Dipnetting Basics

As mentioned in How do we increase iNat fish observations?, iNat has very few fish observations compared to other vertebrates. In this topic, I’d like to discuss dipnetting tips you may have picked up to help teach and encourage beginners (like myself) how you do it. To start, one tip I’ve learned is that when dipnetting rivers/streams, start downstream and make your way up. This is because as you net, the water will become murky and reduce clarity. The current will flow in one direction and so it should be clearer upstream.


My biggest tip is to check your local fishing regulations before you dip net. Depending where you live dip netting may be completely prohibited or limited to so called baitfish. You may also be required to have a valid fishing licence.


Know how what you are trying to dipnet ‘escapes’
For example, crayfish scuttle backwards to escape, ergo, set dipnet behind them sneakily then poke at the water from the front, presto they scuttle backward right into the net.

Sweeping blindly = not smart
Observing & understanding the movement of preferred escape methods = use to your advantage.


I did quite a bit of seining years ago. I still have a two-person seine that’s about 10 feet long and a shorter one-person seine maybe 4 feet long. Seines are more effective than dipnets but you use what you have available. Often two people, one shuffling upstream to stir up any critters, and one holding the seine by its braces (poles) in the current is an effective way to catch small fish and crayfish.


My biggest question is where to dipnet. Dipnetting in areas with the name “nature preserve” or “wildlife area” is likely not legal, but I’m assuming that fishing areas and roadside streams are fair game?


I’d like to get into dip netting, but don’t know what to use. The nets I’ve tried using are either too short or have holes large enough to let the small fish escape. Is there a specific net (preferably transportable) that anyone recommends?


Small agricultural canals and drainage ditches can be good areas to try depending on where you live. Even urban ditches can support small fish if they have water most of the year.


You might want to try making your own. That’s my plan. I’ve salvaged and on an old extendable paint roller handle. I have some plastic mesh netting from Amazon. I think it may have been meant for weddings/party decorations. I plan to use an old badminton racket as the hoop. The only thing I’m missing is someone who can sew.

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Quickly scooping up mats of floating vegetation or leaf litter from the bottom can be a productive way to catch fish with a dip net, especially since many small fish will hide in those places when disturbed. Trying to chase fish that you see swimming around is usually less effective unless you manage to corner them or make them hide in vegetation where you can catch them with the previously described method.

Sometimes, scooping up dead leaves in stream or pond margins during cold winter weather can allow you to catch sleeping fish that are difficult to catch when it’s warmer. Hunting for fish at night with flashlight can also help you catch diurnal species as they sleep, and you might net some surprisingly large fish this way that would be much too fast if you tried to pursue them when they’re alert.

If you’re collecting in a fast-flowing stream, placing the dipnet behind a rock facing the current and lifting the rock will sweep small benthic fish into the net (though you should probably be careful moving rocks or avoid doing this in habitats with sensitive species).


In black water streams in Florida, I used a tray-like box with screen bottom called a Goin dredge to sample aquatic amphibians and snakes along with small fish that hung out in dense floating vegetation. It was very effective. Have not seen it used in other places.


Like this?


looks pretty easy to construct with some plywood and window screen, though considering its small size I bet you could achieve similar results by scooping with a sturdy metal-rimmed dipnet like the one I usually use.

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If you want reach, I believe it’s called a “pool skimmer” ;)

For less long/big ones, literally the nets used for fish hobby, they come in 3, 4, 5, 5, 8" sizes, with usually 8-18" handles, all kinds. Some even telescope. I’m currently using a 5" net with 16" handle. There’s all kinds of combos available, far more than the standard lil ones. Look online or a fish hobby shop.

There’s also some 2ft plastic handle that float ones we have that picked up in summer from a dollar general for $1 each. They have 8" net section and 2ft length. Holes are a bit bigger (0.5cm or so), but work for most things. they look like these.

Another option is float bait nets. if you want highly portable as they collaspe!


On the topic of nets, don’t use the cheap telescopic butterfly nets you might find at the dollar store. They rust incredibly fast and the fine holes and thin metal are not well suited for water.


That’s it. I can’t remember what the screen material was, but it was pretty sturdy (not window screen). Had to be when you were scooping up a few pounds of water hyacinths, Also, I think it had handles on the side and you would shovel with it braced against your waist, in about waist-deep water, then sort through the vegetation. Many years ago and I might be misremembering.

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The 'Perfect Dipnet from Jonah’s aquarium: http://jonahsaquarium.com/jonahsite/netdipnet.htm If you get the smaller mesh, it can also be used on land for very small arthropods…

I suspect it was created with folks at NANFA (North American Native Fish Association) - here’s their forum: http://forum.nanfa.org/ This is a fantastic group that showed me I had virtually no clue about the amazing variety & beauty of native freshwater fish.


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