Sometimes I think cast nets may be more baffling to people than picking the right color and shape for a fishing lure.

I'm amazed how many cast net questions I receive. Since anglers asking the questions have lures but are taking the time to catch live baits, it's obvious they think live bait is the best way to fish that day. And they're dead serious about having best cast net for the job.

To my knowledge, cast nets don't come with a FAQ or use-directions card. That may be a reason so many people need help in using them properly. Also, because cast net prices began rising a couple years ago and haven't really slowed, it's important to make the correct choice the first time.

The broad question "which is the best cast net for me?" is a little too vague for a good answer. More details, such as: "I mainly fish near Southport and am just getting started,but really like to fish inshore for trout and flounder, so what do you think would be a good cast net for me?" would be a better starting point.

First, no cast net will be perfect for everyone and every situation. The baitfish you want, where you hope to catch them, your physical condition and age are factors that influence the right net for one's specific needs.

Sometimes a couple of options, with slightly different features and performance, exist, and anglers should realistically consider just what their priorities are before making a selection.

The main thing they must consider when choosing a cast net is what they hope to catch and where they'll be catching baitfish. Smaller baitfish, obviously, require a smaller mesh size to entrap them. And the net recommendation will be different for shallow or deep water and at open water or at a small creek.

Given the need for smaller mesh to catch smaller baitfish, other differences come into play. If casting at shallow water and pursued baitfish aren't very spooky, a simple and inexpensive net will do the job. If the water is deeper, and the bait flees wildly at the first noise, a net that sinks quickly is a must.

If the bait doesn't scatter at the first hint of trouble, a slower sinking net can be used effectively in deeper water. Some enterprising individuals have developed ways to modify inexpensive nets for optimum performance.

For example, consider trying to catch shrimp or mullet minnows in 10 feet of water. Mullet minnows usually swim near the surface, while shrimp are typically bottom-dwellers.

Maybe not with the first throw, but mullet minnows soon understand the outboard motor and splash they hear are somehow related to their friends disappearing. At this point they scatter wildly at the first sight of a boat or net.

To catch minnows, you need a net with mesh small enough the little fishies can't swim through it, yet a net that sinks quickly and is easy to throw. A net needs to sink fast in order to trap minnows before they can swim down and escape underneath the net. Ease of throwing is important because repeated casts can whup anyone physically, especially if a net's difficult to toss.

For shrimp, the net should have an appropriate size mesh and be made to stay open as wide as possible all the way to the bottom. Shrimp aren't much for trying to get away, so the sink rate isn't as important.

Shrimp cast nets offer opportunities for individual creations help keep the net open.

Some netters sew a piece of 2-inch-wide plastic lawn-chair seat webbing just inside the lead line for the net. While this makes for extra resistance in the water and slows the sinking rate of a net, it creates an outward planing effect and helps hold open the net as wide as possible while it sinks.

Some enterprising shrimpers use duct tape in place of the chair webbing. They run a piece of duct tape around the outside of the net, just above the lead line and then turn the net over and run another piece of duct tape around the net at the same place on the inside. This puts the sticky sides of the duct tape together and sandwiches the net between them. It looks a little odd, but is far quicker than sewing the chair webbing in and works well. However, the duct tape needs replacing more often than chair webbing.

Some striper fishermen use this approach in deep water. They say when baitfish hold at mid-depths in a channel or near a dam and the water is deep enough the baitfish don't associate the net with the splash far above, it's an effective way to catch baitfish.

Most people should understand cast-net sizes. Cast nets are measured from the collar (neck) to the lead line, which is a radius (center-to-the-outside-edge) measurement. If thrown perfectly flat, a cast net will open twice as wide as its radius. A 6-foot cast net opens to form a circle 12 feet in diameter.

Weight is another measurement most netters need to understand, meaning the lead sinkers spread around the bottom of the net that help it sink. Cast-net weight sometimes is referred to as actual weight or the relationship of pounds per foot of net. For example, a 6-foot net with 9 pounds of lead would have 1.5 pounds of weight per foot of net.

Why the second measurement? Well, not all cast nets use lead for weights. Lead has two drawbacks - it's been deemed as a possible toxin when swallowed by animals, birds and fish. Lead isn't permitted at all states and suddenly has become extremely expensive.

Some cast-net manufacturers are experimenting with other materials and covering weights with plastic and rubber to prevent corrosion. The search to find an environmental and economical substitute for lead continues.

Another important cast-net measurement is the size of the netting, the mesh. Adding to the confusion is that mesh size is measured two ways.

Bar mesh size is measured with the mesh open and is the distance between parallel strands. Stretch mesh size is measured with the mesh closed (stretched) and is the measurement between consecutive knots.

Most cast-net manufacturers use bar measurement to determine mesh size, while gill nets typically are rated by stretch measurement.

One absolute exists when referring to mesh measurements - with factors unchanged, the larger the mesh size, the faster a net will sink. The reason is pretty simple: the larger the hole created by mesh strands, the easier water passes through an open net, allowing it to sink faster (it's called sink speed).

The diameter, or thickness, of the individual strands of a cast net also affects sink speed. While certainly more durable, thicker strands inherently have more resistance and sink slower.

Variations of net-strand diameters exist, so sometimes anglers must decide between faster sinking or more durable.

Strand colors have become a debated feature of cast nets. The first cast nets were made of nylon twine and were basically white. Monofilament was and remains the next net material and is primarily clear or white.

A few manufacturers began adding color to cast net mesh strands. Blue and green are favorites.

The most recent color innovation is the "No Spook" series of camouflage nets from Betts. These nets are mixed with several colors and are supposed to not be as visible to baitfish.

The nets have a much duller finish and don't flash when thrown.

I believe the duller finish is what keeps them from flashing and spooking baitfish, not the color. Most anglers who use them claim they don't spook baitfish nearly as often as similar nets made of clear mono.

A final factor in cast-net performance is whether the net is made of horizontal or vertical panels. Horizontal panels are easier to sew in but don't taper in as well, which results in extra netting and slows the sink rate.

The fastest-sinking and easiest-opening cast nets feature four to six, roughly in a pie shape. Panels are arranged with the wide end at the bottom of the net and the point at the top. Utilizing this method of construction, there is virtually no excess netting and the net sinks as quickly as possible.

But, even after filtering through this information, most anglers still want to know "what is the best net for me?"

I use large baits in the ocean and shrimp and minnows at inside waters. For my larger baits, I never know if they'll be in shallow or deep water, so to keep from having to carry several nets, I carry the one that will catch them best in deep water.

If a net works well in deep water, it also will work well at shallow water. Unfortunately the reverse isn't.

I've decided a large-mesh heavy-weighted medium-thin net best serves my purposes when catching larger baits, such as menhaden. So I use a Betts 22C-10, a 10-foot net with 3/4-inch mesh, camo coloring and is weighted at 1.6 pounds per foot.

Betts also produces this net in a 12-foot version, but I feel the 10-footer sinks a little faster and catches better in deeper water.

If I knew I'd never use the net in deep water, I would opt for a Betts 19-10. It has a slightly smaller 5/8-inch mesh and is slightly lighter at 1.5 pounds per foot.

If you don't want camo coloring, the Betts 22 series net is available in a clear/white color (it's less expensive) and is available from 8 to 12 feet. Drop the C from the model for the standard net, and the 10-footer becomes a 22-10.

For catching smaller baitfish such as minnows and shrimp, especially in water less than 6-feet deep, I prefer using a 3/8-inch, 6-foot net. The one I prefer is the Betts Old Salt, which is weighted at a pound of lead per foot. Available in clear or camo, the Old Salt works well in catching all but the smallest baitfish.

If you need to catch small baitfish in deep water, I suggest using a larger net and try to cover more area rather than trying to make the net sink faster. This is especially true for shrimp.

You can blame the poor poetry in the following ditty on me, but it's a way to remember guidelines for cast nets:

Big mesh plus heavy weight sinks fast and catches big bait.

Lighter weight and smaller holes catches shrimp and minnows for flounder poles.