holes more than squares of mesh. It's for glass minnows -- members of the anchovy clan --are tiny, slender fish about an inch long. The net has 2 pounds of weight per foot, because the fine mesh won’t sink nearly as quickly without additional weight. They do not live long in a livewell, but I catch them to use as frozen chum or fresh dead chum if they’re the only forage fish species I can find. You probably don’t need a glass minnow net unless you are spending a lot of time catching your own chum or fishing for Spanish mackerel.
I use a 10-foot net with 3/8th-inch mesh and 1.5 pound of weight per foot primarly to catch “chummy” baits such as small herring, menhaden and sardines. These baits are great for catching all varieties of snappers inshore and around reefs. Snook, redfish and trout inhale them. And offshore we use them as bait and to chum roaming tunas, mahi and mackerels into range for fly anglers. They’re great to have aboard when a mahi school shows up because a thin, semi-continuous trickle of these baits keep the predators boatside.
A 12-foot net with 5/8th-inch mesh and 1.7 pounds of weight per foot opens wide and sinks fast. I can catch large, fast forage species including sardines, ballyhoo and thread herring without the net ever touching bottom.
That’s how we “make bait” in the Fishing Capital of the World.