Dipnetting a Small Creek

My grandparents property (in New Hampshire if that helps at all) has a small creek running through it that in the past I’ve fished for brook trout with my cousin. I am looking into getting a dipnet (any suggestions/tips would be much appreciated) and was hoping to dipnet the creek when I go back to visit family later this summer. When I brought up the idea of dipnetting it, my dad expressed some semi-vague concerns about disturbing the creek when doing so. Are there any major risks to dipnetting the creek that I should be conscious of? To put in perspective how small it is, it is able to be jumped over pretty much everywhere. It is also a primarily sandy/small gravel bottom as I recall if that helps. I really want to observe and document the critters and especially the fish in this creek, but I also want to ensure it remains healthy and in balance.
Thank you!


As long as you are cautious dip-netting your creek should not cause damage to the creek. If you are primarily after tiny fish and insects you can make your dip net from a coathanger and nylons/pantyhose (does anyone wear those anymore?). If you want to catch fish longer than pinky finger length, look for a net designed to reduce impact on the fish.


There are also one-person seines — I bought one years ago — which you can place in a stream, bank to bank if it’s narrow. Then herd fish from upstream towards the seine. I think it’ could be less intrusive/ disturbing than working a dipnet along the bottom or under banks. But it probably takes two people, despite the name: one to hold the seine in place, one to drive the fish downstream using a stick or by carefully wading the stream.


thank you! I was hoping to target the local shiners and other minnows.

Oh Neat! I’ll check some of those out when I get the chance :)

Kick-sampling is standard way of collecting invertebrates from stream beds. You hold the net about a foot downstream of where you are standing and you kick up the sand and gravel. The denser sediment settles before it reaches the net and you get the invertebrates and other organic matter. It is damaging for the small area you kick, but that is a tiny proportion of the stream bed and the disturbed sediments will get redistributed by the flow back to a natural pattern.

One danger is you can transfer diseases from catchment to catchment. We have crayfish plague in UK and it is advisable to sterilise your net and boots if going from one stream to another. If you are doing spaced samples in the same catchment, start at the top and work down so that you are not moving the disease upstream.


good to know, thank you very much for the tips!

Do you have dragonflies / damselflies at that creek? If so, you might catch some larvae while dipnetting.

When the local parks (in Northeast Ohio) have dipnetting at local ponds in the parks, we get to see all sort of critters. Before they start the event there are a few clean plastic tubs with water from the pond in them nearby so that we can catch stuff and put it in the tubs for better viewing. And, the critters can be in water while we examine them. Make sure the tubs are shaded because the water will be shallower.

Last bit of advice: If you have a close-up lens for your camera, it will be very helpful.


At the risk of shameless self promotion, I’m leading a project called MacroBlitz. that is all about getting people out to look for aquatic critters. We focus on the macroinvertebrates but our protocols do overlap with the fishes. We have a Google classroom that covers the essentials of finding and uploading aquatic macroinvertebrate observations to iNaturalist.

The first consideration is safety, both for you and the critters.

For you: Even small creeks can run fast and deep. It’s not safe to go into moving water above your knees. The faster it flows, the lower it should be on your leg.

Re: the critters. My experience is that they are pretty hardy so as long as you are spot sampling and returning everything back the way you found it, your impact should not be outsized.

Since you didn’t list a price range, the least expensive is a fine mesh aquarium net, one like this: https://www.acornnaturalists.com/8-fine-mesh-aquatic-dip-net.html. You can attach a piece of PVC if you want a longer handle. The key is to look for fine mesh.

A more expensive version (the one I use the most) is a student grade D net. That is kind of spendy so I would not buy one until you know this is really your jam. Maybe a birthday present?

The professional versions are more expensive still. Unless you are doing research, you don’t need something this heavy duty. Yet.

Good luck and hopefully I’ll see your observations on iNat!


Thank you for the net suggestions! I doubt there are many parts of the creek deeper than my knee, but if I see any I’ll be sure to exercise extreme caution when in their proximity. If/when I catch something I’ll be sure to upload it to your project :)


One more thing to be aware of: While most things you find will be harmless, you need to err on the side of caution. Critters like giant water bugs can give you a painful pinch.



Do you have any advice for handling? I’d imagine it would be similar to handling crabs where you can just grab them from behind? Does the same work with crayfish?

Also watch out for broken bottles and fish hooks if it’s at all publicly accessible; I make my kids wear water shoes in the stream in our neighborhood because I’ve seen all sorts of sharp objects in it.

One thing that sometimes works is dipnetting out floating aquatic vegetation–you can find weird bugs in it. My oldest has caught some giant water beetle larva that way. As far as the giant water bugs; just don’t handle the adults. If you turn the net over they’ll leave.

I’m looking for a decent dipnet too; our old cheap kids one wore out and I just bought a telescoping one but it kind of sucks, and slides in and out too easily to be usable. I may use some self tapping stainless steel screws to fix it in place.

If anyone’s got advice on a good one person seine I’d love one. I could hold it while my kids drive or vice versa.


Pinch a crayfish right behind the clawed legs to pick it up. They can’t flex and nip you though they may reach and try. If you grab the tail it can flex and get you.


Thank you for the tips! The section of the creek I want to explore is on private property, but there is another creek back home I’d like to net which is right next to a high school- I don’t even want to think about the paraphernalia in there…
With regards to aquatic vegetation, would you suggest thrusting the net from below the plants or bringing the net down from above and ‘hooking’ it towards you?

good to know, just to be clear; I should essentially grip them as I would a small crab?

We go under then up for the vegetation

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I don’t catch crabs but I’d think you can safely hold them at the backend of the body whereas for a crayfish you want to avoid holding by the tail as that can flex and the crayfish can then reach your fingers with its claws.

You might want to check out the NANFA forum if interested in native fish in North America (insane amount of good information!): https://forum.nanfa.org/

Lots of people that go there ask the same question as you and all get the same answer: the Perfect Dipnet from Jonah’s Aquarium. While pricey, it’s a forever-type of net. After using the ‘regular’ one for a few years, I also purchased the one with a smaller head. http://jonahsaquarium.com/jonahsite/netdipnet.htm

Also - check your local & state regulations – some states require a fishing license and some may prohibit dipnetting in trout streams.


Good to know, thanks. I’ll be sure to exercise caution if I run into any crayfish