How to Land a Fish

Now that you know how to detect bites, set the hook, and fight fish in let’s go over the final step, landing the fish. As you reel in a fish, the last few feet can be the most nerve-racking. By this time you have likely gotten a good view of the fish and need to determine the best way to land the fish given its size and how well it’s hooked. It can be extremely frustrating losing a fish at this point knowing you were just seconds away from successfully catching them.

There are 3 general techniques for landing a fish and after reading this guide you will know the pros and cons of each one and will be better prepared for landing a fish no matter the circumstances.

How to Net Fish

The safest way to successfully land a fish is by using a net. A net offers a quick way to secure your catch without adding extra tension to your hooks. The important thing about using a net is it must be large enough for the fish for it to be fast and effective. A small net will only make landing the fish more difficult.

  1. Once the fish is close enough that you no longer need to reel in it is time to grab your net.
  2. Keep pressure on your rod with one hand as you lead the fish in. With your other hand position your net in the water to block the path of the fish as you lead it in.
  3. As the fish approaches start moving the net to scoop the fish head first.
  4. Once the fish is in the net lift the net out of the water. If the fish is large you may need to lift the net by supporting the frame around the net opening.

Pros of using a net

  • Highest land ratio – With a net, you don’t need to be as precise as grabbing a lip, and is more reliable than swinging fish out. Once the fish is in the net they are caught.
  • Safest – A net is the safest way to protect against getting a hook in your hand. Nets let you safely secure the fish before you put your hands near the fish’s mouth and hooks. It just takes one burst of energy for a fish to send a treble hook into your hand.

Cons of fishing nets

  • Hooks getting tangled – Hooks getting stuck in a net can be a huge pain, especially so with mesh nets. Fortunately, there are nets made of other materials that help prevent this. If you need a net we have a good guide on picking out a fishing net.
  • Take up space and need to be close by – A net is only helpful when it is close by and unfortunately that means they can get in the way. A larger net especially can take up a lot of space and can get in the way of your fishing.
  • Can remove slime coat from fish

How to Land a Fish Without a Net

Swinging Fish Out

Swinging a fish out of the water is the fastest way to land a fish and requires the lowest amount of effort. Along with being low effort and fast it’s also one of the most common ways to lose a fish. If the fish isn’t hooked well the added pressure from their weight can pull the hook out loose.

I reserve this landing method for smaller fish, nothing heavier than 2-3lbs. For smaller fish, I’m not as upset if I lose them due to swinging them out.

I mentioned low effort above which can be a big deal for older anglers or anyone with an injury. Landing fish with other methods requires you or your co-angler to bend down to grab the fish. If you’re in a boat or fishing from a dock you may even have to reach a foot or two below your feet which can make it even harder for some anglers.

Everyone should be able to enjoy fishing and if swinging out fish is your only option then do it. You may lose a few fish here and there but you will be out enjoying nature.

Pros of swinging out fish

  • Fastest landing method – quickly gets the fish in your hand.
  • Less physically demanding – doesn’t require bending over.
  • Doesn’t require extra gear

Cons of swinging out fish

  • Lowest land ratio – You will lose fish using this method, especially the larger the fish.

Lipping Fish

The second way to land a fish without a net is by lipping them. This method is a balance between netting and swinging fish out.

  1. When landing by lipping a fish it is important to tire the fish out when fighting them in. Trying to grab the lip of a thrashing bass is a good way to get a hook in your hand.
  2. Once the fish is under control you can start leading the fish to you with one hand keeping flex in the rod and your other getting into position to catch the fish head-on.
  3. When the fish reaches you quickly slide your thumb into the mouth and pitch down so that the fish’s jaw is in between your thumb and your fist.
  4. Once you have locked on start raising the fish vertically out of the water.
  5. Lay your rod down and use your free hand to support the belly of the fish. This will help prevent the fish from flopping around and hooking you.

Pros of lipping fish

  • Safest for the fish – lipping and supporting the belly of large fish is the safest way to ensure survival after release. This prevents added weight on your hooks which can tear holes in their mouths or jaw. Additionally, having wet hands will protect the fish’s slime coat which helps keep fish healthy.
  • Doesn’t require extra gear

Cons of lipping fish

  • Risk of getting hooked –
  • Requires precision – to successfully land the fish you must get your thumb in their mouths. This takes much more split-second precision than other methods.

Common Mistake that Even Pros Make When Lipping Fish

A common mistake many anglers make when trying to land a fish by hand is grabbing their line and pulling the fish to them with their line. The issue with this is you are removing all the shock absorption from your rod and essentially are trying to land the fish on a rope with no stretch. This will lead to many fish getting off as you try to land them.

It can be a natural tendency to grab the line to pull them to you because it can feel like you have less control when only using your rod. With a 7ft+ rod you will likely have 5 or so feet of line out so it can be more challenging to get the fish to you but I promise if you take the few extra seconds to bring the fish to you with your rod you will successfully land more fish.

Tips for Landing Big Fish

When you hook a giant fish you want to use the fastest and cleanest landing option you have available to you. That means if you have a net close by, use it.

It also means you should take advantage of your co-angler if you have one. Having a co-angler allows you to focus all of your attention on keeping the fish pinned and under control. Your co-angler should focus on getting the net or getting in the best position to lip the fish.

If you are solo and without a net, your next best option is lipping the fish. A 3lb+ fish is too much weight to risk swinging out. You risk not only breaking your rod but also tearing the hooks out from the full weight of the fish.

This guide is part of our larger guide on how to catch fish.