You can buy a cast net for $25, but these are basically toys suitable only for catching a few minnows while you're on vacation. Good cast fishing nets start at about $125 and go up to more than $300. But properly cared for, they will last many years and produce tons of bait with minimum effort on your part. Here's a look at some of the parameters in choosing a good one for your type of bait.
Get the Right Radius
Cast nets are designated by the radius measurement, as well as by the mesh measurement. A 10-foot radius net opens to a circle approximately 20 feet wide. Larger nets catch a lot more bait than smaller ones, but are harder to throw. They also cost more.
The little 3.5- to 4-footers are good starter nets for kids, while a 6-footer might be a good net to carry along on vacation. Serious nets in the view of most anglers who regularly use live bait start at 8-footers, and most experienced netters prefer 10-footers. Fishing guides may use custom-made 12-footers.
Match the Mesh
The mesh size varies depending on the bait targeted. If you're trying to catch tiny glass minnows as chum or for snapper bait, mesh as small as 1/4 inch might be called for, while for the typical scaled sardine or threadfin a 3/8 inch mesh might be the ticket, and for catching large menhaden or mullet, a 1-inch mesh or larger might be best. For eating size mullet, even larger nets are called for. Many expert anglers carry smaller mesh nets for early-season bait, switching to larger as the bait grows larger.
The idea is to use the largest mesh that doesn't allow your target species to "gill", or get stuck with their gill plates through the net mesh—which makes them very difficult to remove. Larger mesh sinks faster with a given amount of weight, and the faster the net sinks, the more bait it catches.
Pack Enough Lead
The lead line, the rope around the perimeter of the net, is categorized by the weight per running foot, with 1.25 pounds per foot typical for small mesh, shallow-water nets, and up to 2 pounds per foot used for the largest deep-water nets.
The best nets, like those from Calusa Cast Nets, Betts Super Pro and the Ahi Pro Guide Series, have multiple tapered panels that cause them to open in a perfect circle with just the right amount of belly to capture the maximum number of fish. Various lead-line weights are available in these models so you can custom fit it to the areas where you catch bait—catching sardines on a 3-foot-deep grass flat requires much less weight than blind-casting for threadfins under a bridge in 15-foot depths. Excess weight for the job is tough on the thrower, particularly if you're not young and athletic.
Once you’ve selected the perfect net, the next step is learning to use it correctly. Learning to throw them takes a bit of practice, but fortunately there are plenty of how-to videos that can quickly have you catching bait like a pro.