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Popnet collapsible drop net

An innovative design, durability and portability all make this net a winner.
30-inch model PN 3001
Product website

The bridge gaff has been steadily falling out of favor, not only because gaffs kill almost everything they touch, but because they can fail at getting a fish up onto the pier if it is snagged in the gut, tearing out on the way up.

Drop nets (also known as hoop nets) solve that problem, cradling the fish until the angler can decide whether to harvest it or turn it back. Unfortunately, drop nets are large and cumbersome. Recognizing there was a need for a more portable net, Popnet Nets inventor Phillip Campbell came up with a solution.

Campbell, who started inventing at the age of 14 and holds several other patents, said his 'eureka' moment came while fishing at Kure Beach, NC several years ago. "I saw a gentleman trying to put a large metal hoop net into the back of his brand new Jeep and he actually chipped a big chunk of paint off the back door. That was it for me," said Campbell.

Not knowing when I'd have a chance to net a 40-pound fish from a pier, I did an experiment at home. I put two 20-pound weights into the 30-inch net, then hoisted. The heavy-duty net held, but the outer ring immediately collapsed inwards. Used to rigid metal ring nets, I didn't like what I was seeing until I realized the flexible mouth on this net was designed to collapse inwards and would prevent any fish from escaping on the way up.

Unloading the weights, the net mostly sprung back to its original shape, although there was one bend in the plastic ring that was easily straightened out with a little pushing.

There's no question that this net would be perfect for hauling up trout, small drum, schoolie stripers and the like. But after putting even more weight in it, I realized that it would work just fine for bigger species, since the net is rated to 80 pounds. In fact, the company recently started shipping a 40-inch net for bigger species. It, too, collapses down to 1/3 of its original circumference.

Another potential problem is that the net is extremely light, making it harder to control on windy piers. The company's solution is simple, but does the trick: a "wind weight", which is essentially a 2 1/2-pound rubber coated weight you toss in the bottom of the net before lowering it.

The net comes with a 30-foot cord, which really should be longer since some piers are more than 30 feet off the water.

My final opinion? If you practice catch and release or regularly lift fish weighing more than five pounds onto your local pier, you need this net. It really does have a place in most angler's tackle bags or bait buckets, where it happens to fit handily.

It's very rare to see true innovation in fishing gear, but the Popnet qualifies. Gaffs and traditional drop nets have met their match. In fact, I've decided to get rid of both in favor of carrying only a Popnet.