Increasing Your Net

April 6, 2012

Frenzy, Gear Reviews

Fly Fishing Gear

Here is a great article about a company in Bozeman Montana that is making high end nets.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Blue Ribbon Nets Mike Greener

Blue Ribbon Nets net builder Mark Klette works on smoothing out the inner edges of a new Guide Boat fishing net at the workshop near Four Corners Thursday morning.

Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 12:15 am | Updated: 5:30 pm, Tue Apr 3, 2012.

JASON BACAJ, Chronicle Staff Writer | 1 comment

The quick pull of a tightening line causes every angler’s heart to race, the beat picking up with each leap of the fish as it plays out the spool.

Netting the fish after it allows itself to be landed leaves the angler satisfied — on some level, however fleetingly — no matter the size.

Heartbeats hasten once more when — if he or she used a two-fly rig — one of the angler’s flies gets caught in the net’s mesh. Disentangling even a barbless hook sometimes means tearing the offending threads after several minutes of unsuccessful wrestling. Not to mention the resulting longer time spent handling the fish before release.

Both those effects led Bozeman-based net manufacturer Blue Ribbon Nets to develop the AquaFade netting, which is made of molded plastic less likely to snag a hook and easier on the fish, leaving the anglers more time to fish and more fish to catch.

The two-man operation near Four Corners developed the netting last year at the behest of a sales representative who implored president Mike Westfall to get in on the non-mesh net market.

Westfall had spent years in the construction industry and was hesitant at first to get into the net-making business. He and partner Mark Klette bought the company three years ago, and the goal ever since has been to craft a net someone can hand down to their children or grandchildren.

“Our nets are high-end nets,” Westfall said. “(And) we’re using a lot of local people.”

Made in the valley

Slats of ash, cherry and walnut are brought in from around Montana, cut, steamed and bent by Klette at the headquarters near Huffine Lane. Wood combinations for different net handles are glued firmly together and driven about eight miles east to have the Blue Ribbon Nets logo carved into them by laser at Autopilot, a product design, development and manufacturing company on North Church Avenue.

The net-less handles then come back to the Blue Ribbon Nets headquarters to have ring anchors made by Autopilot attached, finishing coats applied and their nets attached. Only four of the 14 different types and sizes of nets Westfall and Klette make have the plastic netting.

Westfall spent two weeks designing the netting on a Styrofoam ball last year before sending it to Salient Technologies, about nine miles away off North Seventh Avenue, to be turned into a three-dimensional rendering by Bryan Walthall.

The rendering was passed to Plastic Design Manufacturing, an injection molding company in Manhattan, about 20 miles away from the net makers’ shop. That company turned the rendering into a pair of 1,000-pound steel molds, which PDM uses to create the nets.

The net-molding process begins with little plastic beads loaded into the throat of the molding machine. They are heated until they melt and then are injected into the cavity of the mold, said Page Bailey, project engineer for PDM.

“(The netting) was definitely an interesting, tricky one because it’s so large,” he said.

The mold opens, revealing a molded net ready to be pulled out by hand, Bailey said.

As far as Westfall knows, Blue Ribbon Nets is the only company creating plastic nets this way.

“There are a lot of technology things made in Montana now that I think would surprise people,” said David Yakos, vice president and director of creativity at Salient.

High-end niche

Blue Ribbon Nets has grown each of the last few years. Westfall attributes it more to the fact that the company is essentially a start-up rather than the company’s products. Still, the AquaFade nets have made up an increasingly large portion of sales since Blue Ribbon began selling them, Klette said.

Justin King, owner of Montana Troutfitters, said his business carries the nets because people want locally made products. Plus, the plastic netting is easier on the fish, and flies don’t get caught nearly as easily.

“Number one thing is its local, and you want a quality net,” said Peter Holman, a guide with the Bozeman-based outfitter. “The craftsmanship is really second to none.”

Westfall and Klette are in the process of figuring out what the company is and where they want to take it in the future. Currently the nets they produce are for the “purist fly fisherman,” but they hope to expand it beyond the discriminating consumer, Westfall said.

“The biggest thing that I know is, we’re not the average or low-end net,” Westfall said. “We’re the high-end net and we’re staying in that niche.”

Jason Bacaj may be reached at jasonb@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.

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