I was fishing just north of Grande Isle, Louisiana, working a salt flat on the moving tide for reds. I had a live minnow swimming like mad under my Cajun Thunder popping cork, and it was only seconds before a monster bent my rod like I had hooked another boat.
That pattern held up all morning.
My secret? Live bait caught by cast net the night before, just off a pier under a powerful light.
There is simply no better way to come by live, fresh, effective bait than a cast net, and if you’re in the market for one, we’ve got you covered.
Below you’ll find an in-depth buying guide as well as reviews of the top cast nets.
Quick glance at the best cast nets:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Radius: 5’, 7’, 8’, 9’, 10’, and 12’
Weight per radius foot: 1.5 lbs.
Mesh: ⅜” square
Bait Buster’s nets are famous on the Gulf coast, having a well-earned reputation for exceptional quality.
Available in a large range of radiuses and mesh sizes, ⅜-inch is a good place to start and an excellent all-around size.
The mono that bait buster uses to form these nets is supple and strong, and the braille lines work well with no tangling. I’m not sure what they’re made from--they don’t report the test strength--but as legions of fans can assure you, they’re strong.
Of course, any net can tear if you snag it on something, but these nets are plenty tough.
The six-panel design opens well, and with plenty of weight per radius foot, they sink like a stone.
This net is warranted for defects before it sees the water, so check over your net carefully upon delivery, spread it out in your yard, and give it a few casts on dry land. If you see any issues, Bait Buster will make it right.
Weight per radius foot: 1.12
Betts Old Salt is one of the most recognized nets you’ll find, and legions of anglers own one. Priced right, these cast nets have a reputation for opening well.
Betts makes a variety of net and mesh size combinations, but I recommend the 8-foot radius, ⅜” net as the happy middle ground of their products. While it’s a bit harder to throw than the 6-foot model, it makes up for that in performance.
And while not the equal of the Bait Buster in construction quality, the monofilament and braille lines are strong, the lead is well-placed and secure, and the net opens beautifully once you get the hang of it.
It’s a bit lighter per radius foot than I’d like, but it still sinks well enough while making casting a touch easier for beginners.
Overall, this is a great net at a reasonable price, and the company stands behind its product if there’s a defect or issue.
Radius: 3’, 3.5’, 4’, 4.5’, and 7’
Weight per radius foot: .75 lbs
Ahi’s 200 series is probably my favorite small cast net for beginners, as it’s light, easy to throw, and priced right.
Available in radiuses as small as 3 feet and as large as 7 feet, the Ahi USA 200 line-up shares a ⅜” mesh that’s ideal for catching most bait items.
Not a six-panel net like some of the other, more expensive options on our list, the 200 still casts and opens well, but not quite as well as some of the best.
And with only .75 pounds of lead per radius foot, it’s not going to sink as quickly as the best out there, either.
So why the love?
When you’re just starting to work a cast net, radius and weight work together to bedevil your best attempts at a good throw. Short, light nets like the 3- and 3.5-foot are easier to learn with, and the Ahi 200 is without a doubt the easiest to learn with on our list.
And while it may not rival the Bait Buster on sink rate, it’s fast enough to get you started in the shallow water for which it’s ideal.
Overall, if you’re just learning to cast, or you’re unsure if you have the strength for larger, heavier nets, you won’t go wrong with the Ahi 200.
Radius: 5’, 6’, 7’, 10’, and 12’
Weight per radius foot: 1.35
Ahi USA’s 600 Pro Series is an excellent cast net for more experienced users, offering top-quality construction in a larger mesh and radius.
The 600 is designed for bigger bait than finger mullet, minnows, and shrimp, and for netting menhaden, hand-length shad, and other large bait, it’s a great option. Well-tied and carefully knotted, it’s a rival in quality for any of the options on our list.
Ideal for cast net enthusiasts who like a slightly lighter net, the 1.35 pounds of lead per radius foot strikes a careful, conscious balance between castability and sink rate. If you like a larger net but find the weight just too much, you might take a look at the Ahi 600.
Its six-panel design opens well, and for most people, tangled braille lines aren’t a problem. With its larger mesh, I find that this net sinks as fast--perhaps even slightly faster--than heavier ⅜” nets, making it a good choice for deeper water.
If you’re in the market for a pro-level net, you can do a lot worse than the Ahi 600.
Radius: 8’, 10’, and 12’
Weight per radius foot: 1.5 lbs.
Mesh: ⅜”, ½”, and ⅝”
Perhaps the best on the planet, Calusa cast nets are the choice of anglers who need exceptional performance every throw.
Manufactured by hand from premium-quality copolymer monofilament, Calusa’s nets start--and stay--supple and soft. Their six-panel design is executed perfectly, leading to exceptional casts and fast, perfect openings.
Strong mesh of various sizes cuts the weather quickly, weighed down by 1.5 pounds of lead per radius foot. That can get heavy fast, especially in the larger radiuses, and this is not a net for those new to throwing.
But in expert hands, I doubt anything can compare in terms of distance, perfect circles, and fast sinking.
Expect to pay for excellence.
The radius tells you a lot more about a cast net than just how big it is when fully expanded, and as experienced users can attest, it’s something to consider carefully when choosing the right option for your needs and ability.
Keep in mind that the radius will be half of the open size!!!
Going with the biggest net you can find may be a huge mistake.
Beyond ease of use and how long it’ll take you to develop good technique, net size affects performance in some ways you may not have considered.
This big net demands real skill to throw properly.
Cast nets depend on the lead weights on their circumference to sink quickly, and as I’ll explain further below, the rate at which they fall through the water is directly affected by mesh size.
You want a net to sink quickly, as fish will attempt to avoid it. In shallow water, this may be difficult for them, but in deeper water, they have more time to get free.
Larger nets are better than smaller nets in this sense, all other things being equal. A good rule of thumb is that a net works best in water as deep as the radius of the net or less. Thus, a 6-foot net is best in water 6 feet or less in depth.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a cast net in deeper water, but you’ll find that size matters.
So why not just get the biggest net you can find?
Big nets get heavy quickly and demand precise technique to cast well.
Fast-sinking nets typically sport something in the neighborhood of 1.5 pounds of lead per radius foot. Just a bit of math then tells you that a 10-foot net will weigh in at about 15 pounds.
For most people, properly throwing a 15-pound cast net is going to be a serious challenge, and from an aching back to poor form, don’t expect it to be fun or productive unless you’re really, really strong and technically proficient.
For most people, a smaller, lighter net will be much easier to throw--and throw properly--yielding better results than a larger size.
So you’ve picked a net that you know you can handle, watched it fall into the water in a perfect circle over a school of menhaden, and gave your hand line a good pull--only to discover that your net is absolutely packed with 10- to 12-inch fish!
Larger mesh is ideal for larger bait.
Let’s do some quick math. You’ve selected a 6-foot net. Empty, it weighs in at about 9 pounds. But now, you’ve got 20 pounds of struggling fish to contend with as well.
You start hoisting your net out of the water and feel the full weight of your catch.
Is it too much to handle? Probably not.
But it’s certainly something to keep in mind.
Small mesh is perfect for small bait.
Mesh sizes balance two competing priorities.
One on hand, larger mesh allows a net to sink more quickly, covering the fish beneath it faster. That’s a critical consideration and a pretty much hard and fast rule to keep in mind.
On the other hand, small mesh traps more fish and bait. The bigger the mesh, the bigger the gaps.
Mesh sizes are measured in two ways. There’s a standard “square” measure and a “stretched” or diagonal size as well.
Fry nets, designed for minnows and small shrimp, can have mesh sizes as small as 3/16” square netting. Of course, larger fish are just as caught with small mesh as they would be with larger options, but the opposite isn’t true.
If you need minnows and tiny shrimp, go small and don’t worry.
⅜” square mesh is very common, and it’s a good middle-ground for most cast net users. It sinks pretty quickly--always a good thing--and is perfectly fine for baits in the 3- to 4-inch range. That covers a lot of ground, and from shrimp to shad, you’ll be in good shape.
For larger bait, ½” to even as large as 1 ¼” mesh can be used. Ideal for mullet, big menhaden, and the like, this is ideal for huge baits--but shrimp and shad will swim right through!
Cast nets only work because of the weight at their circumference.
All that lead opens the net as it spins through the air, and it’s what sinks first and fastest, creating a trap for bait.
To get the performance you want, good nets are typically weighted with 1.5 pounds of lead per radius foot. Less than that will still work, but it just won’t sink as quickly as you’d like.
That said, some cast net enthusiasts like a lighter net as it can make technique easier.
We can’t tell you which cast net is right for you, but we can say that any of the nets on our list will work well once you get the hang of the throw.
And from beginners to seasoned hands, there’s a net on our list that’s perfect for your needs.
We hope that this article has helped you pick your next net, and we’d love to hear from you if it has.
Please leave a comment below!