You don't hear much about landing net history, so I thought I'd give a little insight into early angling attitudes towards this utilitarian fisherman's tool. It comes from the article "Your Fly Outfit -- How to Choose It" printed in the ubiquitous The Saturday Evening Post for July 22, 1916.
The other day in a sporting goods store a few of us were talking over the question of landing nets. We agreed that the landing net of commerce, as such—the wide-bowed, short-handled net, with the rubber cord to go over your shoulder—was about as useless a contrivance as could be found. So then and there I invented a landing net. It is not patented and any maker who cares to do so may produce it.
Almost any angler has found that about as good a landing net as you need can be made out of a piece of telegraph wire. Just bend the bow to suit yourself, twist the two free ends together for the handle of the net, and wrap it round with cord. Such a net bow will not break in use or in transportation. It will sink if it falls in the water, will fold up and go into a pocket, and in general is quite practical. The usual trouble about a landing net is that you cannot pack it very easily. Next to your trout creel it is about the hardest thing to carry.
We contrived our landing net in this instance out of a piece of brass wire. We made the bow not round, but a long and gentle oval, so narrow that you could put the net into the side pocket of a shooting coat. The ends we brought back and brazed together, the two wires that made the handle being an inch or so apart. At the base of the bow a little cross-piece was brazed in. We therefore had a neat and compact net with a handle about as long as your hand. The total length of the net was from the middle of your upper arm to the end of your middle finger. Of course it was intended only for a wading net.
Now, one feature of this net is worth remembering. We did not put any rubber cord or cord of any kind on it—that is a nuisance. If you carry your net on a rubber cord it is always hanging round your feet when you wade and catching in the bushes when you walk. No net ought to be carried at your side.
For our net we used a little leather loop, attached not at the end of the handle but at the opposite end of the net. This little loop goes over a button fastened at the back of your neck on a coat, waistcoat or shirton in a moment. Thus the net hangs down the middle of the back, entirely out of the way of the fly when casting, and it never snags up in the bushes when you walk through. It is just as obtainable as when carried on a cord and is far less trouble.
One of the most practical nets for use where you need a longer handle than when wading for trout was invented by a friend of mine some years ago for use on his own private trout stream. Here the banks were high, and a short-handled net would not reach the fish. This was a metal-bowed affair with a telescopic handle made of small brass tubing. This net was arranged with a loop, as I have above described, and was the first one thus equipped that I ever saw. The angler carried his net at the back of his neck until he needed it; then with one hand he released it, put the end of the bow on the ground, put his foot into the bow and gave a pull on the handle, which had three joints. This caused it to expand into about three or four feet. Thus one could reach a trout at a considerable distance, and yet the net itself was never in the way when not in use.
Another friend of mine carries somewhat the same sort of landing net which you may see in use on some of the bolder streams of England or Scotland. It is a round, flat-metal bow, which screws into the head of a bamboo staff about five feet in length. The lower part of this staff is shod with a spike. In some of the heavy streams of lower Michigan, such as the Pere Marquette, and perhaps in other parts of the country, anglers carry these shod staffs for assistance and protection in wading. The net is held under the left arm, and one soon gets used to its presence there. When you are wading waist-deep or in heavy water this sort of net is better than the short-handled one. It is then, if ever, that the automatic reel is desirable or tolerable-a great many friends of mine disapprove of the fact that I do not like anything automatic in sport. Certainly they can put up a very strong argument for the automatic shotgun, the automatic reel or the many-ganged artificial minnow, and all of these things have, no doubt, come to stay because of their efliciency. If you have bad water to fish in, this long-handled, spikeshod landing net is a mighty good thing to have along.
-- Dr. Todd