090717 Cast nets: There’s a learning curve to throwing a perfect circle
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Cast nets: There’s a learning curve to throwing a perfect circle

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

The sea was angry that day, dark and stormy. Waves crashed with the blunt force of 100 hurricanes. Drenched, numb with cold, the determined fisherman was not swayed. That was the day Barry Teague caught the flounder.

“It’s hard to throw that net, I’m telling you,” he said. “I threw it out there and it felt like I had a whale.” When questioned about what type of whale it could have been, Teague presumed a big one.

“I had to get on my knees on the dock to pull that net up,” he said. “And in there was this 30 inch flounder. But Richard made me throw it back.”

Last week Richard Camlin, the senior interpreter, held a cast net course for beginners at Hobcaw Barony. While Teague’s fish may not have been quite 30 inches (or even the legal size of 15 inches), it was a learning experience for Teague and five others who attended the course.

A cast net is a weighted net used for small bait or forage fish, like mullet. When cast properly it forms a circle in the air, and an umbrella shape once submerged. As it sinks, the yoke falls and when retrieved by the hand­line, the net should be chock full of bait fish in a neat little pouch. It’s not that easy though. There’s a learning curve.

“I promise you it’s easy,” Camlin said. “It’s easy.”

It was not easy.

Net casting is an easy concept, but mastery is difficult. There’s a trick. Or two. First, Camlin suggests to start with a small net. “The bigger the net the harder it is,” he said.

Next, don’t be afraid to buck tradition. “I don’t do it where you put the weight in your mouth,” he said. That’s how he learned how to do it, but Camlin freely admits that he’s still learning tricks about the trade. “I think that’s gross. And I’ve always been afraid that I’d let go and a tooth would go off with it.”

Lastly, cast the net. Go for a pizza-shaped cast rather than taco-shaped. Practice on land, before casting over water. Camlin drove the cast net students out to Clam Bank Creek at North Inlet so their nets could meet water. The half hour ride was quiet, the students nervous about casting into water. Camlin gave a mini tour over the intercom.

“I actually went shrimping in the marsh area in Murrells Inlet,” John Rice, a Surfside Beach resident, said. “I had a net, this other guy, he had a net, and we could see the shrimp jumping in the water. We got nothing.” Rice waited more than a year for the class. Last year, Hurricane Matthew foiled his chance of learning how to cast net, so finally getting hands-on instruction how to cast was a great experience. “We were frustrated until we heard about this,” he said. “If I had friends, house guests, neighbors, I had them all try it. Nothing. Nobody could do it. It was awful.”

After months of videos, passerby instruction and frustration, Rice finally learned the trick that made it work for him. “The robot motion,” Rice said to himself after Camlin helped him correct his form. After learning that the power behind the throw comes from the waist and not his arm, Rice threw a perfect pizza-shaped cast. “That was very helpful instruction.”

On the dock at Clam Bank, Teague and his wife Leslie practiced. Leslie whooped whenever she got a good cast off. The pair go surf fishing near their North Litchfield home and never had much luck. The class may change their luck. “I’ve never been able to get the net right,” she said.

“Never,” Teague said. “Plus we love coming down here every chance we get.”

On the ride back to the Discovery Center, the group chatted like old friends. Camlin stopped to point out wildlife and other features of the grounds, but the catch of the day was the flounder Teague ended up throwing back.

“I was going to have it for dinner,” Teague said. “But I didn’t want to show up in the police report.”

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