The Great Debate: Net or Boat Flip?

June 4, 2023

By Greg McCain

Net or boat flip? The question, one often debated among crappie fishermen, remains relevant to most who ever have reason to bring a fish into the boat. Just about all anglers and teams harbor definite opinions about the matter.

Tennessee angler and ACC Crappie Stix pro staff member Matt Xenos adamantly sides with boat flipping regardless of whether he is fishing a tournament or guiding clients. Keith Acker, ACC pro staffer from Louisiana, goes to the other extreme and remains solidly on the side of netting fish. Chris “Sarge” Gill, YouTuber and ACC pro staff member from Texas, resides somewhere in between, noting the advantages of boat flipping while also lamenting a few fish he wished he had netted.

The decision remains a philosophical question, perhaps not controversial because it is not an issue that impacts others anglers in the debate. But it is a question to be asked for the fun fishermen and the serious tournament angler alike.

Matt (Wired for Crappie on YouTube and other social media platforms) found himself positioned with most other anglers for years. He used a net. Then crappie fishing began to evolve. The changes caused Matt to re-think his philosophy about the need to net fish.

“Used to, it was always you have to net big fish,” Matt said. “That’s because, pre-LiveScope, we fished with four-lb. mono or six-lb. mono, typical crappie line.

“Now this is 12-lb. Bonehead B-Power braid, which is the same line diameter as four-lb. mono but true braided line rated at 12-lb. test. You can flip these big fish, and these ACC Crappie Stix will do it with no problem.”

While Matt jokingly says he considers a net only “when one gets off,” he continued the thought with the idea that nets are not necessary and at times even an incumbrance.

“I feel that a lot of people lose fish because of their net. What I mean by that, you have all that momentum of a fish coming into the boat and you stop pulling it toward you, it allows that fish slack. It’s wiggling, fighting, and moving and can get off when I reach for a net.

“If you get that fish coming in and use that momentum, then you can flip it in the boat without any problem.”

Matt emphasized the idea of using momentum as a key in pulling fish from the water.

“It basically jumps in the boat for you,” he said. “Either way, I don’t care if it’s skiing on top or down in the water, as long as the fish is coming toward me, you can boat flip just about any sized fish if you get the line short enough.”

Matt further noted that crappie fishing, especially in tournament situations, is becoming more of a one-man game, which lends itself to boat flipping.

“Back in the day, you had two anglers per boat and you always had a net man,” he said. “As LiveScope has come on, you see these anglers out there tournament fishing, sometimes with just a single person fishing. It’s become something of a one-man sport. With LiveScope, it’s become a directional type of fishing conducive to just one person, and the net becomes as much of a hindrance as a help.”

In general, Matt wraps up his thoughts with this statement: “Nets can be more cantankerous than helpful.”

On the other side of the debate, Keith (follow him on his personal Facebook page for information about Louisiana and east Texas crappie fishing) politely agrees to disagree with Matt. When clients are paying good money to put fish in the livewell, Keith is always a net man.

“When I guide and have clients in the boat, every fish matters,” he said. “So I use a net on every fish regardless of size so that they get the fish that they deserve.

“If I’m in the boat fun fishing or have the grandkids with me, then it’s the opposite. We don’t really care whether we get them in or not, so I will boat flip them.”

Keith said that the anatomy of crappie is another reason that he chooses to use a net.

“The con side to boat flipping is that you lose a lot of your bigger fish because you barely have them hooked on a piece of skin,” he said. “The weight of the fish will pull it loose, or if you’re using a cheap hook, it will flex enough and provide just enough slack for it to come unbuttoned.”

Keith said he uses the Jenko Tony Sheppard model net.

“As a general rule of thumb, the dip net is the best option if you’re trying to put fish in the boat,” Keith said.

Sarge (follow him on YouTube at Asleep at the Reel) understands both sides of the net vs. boat flip debate. He much prefers to boat flip fish, characterizing a net as an incumbrance in several ways. Yet, he also acknowledges that “there’s a time and place” for a net.

“I boat flip all the time when I am filming,” he said. “It just makes for better action. The only time I ever use a net is during a tournament.. I did learn that (the hard way) two years ago with a fish (at the Big Crappie Bash on Watts Bar Lake in Tennessee).”

Images of that fish remain embedded in his mind. A big crappie bit near the end of the day, and “we didn’t have the net ready.” Sarge said he’s seen enough crappie that “It was very easily apparent that that particular fish would have won the tournament. It would have won the big fish contest and a big hour.

“It came up, I boat flipped it, it came off, hit my console, and bounced back into the water. I watched $3200 bounce back into the lake.”

For those fishermen not experienced in boat flipping, Chris said a net might be the route to go. However, he prefers the fun, action, and clutter-free deck of boat flipping over the inconvenience of a net.

“It’s an art,” he said. “You have to reel them up to just the right spot, and you learn that by experience. You have to measure just how heavy that fish is. If it’s a lighter fish and you don’t reel up far enough, it will bounce off the side of the boat and get away.”

Ultimately, the choice of netting or boat flipping crappie comes down to personal preference. The pros and cons on each side of the issue have merit. So the next time on the water, ask the question in a slightly different way: Do I put the fish in flight or do I trap them in a net? Either way works.