How to catch lionfish with nets

Top 10 tips for how to catch lionfish with nets.Before our local Department Of Environment licensed us to use spears, we used to catch lionfish with nets. Back in 2009 when lionfish first came to the east end of Grand Cayman they were smaller on average, and nets were the perfect tool to catch them. I actually caught about 470 lionfish with nets in those early years, and since then I have caught many more.

For many many months originally we would just see one small lionfish on a particular dive, so nets were perfect. We would go for a dive, catch the lionfish with nets and at the end of the dive dispose of it either on the boat or shoreline. These days I mainly use a pole spear, however, on numerous occasions I wish I had my nets with me as some of the smaller lionfish are very difficult to catch with a pole spear.

The art of catching lionfish with nets and pole spears is very different. First of all if you are not a patient person then really don’t even attempt to catch lionfish with nets. You will waste your time and alert the lionfish that those big, noisy, bubbly monsters (divers) are trying to do them harm. This can make them much more wary and harder to catch in future.  It is not difficult to catch lionfish with nets, but you have to take your time.

What sort of lionfish nets to use?

Start off with the right equipment for the best chance of success.  You can find nets of all sorts and sizes at pet stores and pool stores but these are NOT suitable for catching lionfish because the spines protrude dangerously between the netting. You need something lightweight, rustproof, and intended for this purpose.

Lionfish nets

These nets have an aluminium frame and handle, a closely-woven net bottom and completely clear thick sides, so you can see the lionfish you are trying to catch, and they will be less spooked by the clear sides, and more likely to just swim right into the ‘safety’ of your net!

My top 10 tips for how to catch lionfish with nets

Here are my top 10 tips of how to catch lionfish with nets:-

  1. Assess the size of the lionfish. For anything over 6 inches long use a spear; it is much easier.
  2. Remember the bigger a lionfish gets, the faster it reacts, the more it learns and the more intelligent it seems to get. Think of catching a human baby with really big nets, it would be simple to do. Now how about a 2 year old child? Much more difficult. And how about a 5 year old?
  3. Now look very closely where the lionfish is hiding. How many exits are there? Normally if there are just two exits plus the space between you and the lionfish then you have a good chance of catching the lionfish. If there are three exits or more then the lionfish is favorite to get away.  You can only block so much space with those 2 nets.
  4. Now move your netsvery very slowly in front of the exits or the places you have identified where the fish might hide or escape. You have to do this slowly so you don’t spook thelionfish.Top 10 tips for how to catch lionfish with nets.
  5. Now see what the lionfish does. Most of the time they will move upward or towards you. Generally away from the areas you are blocking with the nets, which is good, because those are the exits or hideaways you have identified.
  6. Remember that lionfish are not an aggressive fish. At this stage they will be looking to get away from your nets, or if they are really small / young then they may do nothing.
  7. Now start to bring your nets together, but do this slowly. I found that sudden quick movements of your nets rarely work. As your nets slowly get closer and closer together the lionfish normally just swims into one. Now you must bring your nets together very fast, trapping the lionfish inside.
  8. Sometimes the lionfish will not do what you want it to do. It will sneak out as you bring the nets closer and closer together. If this happens then bring your nets apart again, blocking the exits, and start again. You still have a good chance of winning.
  9. Now you have to decide what to do with the netted lionfish, as on the dive you may find more smaller lionfish to catch with your nets.  If there is just the one fish, or you are at the right time in your dive to exit, you can simply keep your nets together and remove the lionfish from the water carefully as you exit onto the boat or shore.
    Once we started to see more than one lionfish on a dive we would take a spare lead weight in our BCD pocket. We would then place the nets on a rock or other hard surface and we would hit the lionfish hard on the side of the head killing it instantly. Please make sure that you do not damage any coral or any other environmentally sensitive surfaces. Also make sure you hit the plastic sided walls of the nets with the lead weight, not the netting at the base of the nets. The netting is really very fragile.
  10. Finally, while on the dive, I do not recommend you put your specially gloved hand into the nets to remove a live lionfish to transfer it to any other container or keep bag. This was the recommended course of action in the early days of catching lionfish with nets and guess what.  It resulted in my first ever lionfish sting on the back of one of my fingers. Ouch!

Top 10 tips for how to catch lionfish with nets.

And what if you are diving and you spot a tiny lionfish out in the open, often nestled against a sandy bottom at the edge of the reef, or in the grassy beds in the shallows?  A mask box can be used with care.  Carry a mask box and appropriate puncture-proof gloves.

And finally, if you can improve your air consumption on each dive then you’ll get better value for money AND have more time to catch more lionfish. So why not buy my pdf ebook Save Your Breath which highlights dozens of ways to improve your air consumption – click on the link here for Save Your Breath and read all about it.

About Nigel Coles

Hi my name is Nigel Coles. I used to live in Bristol, England but after a change in direction we moved overseas to work in the scuba diving industry. After a time in Thailand, for the last 8 years I have been living with my wife Deby, in the East End of Grand Cayman, The Cayman Islands. I’m a dive instructor, working for Tortuga Divers, part of the Red Sail group. I spend my day on dive boats, training students and taking our guests on dive trips. It’s a hard life but someone has to do it
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4 Responses to How to catch lionfish with nets

  1. Paul Tibbetts says:

    Some of the best diving I have ever had was Lion Fish Hunting with Deby and Nigel

    • Nigel says:

      Welcome Paul. You got to be the first comment on my new website. When you came with us on our little boat recently we had a great day and caught 63 lionfish in 2 dives.

  2. Paul Neighbour says:

    Hi Nige

    Thanks for showing our kids the lion fish biopsy today after the Lion Fish Dive trip (12 speared)

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