Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Castnet...Don't Leave Home Without It.

If I were stranded on a desert island and could only take one thing, the castnet would be way up there on the list. It's probably the most efficient, portable food-catching device ever created.

If you're not familiar with castnets, picture a cone shaped net with weights at the large end. Running inside the cone of netting are small lines called "tucks" that connect to the weighted end. These tucks run through a ring called the "horn" at the small end and are attached to a rope. The rope is there to get the net back and to cause it to close.

When the net is thrown, it opens into a circle. As it descends, the weights carry it quickly to the bottom. When you pull the rope, the rope pulls the tucks which draw in the large weighted end of the net, effectively closing it. Does that make sense?

When I was a kid, cast nets were mostly made of nylon and mostly handmade by various fishermen as a side business. Today, monofilament is the chosen material and most castnets are partially machine made. They actually cost less today than they did back in the day and there is no denying mono is the better material. It sinks faster, lasts longer, and is harder for the fish to see it coming.

I got my first cast net when I was 9 years old. The man next door made nets and my Dad had him knit a tiny 3 foot castnet for me. Dad patiently taught me how to throw and I graduated from assistant to net caster. It's hard to describe how special that gift was to a kid of my saltwater pursuasion. I could load up my stingray bike with a bucket and that net and cruise down the street to the San Sebastion River for hours of fishin' bliss.

In that not so distant past, when Florida was not so full, and most Floridians really were Floridians, the castnet kept many people from going hungry. In the fall, vast schools of roe mullet would make migratory runs along the beach and almost everybody in town would hit the beach to cast a net and fill a cooler with fat, silvery mullet. These were usually smoked in homemade backyard smokers made from old refridgerators.

In the late summer (about now), the shrimp would run in the
St. Johns river and again everyone would pull out their castnets and spend the evening throwing and heading the sweetest shrimp ever spawned.

Earlier in the summer, we used our castnets to catch bait shrimp for pulling whiting, black drum, and redfish from the surf.

I have taught all my own children to toss a castnet. They can't imagine how good it feels for me to see them throw a perfect circle of net.That's Emma in the picture...if you look very close, she has caught one killifish.

Each year as part of my job, I get to teach 30-40 teenagers how to throw castnets correctly. I get a big kick out of these indoor dwelling,computer savvy, X-Box playing kids as they learn an ancient skill that could open up a whole new real world for them. Times have changed though, none of the boys I grew up with ever had to remove their earrings (risk of entanglement and ripped off ear) before casting a net.

Florida has changed too, but a castnet will still catch mullet, shrimp, or bait so I guess we aren't doing too bad.


Rexroth's Daughter said...

What a beautiful post. I have seen film of people using castnets, but I've never read such an eloquent description of it. How wonderful that you teach young people this old and practical art.
Ah, you know the saying-- it takes a village. Teach them to fish, and they can always feed themselves.
This is my first visit here-- a great site you have. And your daughter is just lovely.

kevin said...

I always thought that if I had a cast net I catch something to eat. Of course that was before commercial fishermen wiped out the mullet and redfish. I remember the huge schools of mullet and being the pick up guy for my dad. We ride the beach at night looking for mullet in the surf and turtles on the beach (from a previous post). Not much of that happens anymore.

On a much sadder note, 3 years ago my wife bought me a 10' shrimp net in hopes of loading the freezer during the annual shrimp run. The 1st year the shrimp never ran. Last year too many hurricanes. I hope to get the net wet this year.

By the way, I'm glad you fixed your computer problems.

Zanne said...

How wonderful you are able to teach them this traditional skill. I visit a local "living farm museum" to take photos from time to time. The first time I toured the old house and inn they were talking about the ways of living like it was ancient, ancient history. I had to inform the tour guide and guests that people continued to live without electricity and indoor plumbing well into the '60's (and some do still). We lived in a sharecroppers shack in panhandle when my dad served in Korea. It was paradise to a kid. And nothing tastes better than fresh fish cooked on a cast iron woodburning cookstove. YUM.

Floridacracker said...

Rexroth's Daughter,
Thanks. Please feel free to visit any time. And, as proud Papa, thank you for noting Emma's radiant beauty.

T'aint like it used to be that's for sure. I remember on one of those Billy,You, Me dive trips to West Palm, a school of mullet blacked out the sun for a few minutes as they passed. Like passenger pigeons in the old, old days. And by the way, I have exactly the same custom shrimp castnet experience. It sits waiting...

As soon as any tech change becomes mainstream, the next generation thinks of what came before as ancient history. Look at film, 8-tracks, cassettes, etc. When I tell my students that I grew up in Florida in a house without air conditioning and only a black and white TV with 3 channels, they look at me as if a Neanderthal had just beamed down in front of them.

kevin said...

I was telling someone about that school of mullet not long ago. I remember the mullet on top were being pushed out of the water. I also remember being under them when they came back through. It was amazing and a little freaky having it turn dark all of a sudden.

Good luck with your net. I hope the shrimp run and we are hurricane free this year.

Floridacracker said...


Deb said...

This post brought back some memories for me. My grandparents on my dad's side had a little place on the St. John's River. We used to visit in early August for a week or two and the neighbors taught us how to catch shrimp with the cast net. We would all go out on the dock at night with lights shining in the water and sometimes we'd throw out "chum" to attract the shrimp. It was great fun for a young gal from Minnesota!

Thanks for visiting Sand Creek Almanac! I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Hick said...

Stingray bicycle! Well, that brought back a few memories. I never had one because I thought girls looked dumb on them, but I always envied the boys that rode them. I think my youngest would consider learning how to ride a bike if he could ride a stingray.

Boy, do I love fresh shrimp. Good luck and I hope you catch lots.

Great description of the net, by the way. You've got a wonderful way with words.

kevin said...

A few years ago someone figured out that shrimp congregate in holes during the day. Now day shrimping is easier and more efficient. Since the limits are the same (1 5gal bucket per boat), the pressure hasn't increased. Except maybe more people on the water. Anyway, no more late nights heading shrimp. I'm hoping for a good run this year.

thingfish23 said...

Took the family to the beach fishing on Sunday, and of course we brought our castnet! After watching me catch bait with it for the last three years, my wife is ready to learn how to use it! I am looking forward to teaching her, too. Getting bait is her favorite part of a fishing trip!

On my first throw with the net Sunday, I caught two small snook! OF COURSE they were released immediately. That'll give you an idea of how thick the bait was, though. And I was just throwing right off of the beach.

More on that when I can finally get a minute to post on my Blog. In the meantime, thanks again for giving a glimpse for others out here in the Internets of coastal Florida livin'. There's nothing else like it, to be sure.

Floridacracker said...

Is it a small world or what? That shrimp chum was probably a gooey stinky mix of fish meal, rock salt, flour, and catfood. I really enjoyed visiting your site. Have to admit I was envious of the cool water temps in your pond. My small pond is probably in the mid 80's.
We also have deadly brain-eating amoebas in warm ponds here in Florida (I'm serious), but that's another post....

Stingray bike with a Vrrooom attached...The Vrroom clamped on and by moving the "gear shift" lever it would make a Vrrooom engine revving noise. Of course you could always clothes pin a playing card to you wheel spokes for a nice slappity-slappity sound also.
First scallops, now does such a seafood lover wind up so far from saltwater?

Yeah, I know, but I haven't had a chance to go day shrimping yet. Uncle Richard and Rick have and I was hoping to tag along with them sometime.

Floridacracker said...

We are just out of snook range up here in Nawth Florida. They would be a rare catch. Oh, and it's a great idea to have a wife who can catch bait!

Rick said...

Last year I caught my first bucket july 31st so far this yearI havent heard of anyone catching any.Kevin let me know if they start running.

Rurality said...

I misread that at first and wondered if you were part Spanish... why else would you want castanets on a desert island? LOL.

I have no idea how to throw one, but it's a thing of beauty to watch.

rm said...

I'm wishing for a lesson....can't seem to get the hang of it at all!

kevin said...

Sometimes I think I need more lessons. I rarely get the "silver-dollar", and occasionaly get the "bannana". I can remember dog-paddling behind my dad, the water was about chest deep on him, as threw a 10' cotton net. He didn't throw it far, but it always opened into an almost perfect circle.

The cotton nets didn't last very long and were really heavy after becoming water logged. I'm glad they went to the synthetic material before I starte throwing them.

Floridacracker said...

RM and Rurality,
I take kids from "Oh, I can't do that" to "Look, I did it!" in about 15 minutes. The secret to learning this skill is to start with a small net, they are so much easier to throw. I use 4 footers from Wally World for my training sessions.
Oh, and Rurality, Castanets would be the SECOND thing I would take to the desert island.

If I were as tall as your dad I could throw a 10 footer well also!

kevin said...

I've learned it's more technique than anything else when it comes to throwing a net. I can open a 10' net as well as I can open an 8 footer. I can tangle either one with equal skill.