Fine craftsmanship is hallmark of family net business

Nate’s Nets was born from a passion for fishing, a commitment to conservation and a dedication to quality products.

Nate Arndt of Inwood in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle has been fishing for as long as he can remember. He and his brother were little more than toddlers when they began tagging along on their father’s angling outings. “If I wasn’t fishing with my dad, I was standing on the water’s edge watching,” Nate explained. “Fishing became a family pastime, something that we could all do together.” They were, in a word, hooked.

Trout fishing, in particular, caught young Nate’s fancy. “Trout fishing is a very skillful discipline,” he explained. Part of that skill entails following catch-and-release best practices, which involve avoiding holding fish out of water too long or damaging them with abrasive mesh nets. And therein, lies the problem.

Most commercially available nets are made of mesh, which damages the slime coat on the fish. “The industry standard for what trout fishermen use is rubber nets,” Nate explained. “Well, there aren’t many rubber nets offered. If you walk into a typical sporting goods store, you’re not going to find rubber nets. So, it’s a very niche product. And they’re not available at a decent price or are of inferior quality.”

Commercially available nets did not hold up well in the hands of a rambunctious tyke like Nate, either. “I was the kid who was always breaking something on the fishing trip,” Nate said. “My dad must have gotten tired of me damaging nets and decided we should make our own.”

Nate and his father, a carpenter, began crafting nets for personal use from locally sourced hardwood and rubber netting. The elder Arndt would cut and bend the wooden strips while Nate would glue, sand and finish the wood then sew the nets. That was in 2010 when Nate was 13.

The Arndts’ handcrafted nets began attracting notice, first among friends and family, then outside their inner circle as news of their handiwork spread via word of mouth and on social media. They began getting requests, and more request, to make nets for other anglers. “We created a few as gifts for friends but couldn’t just keep giving them away. We began itemizing our costs and had to start charging money. It was like the business was born out of necessity.”

Nate and his dad parlayed their skilled craftmanship into a fledgling business. They knew their products were top quality. And Nate, ever-the-entrepreneur, had been honing his business acumen since he was a teen, buying and reselling vintage clothing and high-end sneakers.

“You wouldn’t believe how much heartache I caused my parents,” he said with a laugh. “I would make money mowing grass, buy $300 sneakers and sell them for more money the next week. They would sell out instantly. My parents didn’t understand at first until this 16- … 17-year-old kid began walking around with a wad of money in his pocket.”

As a college student at West Virginia University, Nate, a cybersecurity computer science major, developed a business plan for the net-making business.

In 2020, he captured first place in the Manufacturing Day Pitch Competition, sponsored by WVU. Just weeks later, he won the Appalachian Manufacturing Award in the statewide West Virginia Makes Festival, sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) at Marshall University. Momentum for his entrepreneurial endeavor grew.

The Manufacturing Process

Manufacturing Nate’s Nets is a multi-step, care-intensive process that takes several days. Wood strips are cut from locally sourced hardwoods such as hickory, maple and oak then steamed, bent into shape, glued, sanded and finished. Between each step there are curing and drying times that range from a few hours to a day or so. Of course, there’s also the sewing of the actual nets to the frames.

As part of his Appalachian Manufacturing Award from RCBI, Nate was awarded technical and manufacturing assistance to refine the production process. He worked with RCBI Design Engineer Morgan Smith to develop a new procedure for shaping the wood into the hoops for the nets.

The original process involved driving pegs into a form in the shape of the hoop and handle, then bending the wood using the pegs and a series of shims. Smith created 3D computer models of a new hinged jig that allows the wood to be shaped without the use of pegs and shims, greatly expediting the bending process. The new form then was manufactured on equipment at RCBI, cutting the time to bend five frames from 10 minutes to two-and-one-half minutes. “That’s a 400 percent increase in efficiency,” Nate explained. “I’m very happy with how the project turned out.”

Nate’s Nets offers three lengths of nets: 24-, 36- and 48-inches long and different diameters for the nets themselves, depending on the angler. “A trout fisherman would want a short-handle with a smaller [diameter] net while a bass fisherman is going to want a larger net size with a short, medium or even long handle depending on whether the angler is in a boat or streamside,” Nate explained.

Most of the nets created by Nate and his father are custom jobs. They get to know clients, learn about their interests, ask them about their likes – and dislikes – then begin crafting nets based on what they learn about the customers. Sometimes the outcomes are exotic in nature.

“For an individual who likes to hunt big game in Africa, we custom-created nets from purple heart, bubinga and ipee – three African hardwoods with beautiful grains,” Nate said. “For a customer out west, we made a net using ironwood sourced from the desert. It’s wood that basically gets petrified.

“We’re not just selling a net – we’re selling a dream and a vision,” Nate said. “Our products are built around and for customers who really revere, respect and are connected to nature. They’re sentimental about the products they buy and use, items that retain value and are beautiful.”

While Nate’s Nets recently created a website, most of its sales are derived from personal connections, social media, and Nate’s involvement in outdoor recreational clubs and conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I’m just really fortunate to connect with people who really appreciate what I’m doing and want to commission nets.”

Clients of Nate’s Nets are scattered across the country, from New York to Texas, California to Virginia and points in between. A portion of all proceeds are donated to conservation efforts, primarily in and around West Virginia.

The Future

“Our short- to mid-term goal is to cement our reputation as a renowned local Appalachian brand,” Nate said.

That includes continuing to make each individual net from hand using only the best locally sourced wood and supplies. Nate also is working to get local fly shops to resell his nets. In addition, he hopes to begin supplying nets to fishing guides and outfitters for such initiatives as Project Healing Waters, a program to engage disabled veterans in therapeutic activities by introducing them to fly fishing.

“I want to keep this going indefinitely,” Nate said. “We’d absolutely like to expand to the point that we can provide jobs while growing in a manner that maintains our small-batch, local focus and commitment to supporting conservation and related charitable efforts.”

To learn more about Nate’s Handcrafted Nets, visit the website at https://nateshandcraftednets.company.site/, contact Nate by phone at 304.279.0677, or reach him on Instagram at @nateshandcraftednets.

 

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