How to Catch Bait With a Cast Net

Cast netting is the most economic tool for catching your own bait. Cast throwing tips, how they work, choosing the right cast net and more.

Wherever you may fish, live bait is always the best lure. To save time and money, you need to keep live bait ready. Cast netting is the most economic tool for catching your own bait. You can also use a cast net to catch shrimp, larger fish, mullet, etc.

Understanding Cast Nets

Cast nets have been used for thousands of years. A good example of cast netting in antiquity is after His resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples to "'Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.' When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish." (John 21:6 NIV).


Cast netting is very popular, either in fresh or salt water, and can be used in different applications from Sport to Commercial fishing. Many people use cast nets, from kids to experienced professional fishermen, almost everywhere in the world.


Basic Cast Net Structure

  • Swivel: two metal loops or rings attached together, that turn at both ends.
  • Hand line: a rope which is attached to the swivel on one end, with the other end attached to the caster's wrist.
  • Horn: a ring with an indentation around the center, where the top of the net is tied.
  • Lead Line: a rope with sinkers attached. This rope is at the outside perimeter of the net to sink it.
  • Brail Lines: lines attached to the swivel at one end and to the leadline at the other. Their function is to pucker the net, thus trapping the catch.
  • Netting: made from nylon multifilament or monofilament to form the desired mesh.

How Cast Nets Work

Throwing the net creates a driving force that causes the lead line to open the net to a flat form, the lead weights then sink the net. After the net has sunk, and the brail line is pulled, the lead line is forced to close thus creating a pouch in the net which holds the catch, trapping a school of shrimp or fish. After pulling the net from the water, opening the leadline will cause the catch to fall out.

Choosing Nets Correctly

Depending on what kind of catch is targeted, i.e. shrimp, pin fish, shiner, mullet, sardine, etc., the correct size of mesh and net will provide more accurate hauls. As with any fishing equipment, the bigger the targeted catch, the bigger size of mesh and stronger netting material needed.

Picking the Right Cast Net to Catch the Right Bait

Stretch Square Type of Bait Dia. Lb. Water Depth Bait Size Misc.
3/8 3/16 Glass Minnows, Anchovy .20mm 4lb 4ft Tiny  
1/2 1/4 Small Scaled Sardines + Threadfins, creek chubs, killifish (also called mud minnows) .23mm 4lb 8ft 2-3 in.  
3/4 3/8 Scaled sardines, Threadfins, Pinfish .28mm 9lb 12ft > 3 in.  
1" 1/2 Large Threadfins, Finger Mullet, Large Pinfish .33mm 11lb 20ft > 5 in. Deep water, Bridges, Markers, Places of high current
1 1/4 5/8 Menhaden, Shad, Pogy, Moss Bunker, Small Blue Runner .40mm 17lb 60ft 1 - 2lbs Kingfish bait net
2" 1" Small Mullet, Ladyfish, Blue Runner .52mm 26lb Anywhere 3 - 4lbs  
2 1/2 1 1/4 Mullet .52mm 26lb Anywhere 3 - 4lbs Common mullet net
3" 1 1/2 Roe Mullet .59mm 30lb Anywhere 5lb + Roe Laden Mullet

Click here to download this chart in PDF Format.

Cast Net Care

The most important thing in cast net care is rinsing your net after every use. Washing the net not only washes away the salt water, it also removes fish particles and slime remaining on the net. The fish slime is particularly harmful in deteriorating the net. Simply rinse well with a garden hose and allow the net to dry. Then place the net into a bucket or any other dry storage area.

Sunlight is another harmful element to the cast net. Do not allow your cast net to stay in the sunlight for long periods of time. This is especially important for monfilament cast nets. Overexposure to sunlight will cause the netting to become brittle and weak.

Another secret in cast-net care is fabric softener. By using fabric softner you can prevent the net from becoming stiff and help in the overall spread of the net. Just take a pail of water, add a cup of softener, and place the cast net in the pail for about one hour. Remove the net, rinse, and store the net after it dries. This process should be done when the net is first purchased and repeated every six to eight months.

Finally, just inspect your net occasionally, checking for any holes or weak areas. You, or your local net shop can repair these areas. If repairing the net yourself, "How to Make and Mend Cast Nets" by Ted Dahlem can be a helpful tool.

How to Throw a Cast Net

There are many different ways to throw a cast net. If you ask 5 people you will likely get 5 different methods of throwing it. So to get you started, here is one for you, demonstrated for those who are right handed.

cast netting step 1
1. Attach the end of the hand line to your wrist by either sliding your hand through the loop at the end or making a second loop as shown, then attach to wrist.
cast netting step 2
2. Collect the rest of your hand line and hold it in the same hand.
cast netting step 3
3. Grab on to the top of the cast net, just below the horn.
cast netting step 4
4. With your right hand, straighten up the net and slide your right hand down by your right hip.
cast netting step 5

5. Take the webbing on your right hand and place it in your left hand with the rest of the net handing over.

cast netting step 6

6. Pick up the section of lead line closest to you.

cast netting step 7

7. There are many people who like to put the LEAD line in their mouth...not sure why, but for the sake of health and this tutorial, we will throw this section of lead line over your left arm. The effect is the same.

cast netting step 8

8. Now, with your right hand, reach under the cast net and grab about half of the net. So you'll end up with about half the weight on your left hand and half on the right.

cast netting step 9

9. Use your fingers and move the lead line so that it is enclosed in your right hand.

cast netting step 10

10. Face your target area with both hands up at around elbow height.

cast netting step 11

11. Swing the cast net about 45 degrees to your left while keeping your foot stationary.

cast netting step 12

12. Throw! Release right hand first immediately followed by left while keeping your left hand close to your body.

cast netting step 13

13. Your cast net should open up as shown. Now just wait around 10 seconds until the net sinks to the bottom and pull up by the hand line. If you've picked a good spot, you will have all the bait you need!


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