A good landing net is probably the best first line of defense against unwanted deflation. It is a good idea to quickly enmesh even smaller fish, if they have sharp pointy things on them. I have had small bluegill and perch bounce off the top surface of my craft and soon noticed wrinkles in the cover, from loss of air. Hate it when that happens. For larger fish, you may also want to employ a "lip gripper". These are available in a wide variety of designs (and prices). They are all meant to help the angler subdue, control and hold onto large fish, without damage to either the fish or themselves. They are highly recommended for toothy fish (better than the thumb and finger "lipping") and for handling fish you wish to release. The less you touch the body of a fish, the better its chances of survival when released. By the way, I do not recommend gaffs aboard inflated craft. True, if you fish in salt water and have the potential of hooking a large halibut or other species of bigguns, a gaff is sometimes a better tool than a net. Otherwise, keep a big enough net on board and reduce the danger of damage to your craft or yourself by leaving the gaff in the boat. Furthermore, there are some states that do not allow gaffs in fresh water fishing. If you plan to keep a few fish to take home, the large wire mesh baskets are among the best ways to keep the fish alive and healthy until you go ashore. Nylon mesh bags tend to collapse around the fish and restrict swimming (and aeration). Fish can become stressed and die more easily in a confining mesh. Stringers will work okay, and may be needed to tow around larger fish that will not fit into a wire basket. If you are using a stringer, make sure it is sturdy enough to hold the bigger fish, and also make sure that you secure it well...both to the fish and to a D ring on your craft. More than one big fish has been lost to faulty stringers or poor tie-jobs. The main argument against stringers is that they are prone to cause tangles...with anglers' legs, nets, sonar transducers or anything else that is dangling in the water. Another problem, if there are spiny (or toothy) fish on the stringer they can put holes in tubes, waders and/or flesh. Baskets are better in most cases. The object is to keep the fish alive and fresh, until you can hit the fish cleaning station or put them in an ice chest for the trip home. Unstressed fish tastes better than stressed fish, or fish that were caught and died early in the day in warm weather. This pic shows basket, stringer and net use. The basket holds a mix of crappies and smaller channel cats. The stringer holds a 24# flathead cat, that was too big to go in the basket. The net is normally large enough to handle almost anything, but barely held the front half of the catfish. TubeBabe showing off a 9# channel cat on her stringer, and a mesh bag full of nice sunfish. Actually, the sunfish were kept alive and well in the wire mesh basket. The mesh bag is simply a carrying container for taking the catch to the car. Potentially hazardous (spiny) fish, like cats, should be netted and then controlled on your apron. This protects you and your craft from punctures, and keeps the fish subdued while you remove the hook. TubeBabe's walleye is being well controlled with a large net. It was then released, unharmed, into her fish basket...and was asked to be a dinner guest later. This is a tube rigged for halibut fishing in southern California. The large net is necessary where those big flatfish may exceed 50 pounds. This is Baytuber, in California, with 2 "legals". Note the large net, the gaff and the mesh fish storage basket. Gaffs are not usually recommended on floatation craft, but may be necessary to help subdue a big flattie. Most freshwater fishing can be handled with this size net, and stored in one of the unused rod tubes. Many fresh water anglers prefer a longer handled net, especially when tussling with big "bugle mouthed bass" (carp). Also, notice the floating rim of the mesh bag fish storage being used by Pat Milburn. This picture was on Willard Bay reservoir in the early 80's. The large framed short handled net I have preferred for many years. It has handled fish up to 40 pounds. TubeBabe uses a slightly smaller short handled net. She yells for me to help when she hangs a biggun. TubeBabe dipping a salt water bass in Mexico, shortly after our move to Arizona. The net was a leftover from trouting days in Utah, and small for salt water use. A net suitable for "big nasties", like northerns and muskies. Most tubers will never have need of one. Rubber mesh net. Great for catch and release fishing, or for anytime you want to avoid getting the fish and lures all tangled up in the net. There have been cases of the fish thrashing and bouncing back out of these nets. This "steelhead" net features a deep bag, useful for handling larger fish in close quarters. These long handled lip grippers are favorites with those who frequently catch large fish and need to control them while removing hooks, taking pictures, etc. They hold firmly, without having to put your thumb in the fish's mouth, and make it easier to release them with little harm to the fish. Great for catfish and walleye, as well as large trout with teeth. A less costly but very effective lip gripper for most fresh water fishing. Lightweight but strong plastic. Good for tubing. Fishing gloves are handy to aid in handling large fish, and to help hold fish while filleting. Some folks persist in using cord stringers. They work, but they are difficult to tie off properly on your craft. Here is a catfish I named "Houdini". When I caught him, he was wearing a cord stringer with which he escaped from another angler. Chain stringers are okay for fishing from the bank, for smaller fish, but are no good for dragging big fish around in your float tube. If the big fish does not actually break the stringer (it happens) it can wrap your legs or at the least be very annoying. A better quality chain stringer, but still not recommended for floatation fishing. I have used heavy duty chain stringers on occasion, but I still prefer a good big basket. A "pro" chain stringer, which allows you to add new snaps as you catch each fish. Used to be used by tournament fishermen before live wells. Big fish stringer made from plastic clothes line cord. My homemade heavy stringer (upper left hand corner) and a 10 pound channel cat to which it was attached. One Catpower craft. When you have a big kitty tied off your tube, and it starts cavorting around, you wonder who is towing whom. A pair of 10 pound plus channel cats can really make you nervous when they start trying to hogtie you with the stringer rope. After wearing out a lot of different fish baskets over the years. I have standardized on the 19" X 30" wire mesh baskets. I add some flotation, from a kids' swimming "noodle" and attach a clip for hanging it on an outside D ring on my craft. Closeup of the connection. The twin wire carrying handles can be brought down and wedged inside the foam to prop the opening of the basket open while fishing. When tied off where it is convenient to reach, and if the wire lid is left open (disengage the tension spring), you can fill the basket in a hurry when fish are hitting fast. Works fine for individual larger fish too, like this six pound walleye. The noodle also acts as a protective bumper, to help cushion your air chambers against contact with the wire mesh. A broken wire can act like a needle, so your basket needs to be watched. A typical take home harvest from Saguaro Lake, in Arizona. Several yellow bass for scampi, and a couple of channel cats for kitty krispies (our favorite recipes). We seldom kept all that we caught, because they were so plentiful and willing. When we were planning a family fish fry, we would keep more. With lots of family and friends who enjoyed our fish cookery, we sometimes both had to keep a full basket. An old picture (1970's) from when the perch were overruning Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah and there were no limits. Once everyone "discovered" how good perch are, and started fishing them through the ice too, populations dropped and limits have been imposed. The 19" X 30" wire mesh basket can hold more than you might imagine. Here is a limit of Louisiana redfish (5) ranging from about 4# to 7#. I have also had up to 20 channel cats of 2# to 3# in one basket. Besides carrying the fish and keeping them alive, the baskets serve to keep fish from flopping back in the water while you are getting ready to go home. Here is a mixed bag of inshore fish taken around Puerto Lobos, on the Sea of Cortez. The grey ones are triggerfish and the brightly striped one is a pargo (snapper). The lesser striped ones are spotted bay bass. All fight well and are great eating. A REAL mixed bag from the Sea of Cortez. All of those fish fit easily in the basket. The open mesh and rigid sides serve to keep even delicate fishes alive until you go ashore. These 4 trout, from Utah's Yuba Reservoir, were still flopping when they were dumped into the cooler in the car. Crappies can be delicate too. The mesh basket keeps them alive better than the live well in a boat. Several sizes and types of baskets on the market. The 19" X 30" is on the left. Some folks like the smaller basket for trout and panfish. Wire baskets are available with floating tops. Those are okay for shorebound anglers, but not as good for tubers. I owned ONE floating top basket. it required both hands to put fish inside. Too much "hands-on", especially when there is a hot bite. Mesh fish bag. Useful for carrying the catch, but even with a floating ring, they are not as efficient in keeping fish alive. They tend to collapse on the fish and stress them. Mesh bait baskets are handy wherever live bait is used for larger species...where legal. They can also be used to keep your catch alive.
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