As an avid offshore angler, I routinely use a gaff when fishing in coastal waters. A gaff works similarly to a fishing net. Rather than scoping a hooked fish into the boat with a net, the point on a gaff penetrates the flesh to lift it over the side and into the vessel. Considering the point of the gaff puncturing the skin of the fish, new anglers become confused about how the fish can be released. Here is what you need to know about releasing a fish after using a fishing gaff

Why Are Fishing Nets Not Utilized For Offshore Fishing

It should be noted that nets are not commonly used while offshore fishing. This is primarily because of the size of the fish. Bluewater and reef fish are often too large to fit into the biggest of nets. 

However, this is not the case with small reef fish. Rather than using a net these fish are simply flipped over the side by the rod, hook and fishing line. 

Remember, it is not uncommon for bluewater fish to exceed fifty pounds. A net may be incapable of the task. You may have trouble fitting the fish inside and lifting it without bending the handle or ripping the netting. 

What Kind Of Saltwater Fish Are Gaffed Versus Netted

Without a doubt, you’ll want to know what kind of saltwater fish require a gaff versus a net or nothing at all to get the species into the boat. Here is a breakdown of what species to use a fishing net versus a gaff. 

Saltwater Gaffing Fish Species Versus Netting Fish Species

Saltwater FishPreferred Landing Method
SailfishGaff (most often released so the fish should not be gaffed)
Tuna (Large species including Bluefin and Yellowfin)Gaff
Mahi-Mahi (Dolphin Fish)Gaff
AmberjackGaff or Net
Snapper (Large species including Mutton Snapper, Red Snapper, Cubera Snapper, and more)Gaff 
Grouper (Large species including Red Grouper, Black Grouper, Gag Grouper, and more)Gaff or Net
King MackerelGaff
Snapper (Small Species including Yellowtail Snapper, Lane Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, and more) Net
Deep Drop Fishing Species (Queen Snapper, Green Snapper, Tilefish, Scorpionfish, and more)Net (Often bloat and float off of the hook. Must be scooped up with a net)

Is It More Common To Gaff Or Net Saltwater Fish

As a captain who routinely fished the East Coast of the United States and the Bahamas, I often utilized a gaff versus a fishing net. 

To be honest, a fishing net is large when compared to the width of a net, and therefore, it gets in the way, especially when trolling the bluewater. 

For this reason, I kept a gaff on hand at all times. The gaff was stowed away in a safe location until the lines were deployed behind or underneath the fishing boat. 

However, although I did not use a net for small saltwater fish, I owned and continue to own a fishing net for freshwater species such as bass, crappie, and catfish. For inshore saltwater gamefish my net comes in handy for landing redfish, sea trout, flounder, snook, and more. 

Pair The Size Of The Gaff With The Size Of The Fish 

Again, rarely is a net used by anglers trolling bluewater. However, it is important to realize that the size of the gaff should be matched with the size of the fish.

Unfortunately, a thin and small gapped gaff will not be capable of penetrating and lifting large species including tuna and swordfish. 

With that said I recommend bringing two sizes of gaffs onboard the boat to handle any type of fish that you encounter offshore. Remember, you can easily be surprised by an occasional large fish versus average sized fish that are more frequently caught. 

Avoid Gaffing Fish That Are Not Legal To Keep

One of the biggest benefits to using a net is that it causes little to no injury to fish. In comparison, a penetrates the flesh causing significant wounds. 

For this reason, no fish that is intended to be released should be gaffed. Prevent causing injury or death to fish species that don’t meet the size requirements or are illegal to possess. 

Take Your Pick A Fishing Gaff Versus A Fishing Net

The choice is yours as far as what you prefer to carry aboard your boat. However, I recommend utilizing a gaff versus a net if you’re fishing the open water compared to inshore waters. The gaff is more versatile primarily because they are built to handle the largest of fish. However, remember to pair the right sized gaff with the size of the fish.