How to Catch Aquarium Fish Like a Pro
One of the more frustrating parts of the aquarium hobby is trying to catch or move your fish. Just try chasing around fast and slippery fish using a flimsy net with a ton of aquarium decorations in the way. After years of running an aquarium fish store, we have caught thousands and thousands of fish, so we know a thing or two about trying to wrangle the exact number, type, or color of fish for our customers. Learn about our favorite technique for netting fish that not only saves time but also saves your fish from getting stressed out.
Before You Get Started…
Not all aquarium nets are created equal, so make sure you start off with the right tool for the job. Check the net for any holes or rips that would allow the animals to slip out. Select a larger net that covers more surface area and makes it easier to capture your target. Also, consider what kind of fish you are trying to catch. Use a net with a fine mesh when handling baby fry and shrimp to prevent escape. However, if you are chasing faster or smarter fish (like African cichlids, loaches, and rainbowfish), get an aquarium net with coarse mesh or tiny holes because it decreases drag through the water and allows you to move more quickly when needed.
Aquarium Co-Op fish nets are designed with coarse mesh for reduced water drag, strong carbon fiber handles that won’t flex, and no metal parts to eliminate rusting.
The Easiest Way to Catch Aquarium Fish
Now that you have the right net for the job, let’s talk about the proper technique. Remember to remain cool, calm, and collected because when you become overly agitated, your movements convey your anxiety and the fish are more likely to become stressed as well.
- Try not to stand above or tower over the fish tank because some fish may view you as a predator and become frightened even before you get started. If the tank is low to the ground, get a stool that allows you to sit down at their level.
- Hold the net closer to the net rim and not at the very end of the handle. This position gives you more control to make faster movements.
- Set a trap so that the net is facing one of the front corners of the tank.
- In this example, we are using the left corner, so place the net at an angle such that the right edge of the net is flush against the glass and the bottom edge of the net is tight against the ground.
- This arrangement leaves an opening on the left edge of the net so that the fish can easily swim inside.
- You can also utilize large pieces of fish tank decorations (instead of the tank walls) to set your trap if that’s easier.
To set the trap in the front left corner, place the net on the ground and keep the right side of the net tight against the tank wall. The only way fish can enter is from the left side of the net.
- Because a fish net tends to be slower than your hand, the key is to use one of your hands to “chase” the fish into the trap while the net stays mostly fixed in place.
- Place your hand in the water (with fingers stretched open to look larger) and sweep the fish from the right to left side of the aquarium.
- At the end of the sweep, move your hand towards the front left corner of the tank so that the fish enter the net.
- If you have a taller aquarium, your hand also has to stay higher in the water to prevent the fish from escaping over the top edge of the net.
While one hand holds the net handle, use the other hand to go behind the net and sweep the fish from the right to left side of the tank. Once the fish reach the left wall of the aquarium, push your hand towards the front left corner so that they naturally swim away from you and enter the net.
- As soon as the fish enter the net, swing the trap shut so that the left edge of the net is also flat against the front glass.
Once the desired fish are in the net, close the trap so that the net rim is entirely flush against the front wall of the aquarium.
- Keep the desired fish in the net while letting the unwanted fish swim out of the net.
- Move the desired fish deeper into the net. Place your hand against the glass to cause the desired fish to swim further into the mesh. Gently shuffle the net from side to side if needed to keep them tucked away.
- Lift the net rim slightly away from the glass (in a corner of the net that is furthest away from the desired fish) so that you can release the unwanted fish.
- If all of the fish (including the unwanted ones) keep swimming deeper into the net, you can use your hand or finger to push or chase out the unwanted fish.
In this case, we want to keep the powder blue dwarf gourami but release the red platy. Therefore, we slightly opened the right side of the net and used our hand to gently guide the platy out.
- Lift the net out of the water, while keeping the net rim flat against the glass for as long as possible.
- Don’t rotate the net horizontally before bringing the fish out of the water because it causes them to panic and increases the likelihood that they will jump out.
- Instead, pull the net straight up vertically and quickly out of the water. This causes the mesh to drop down and naturally trap the fish in the net.
- The more times you lift the net in and out of the water, the more scared the fish may become, which in turn makes them harder to catch.
Slide the fish net vertically out of the water so that it remains flush against the tank wall for as long as possible. This method causes the net mesh to drop downwards, trapping the fish in the net and minimizing their chances of escape.
To help you better visualize the technique, here is a video demonstration of how we catch fish at our fish store:
If you are still having trouble netting your aquarium fish, consider removing some of the fish tank ornaments or hardscape to eliminate any obstacles and give yourself more space to move. In a planted aquarium where it’s not possible to move the live aquarium plants, try lowering the water level to just a few inches so that the fish cannot swim over the net. Finally, don’t forget to check out our favorite aquarium net that gives us the best advantage for catching fish.