I wanted to share my experiences in making landing nets with you.
This is from an article I wrote for the August 2010 edition of On The Fly, the newsletter for the Fly Fishing Club of Orange County.
Like many of you, I started fishing when I was very young, and something about it never let go of me. Growing up with 5 sisters left our family with little to no money most of the time. Work for my father was hard to come by growing up. After losing an apple ranch in Northern Cal, and then our house in Nampa, Idaho, we were forced to move back to Southern California to find work. We struggled as he built a book of business as a general contractor. I never really had a choice but to help my father when I wasn’t in school. So I gophered, painted, and crawled into those dark small areas that Dad couldn’t fit into for many years. I didn’t know it or respect it at the time, but these were the formative years for the skills I now have as a professional woodworker.
I began woodworking in my 20’s by dumpster diving at a nearby door manufacturer for some of the most beautiful kiln-dried mahogany, maple, oak, and walnut I had ever seen. I was always the artistic type, so using my father’s antique Craftsman table saw and some old hand tools, this wood soon turned into beautiful furniture. Years later, I would become the Plant Manager at that same door & window manufacturer. So began my love affair with my second favorite thing in this world to do, after fishing.
Now, at 39, I fish for everything, on any gear, anywhere I can possibly do it- From bluegill to blue marlin- From trolling for roosterfish in Mexico & Costa Rica, to fly fishing for native rainbows in the Sierras, and salmon in Alaska. I still get giddy like that 7-year old school boy catching perch from the dock on Deer-Flat Reservoir in Idaho.
There is something about fly fishing though, something that’s so organic and simple. I find the challenge of hooking a fish on the fly to be more rewarding relative to other forms of fishing.
In 2010 I had a health scare(turns out it was stress) that forced me to rethink what I was doing for a living. I quit my overly-stressful job and decided that woodworking and fishing were going to become my means to make a living… no matter what! For the last year, I had been tinkering around in my garage making wood landing nets for friends and me. Now, I am working from home building hand crafted one-of-a-kind nets and other fine woodworking commissions.
I’d like to share with you the process of building a landing net. A lot of trial and error has got me where I am today, and the learning opportunities just keep on coming!
Step 1- Ripping lumber into bendable strips
I start by ripping selected pieces of wood into strips. Thinner strips enable me to use as many as 7-8 layers to form the wood frame, which makes a markedly stronger net than what is typically found in stores.
Step 2- Making the handle
Selecting from amongst the nicest figured wood I can find, I carefully choose the handle wood for its outstanding visual characteristics. Highly figured wood such as curly maple (Shown Below), birds-eye maple, and ribbon mahogany make stunning handles. I may or may not make the handle from glued up components. This is where the artist in me gets to play! Handles can be long, short, round, square, whatever!
I rough out the handle on the band saw.
There are over 15 individual pieces of wood glued up to form the end of this handle!
Step 3- Glue Up
Gluing up is probably the most critical (and often most stressful) time of making a landing net. Time is not on my side as I paint on a glue onto both sides of up to seven strips, and onto the handle. Doing this on a hot day is NOT recommended. I begin bending and clamping until it is completely clamped around its form. It is an exercise in clamp-em-all-ogy! This is where you need clamps, and a lot of them!
Then I begin the sanding process. I route a slot in the hoop for the string, and one by one, holes are drilled to accommodate the net. Finally, the net is sanded to a fine grit for an extremely smooth feel.
Rough sanded nets. The one to the right has a handle of quartersawn Coast Live Oak salvaged from a campfire in the Sierras!
These are nets after routing the groove, hand sanding to 220grit, and hand drilling the holes
Step 5- Finishing
I use a proprietary mix of oils that are hand rubbed onto each net. Up to 10 coats of finish are applied and hand buffed over a few days time. Then, the frame is ready ready for a net, or bag as we call them.
Step-7 The final Step! Once that is done, I hand-tie a nice decorative lanyard onto the net using. A cord stopper is added to adjust the strap if needed.
I also make wooden rare earth magnetic catches to retain your net on the back D-clip of your wading vest. You simply reach back tug on the net to release, and net your fish. Shake the water off, then dangle the magnet over your back and they will find each other and click together. I use epoxy coated magnets and stainless steel S-clips to prevent rust.
Some completed nets:
Wenge & curly maple
Wenge & curly maple
An Owens River brown caught on a nymph
A Pleasant Valley Reservoir ‘bow
You may ask, “They sure are pretty, but how do they hold up in the real world?”
I don’t build nets just for show, hence the drawn out finishing process. Each one is made to use for their intended purpose. I have two seasons with my own net fly fishing the Sierras, and even surf fishing with it. It looks as good today as the day I made it.
In the end, isn’t it all about the fish though? Landing nets are fun to build and challenging, but the real joy, much like a fly-tyer’s, is netting that elusive shadow that slurped down your #16 elk’s hair in a net you built yourself!
Greg Madrigal is a life long fisherman living and building custom landing nets in Garden Grove, Ca.
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