Introduction: Nylon Cast Net

About: Retired Lockheed Martin Electrical Engineer (BSEE Texas A&M University 1982). Love to design and build things. Craftsman, hunter, angler, pretty darn good cook, prolific consumer of beer and barbeque, aspiring…

When I was a little kid back in the late 60s I had an aunt and uncle who lived down on the Texas coast alongside a creek that fed into the intercoastal canal. Caney Creek. There were a number of years where we would have big family reunions during the summer. Some of my best memories from my childhood are from those reunions. During the week that we were there we would spend most of the time fishing and we would catch redfish, flounder, speckled trout, gar, and also blue crab that we would catch on hand lines. My uncle would take a boat to the intercoastal and we would net shrimp. We would also buy fresh oysters and at the end of the week we'd have the most amazing seafood feast. That was a long time ago but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

I mentioned that we would catch gar. Mostly considered a rough fish but, if prepared properly, is actually pretty darn good. I remember watching my uncle clean them with a hatchet to get through the tough scales and skin. But what I remember most was how we caught them... at night with the lights on the pier shining out in the water. The lights would draw small baitfish to the area and the gar would be attracted to the baitfish. When the gar would surface we would use a cast net to catch them. This was where I learned how to throw a net. I was only 7 at the time and wasn't a whole lot bigger than the net but after a few lessons from my uncle I was fairly proficient with it and actually managed to net a few fish. I was so excited when I netted my first gar.

My uncle passed away in 1970 and then my aunt a few years later. And that was the end of our family reunions at Caney Creek. I miss those days. But I did carry the knowledge with me of what I had learned about fishing saltwater along the Texas coast... especially how to throw a net. It wasn't until nearly twenty years later in the early 90s that we (me, my brother, and several buddies) started going back to the coast to fish again. My buddy's father-in-law lived in Rockport and had spent most of his life fishing the Texas coast. We started out going with him and he taught us a bunch about inshore fishing. The first time we went we pulled up to a spot and said he needed to catch some bait. I asked how he was planning on doing that and he pulled up a bucket that had a cast net in it. "Hey!", I said... "I learned how to throw one of those years ago from my uncle. Can I try?" Ha... he was more than happy to hand the net to me. It's kind of like riding a bike... you don't really forget how. I struggled a little at first but then it all clicked and we had plenty of bait. It also rekindled all those memories from years past at Caney Creek. So that became my job... catching bait. I didn't care... l loved throwing the net. And... I was always able to brag at the end of the trip that I had caught more "fish" than the rest of them. Nevermind that it was several dozen 4 inch mullet. Good times.

A number of years ago I came across an interesting little book. How to Make and Mend Cast Nets... by Ted Dahlem. Amazon has it if you are interested... $6.95 in paperback. I've always wondered what it took to make one of these nets and here I had my answer. I wanted to make one... if for nothing else... the experience. Kind of the next level of love and fascination that I've had with these nets for decades. This Instructable is the culmination of all those years.


When I first started this project I purchased just about everything from Jann's Netcraft but most of this stuff you can also get on Amazon. Jann's had a net making kit for sale that contained a bunch of odds and ends as well as an "instruction manual". Which turned out to not be really all that instructional. It was OK-ish but just not very well written. And while Ted's book is better I still didn't follow his instructions to the T. Along with the net making kit I bought a couple spools #12 green nylon twine. Which is really heavy line for a cast net but I wanted this thing to last. For the rest of the net hardware I had a lot of bits and pieces that I had saved from a number of cast nets that I had used over the years and worn out. But again... you can buy these parts from various net making supply stores like Jann's. I'll talk about the different pieces I used in the upcoming steps. There aren't many. Lead line weights, horn, swivel, and throw line.

A word of caution: Tying up this net took a LONG time. Several weeks working in the evenings and on weekends. If you're making a decent sized net like I did (7 foot radius) then you'll be tying thousands of knots by hand. So make sure you are really interested in investing the time. Now that it's done I'm very glad that I did it. It's really cool but dang was it a lot of work! LOL. I do crazy stuff like this every once in a while. Check out my Tessellated Backyard Grill Instructable and you'll see!

Step 1: Load Up the Shuttles

Begin loading the shuttle with your #12 nylon twine by tying a clove hitch around the needle point as shown in picture 1. Next run the twine over the notch in the bottom of the shuttle (picture 2). Turn the shuttle over and wrap the twine around the needle (picture 3) and then back over the notch in the bottom (picture 4). This process repeats in pictures 5 and 6 and continue this process until the shuttle is full (last picture).

Note: You will be using two shuttles. The large shuttle will be your working shuttle that you'll be using the majority of the time. The smaller shuttle holds the line that will be used to tie the last loop in a row. This will be described in detail in an upcoming step.

The rectangular piece of plastic in the last picture is a gauge. In this case it is a 1 and 1/4 inch gauge that will be used to ensure that you will maintain a uniform mesh of a specific size throughout the net tying process. Gauges come in different sizes but just remember that a smaller mesh will multiply the number of knots you have to tie to get to the length of net you desire.

When I first started the net I thought I was going to be using that little plastic ring shown in the last picture. As it turns out I was looking at instructions for a different kind of net. Now I did end up using the little ring for something else and I'll talk about that in one of the last steps in this Instructable. But for now we've got our shuttles loaded and and we're ready to start the net.

Note: When working with nylon twine you will always want to seal the ends of the twine after you cut it to keep it from unravelling. I use a lighter. But dang it... be careful... I don't want you to burn your house down!!!

Step 2: The Net Knot

This section will show you how to use the gauge and shuttle to tie the Net Knot. It is not a difficult knot to tie but there is a bit of a knack to it and some practice is required to get the hang of it. Ha... don't worry, you'll get lots of practice as you tie the net. For demonstration purposes we will be working with a net that is already in progress.

The first picture shows the gauge in place with the working end of your twine in front. In picture 2 you will be taking the shuttle and running behind the gauge and up through the next loop in the net. Next pull down on the twine until the gauge is firmly against the loop that you are tying to (picture 3). Pinch the working end of the twine (picture 4) to hold it in place so that it won't slip while you continue to tie the knot. Throw a little loop over the top of your left hand (picture 5) and run the shuttle behing the loop you are tying into and up throught the loop you created over your hand. Pull most of the slack out of the knot (picture 6). Here is where you need to be careful. You need to make sure that as you tighten the knot that it stays in place and does not slip down off of the loop you are tying into. Slowly and gently tighten the loop before you really snug it up. Otherwise if it slips you'll have to untie it and start over. In picture 7 we give the twine a really good pull to set the knot and the last picture shows the completed knot. Make sure your knot looks like the one in the picture.

Step 3: The Starting Chain

There's an old saying that goes: A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Our journey is going to be one of thousands of knots (somewhere in the range of 14,000) and here we are at the first knot... which will actually be a square knot instead of a net knot. Wrap the twine around the gauge twice (picture1 ) and tie with a square knot (picture 2). Remove the loop you have created from the gauge (picture 3).

Now it's time to tie the chain. I tried to take the pictures in a manner that will most clearly demonstrate what is going on but when you're tying the chain it's actually easier to do if you hang that first loop on some sort of hook so you can pull against it. Maybe put an eye screw in a board and clamp that down to a work surface. Also note that the small shuttle isn't shown here. It was kind of in the way so I left it out. The first 14 pictures are for demonstration of the process. When I put together this segment I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. At least that was the intent.

Here's where you start using the Net Knot and will be tying a series of 83 loops. Pictures 4 through 14 continue the process of tying the first 3 loops. Keep going until you have 83 as shown in the last picture. The last picture is the real thing. Ha... hopefully my approach didn't backfire and end up being more confusing. But the last picture is what your net should look like at this point.

Step 4: Forming the Collar

The next step is to tie the two ends of your chain together to form the collar. Again, these pictures are for demonstration purposes and aren't the real net. You'll note there aren't the proper number of loops (83). The pictures were too cluttered when I used the actual chain. The smaller version here made it clearer as to what was going on.

In picture 1 the chain is set down in front of you making sure that it is not twisted. In picture 2 you tie a Net Knot to connect to the loop on the left. The length of twine that the shuttle is pointing to should end up being 2 and 1/2 inches. In picture 3 you tie into the loop on the right. That new segment should be 1 and 1/4 inches. In picture 4 you take the two loose ends and tie them together with a square knot. Adjust the segments on either side of the square knot so they are each 1 and 1/4 inches long as you tighten the knot (picture 5).

The actual completed collar will have a total of 84 loops.

Step 5: Finishing the Row

I've got a few more demonstration sections to show you before we continue with the actual net making. In this section we'll talk about how you finish the last loop in a row.

In the first picture we've tied a bunch of knots all the way around the bottom of the net and we finally find ourselves at the end where the small shuttle is. All you do to finish the row is to tie the two loose ends together with a square knot (pictures 2 and 3). I just eyeball it to make sure the completed loop is the same size as the ones next to it but when measured the segment either side of the tightened knot should be 1 and 1/4 inches (picture 4). In picture 5 I tie a Net Knot on top of the square knot just to ensure it won't slip. And in the last picture we are ready to start the next row of knots.

Step 6: Adding More Twine

So you've been happily tying away and all of a sudden you see that you are running out of twine on your shuttle. Not to worry... this is going to happen a lot. Just load up your shuttle again with twine and tie into the the little tag hanging off the net with a square knot (pictures 1 through 4) and you're ready to keep going (picture 5). Make sure you trim the ends of your square knot and seal them with a flame. Again... be careful with the open flame!!!

Step 7: Widening Loop

If you simply kept tying the same number of loops over and over again you would end up with a tube. Which is not what we want here. The net needs to get wider and wider for it to be a cast net. So how do we add loops to the net as we progress? The answer is the widening loop.

As you make your net you will tie a couple rows with the same number of loops and then on the next row you will tie in widening loops at specific intervals. We'll talk more about that when we get to the "Net Formula" section. Here we will just be discussing how to tie the widening loop.

In the first picture the shuttle is pointing at a previous widening loop. This is what they look like. One important note: As you tie in the widening loops on your net they will always be in alignment. One beneath the other. That way you can tell you are tying it in at the correct location. In other words... widening loops will always be tied on either side of the same loop that is between them.

Windening loops are tied with Net Knots just like the regular loops but it is tied over the last knot that you finished rather than moving on to the next loop. Take a look at pictures 1 though 6 to see what I am talking about. After you finish the widening loop you continue on normally (last pic).

Step 8: Tying Into a Widening Loop

Here we are tying along and find ourselves at a widening loop. How do we tie into this weird little loop? Well... you treat it like it was a regular old loop and tie a net knot over it (pictures 1 through 5). And then you continue on down the row (pictures 6 and 7). No big deal!

Step 9: The "Formula" for Tying the Net

In the net making kit that I bought there was this little clamping apparatus that is supposed to be for holding the net while you tie. The instructions weren't that great so I kind of had to figure it out as best I could. No clue if this is the right way or not but this is what I came up with...

Also supplied was a hinged latching binder ring. First thing you do is thread the collar that you made onto it. The collar has 84 total loops in it and when you look at it these 84 loops are made up of two rows of 42 loops. These are the first two rows of your net. We will say the bottom row is the one that has the two working ends of the twine and the top row doesn't. The top row is what gets threaded onto the binder ring. This assembly gets sandwiched between the two round plastic pieces that you see in picture 1. There are a couple fender washers that go on either side of the plastic pieces to protect them and the whole thing is slid onto the bolt you can see on the clamp in the left side of the picture. A lock nut holds everything in place. This needs to be tightened to where it is just barely snug but not tight. You want the whole thing to be able to turn but still hold together. And this assembly gets clamped to your work surface (picture 2) which in my case is the kitchen island. This whole getup is kind of Rube Goldberg-ish and is not totally necessary but I didn't know any better when I bought the kit. You just need something to hold the end of the net. Use an eyebolt, coat hanger wire, whatever.

But whatever you come up with to hold the net while you work you are ready to tie. You already have 82 knots tied... only another 13,918 to go. LOL. But hang on there is a specific pattern that you need to follow...

Here's the formula:

Like I said the collar makes up the first two rows of the net. Each of these rows contain 42 loops. Now tie two more rows that contain 42 loops. You have 4 rows at this point and on the next (fifth) row it is time to start adding widening loops. In this row for every 3 regular loops that you tie you will add a widening loop afterwards. So tie 3 regular loops then a widening loop... then 3 more regular loops and another widening loop... and so on until you complete the row. You should have tied a total of 14 widening loops. After you have completed the row with the widening loops you will tie two more rows like you normally would (no widening loops). Then on the next row you will tie widening loops again... this time you will tie FOUR regular loops and then a widening loop. After this row is complete you'll tie 2 more regular rows and then on the next row you will tie widening loops after every FIVE regular loops. See the pattern?

Continue following this pattern until the net is as long as you want it. Strap in cuz you're in for a long haul. LOL.

Note: Check the fishing regulations in your state to make sure that the net you make is not bigger than what is legally allowable!

The last two pictures show progress during the net tying process. Shooting for 7 feet.

Step 10: Adding the Horn

Much time passes... a ridiculous amount of knots have been tied but look!!! Holy cow!!! We've come to the end of our 14,000 Net Knot journey. Whew... congratulations. That wasn't so bad was it? Well... maybe it was but hey it's over! Now it's time to start adding our hardware and turn our netting into a cast net. The first piece of hardware is the horn... TOOT TOOT... no, not that kind of horn... a cast net horn. The little light green thingy in the first picture that says "Old Salt". I recycled this part from an old net but you can buy new ones online from net making companies.

Looking again at picture 1 you can see that the split binder ring is still in place. We'll take a couple feet of nylon twine (the same stuff you made the net with) and run it through the top of the net alongside of the split binder ring (it's easier if you load the twine up on a shuttle). Once you run the line all the way around the top loops of the net you remove the binder ring. Then you will work the horn into the top opening of the net and snug the net down into the notch in the horn by pulling on either end of the twine.

In picture 2 we are running the shuttle back through the net following the twine that we just added and keep going until you've looped around the horn another 3 or 4 times. Finish it off with a square knot making sure everything is pulled nice and tight around the horn (picture 3). Trim the ends and seal them with a flame (picture 4) and tuck them back into the net (picture 5).

In the last picture I have carefully spread out the net on the front porch so that I can measure the diameter and the circumference. Write those numbers down as we will need them later.

Step 11: Lead Line

The lead line is what makes your net sink. How fast will depend on how heavy your lead line is and how big the mesh is in the net. And while a heavy net sinks faster... giving the fish less of a chance to escape... it also wears you out faster when you throw it. It will come down to your own personal preference as to how heavy you make your net... I went with around 8 pounds total of lead cast net weights. I had a bunch of these left over from old nets but you can buy them too.

Now depending on how big you made your net there is going to be a certain number of loops in the last row. On my net there is around 350 if I counted correctly. So now we've got to do some figuring to see how to stagger the weights around the lead line. So with the number of weights that I had it didn't work out perfectly but for the most part I staggered them every 3 loops. If it doesn't work out exactly right it's no big deal... just get it as uniform as possible.

For the rope part of the lead line I used quarter inch braided poly. Start of with a length of rope that's a few feet longer than the circumference of your net. Seal the ends of the rope with a flame and form them into a point while it's still hot and moldable. Yeah, it's hot so wet your fingertips first and let the melted part of the rope cool a little before you start to mold it. Next thread all of the weights onto the rope and sort of spread them out evenly. Then I throw everything on the big dining room table and get a large iced tea because this is going to be somewhat of a long tedious process.

Typically you would use your twine to tie in the lead line but I wanted to be able to move and adjust things to make sure everything was spaced properly so for now I used nylon cable ties. So long as you leave the cable ties a little loose you can slide them up and down the rope as needed. Then when you're happy with the arrangement you can go back and tighten everything. The trick is to not cheat yourself! You want to end up with a length of lead line that is as long as the circumference of the net. If it's shorter then the net will not open up to it's maximum width when you throw it.

Picture 1 is a shot of tying in the lead line with the cable ties. Once you have all of the weights in place then it's a good idea to spread the net out again and make sure it will open the full amount (i.e. the circumference isn't smaller now). When you are satisfied with that then add cable ties to the loops in between the weights... get those spread out nicely and then tighten everything down. Cut the ends of the cable ties off and you will wind up with something like the second picture. The last step is to tie the two ends of the rope together, seal the ends, and cable tie over the ends (last picture).

Step 12: Braille Lines

Braille lines are what close the net around the fish when you pull on the throw line. Early versions of cast nets didn't have a throw line or braille lines. You would throw the net over the fish to trap it against the bottom and then go grab the fish. Which would be a bit of a fire drill and a huge pain... so I'd recommend the more modern version.

The braille lines are made of #12 nylon twine. I used black here just to make them stand out a little better for pictures. You'll be tying loops in both ends of the lines (I used a bowline) and the finished length of braille line should be a little longer than the diameter of the open net. Again, you'll cheat yourself if they are too short. I used 7 lines to make it easy. Ted's book actually recommends more but we'll see how it works out when I throw the net the first few times.

Take a look at picture 1. The braille lines are threaded through the swivel on the right. You want the swivel to be in the middle of the braille lines... so you actually end up with 14 lines running through the net. The lines are fed through the horn and run the length of the net. Picture 2 shows the lines running down the top of the net. The loops on the end of the lines are attached to the lead line using cable ties. Similar to the lead weights you want the braille lines to be spaced evenly. That's why I went with 14 braille lines. 350 loops divided by 14 gives you an even 25 loops for spacing. Picture 3 is a close up of where the braille line attaches to the lead line. Last picture is a little wider view.

Step 13: Throw Line

Woo hoo... we are at the last step of the building process!!!! Almost done.

The throw line is 3/8 inch polypropylene diamond braid from Home Depot. I made my throw line 25 feet. Again, this will be a personal preference deal but this is what I like. Cut the rope to length, seal the ends with a flame, and tie a loop on one end (picture 1). The other end is tied to the swivel (picture 2). I used bowlines to make the loop as well as to tie to the swivel. It's a good strong knot for forming a loop.

And that's all she wrote. You are a proud owner of a brand new hand tied cast net. Your fishing buddies will be so envious.

Step 14: Learn How to Throw the Net

There are lots of videos on YouTube that show different methods for throwing a cast net. Once again... another personal preference deal. Find a method you like that is appropriate for the size net you've made, learn it, and then go practice. Throwing a cast net is definitely a skill and it will take quite a bit of practice to be good at it. But don't get discouraged... at some point you will have that magic moment where everything works and the net opens up and lands perfectly. Just keep at it.

Also, check the laws in your state as they pertain to cast nets. Usually there is a size limit for the net as well as how they are to be used and which types of fish you are allowed to net. You don't want to spend all this time making your net just to have the game warden confiscate it because you are doing something illegal!

We use it to catch bait for our jug lines. Mostly carp and large gizzard shad. Here's one of the bigger catfish that we've caught on our jug lines... it's 13 pounds... and man was it good when we deep fried the fillets!!!

Step 15: So What Else Can You Do Now That You Know How to Tie Net Knots?

I made these net covered styrofoam floats (similar to Japanese glass net floats) using basically the same method when we tied the cast net. You start by making a series of loops over a plastic ring. The book that came with the netmaking kit actually details the process well enough. This was an alternative I came up with when I was working on my catfish jug line design (another Instructable I've published). I prefer my pool noodle jug lines over these but they look really cool so maybe I'll use them for something else. Maybe for free floating jug lines. The balls are 6 inches in diameter. Ha... these were a lot quicker to make than the cast net. Only took a few hours to make one.

Also... if you have an old worn out dip net... well, now you can repair it... or totally replace the netting over the frame with a new one.

You could make a minnow seine... or heck even a soccer net!

So have fun with it and if you make something cool then please post it below in the comments.

Until the next Instructable...


Step 16: Dedicated to My Caney Creek Family

Summer of 1969. That's me in front, third from the right, blue shirt, white and red party hat (it was my uncle's birthday).

Rope and Cordage Challenge

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Rope and Cordage Challenge