A crowder is arguably the best way for a private or charter boat to make squid. It consists of two parallel poles with a net attached between the two. The net is is all the way down the poles at the end that goes in the water, the other ends are the handles. Typically done with two guys, on smaller rigs it can be done solo with a smaller crowder.
One size does not fit all. Sportboats and yachts may deploy crowders with 20′ poles and 10’X10″ nets, while private boats will do better with 8’X8′ or smaller nets and 10′ to 15′ poles. Its important to pick a crowder that matches the size of the boat its going to be used on.
The custom part of any crowder is the bag, or how deep the pocket of the net is. A flat net tied between two poles is nearly useless. Too deep of a bag and the crowder will be too hard to lift through the water, and may reach under the boat and wrap the props or rudders. Its a truly custom deal, from one boat to another. One goal you will want to achieve when making a crowder net is to make it so the net is still in the water when the poles are set down and the handles are in the cockpit of the boat. Having the bag still in the water makes it much easier to braille the squid out after crowding squid.
Once you have decided how big of a crowder net you want for your boat, you’ll need to make a jig. It needs to be high enough off the ground for the bag depth you want, and the exact dimensions for your crowder. In the photo below, the jig is 8′ wide (pole to pole) by 6′ long. It will have a 4′ deep bag in the water. Keep in mind that the net will stretch more in the water that in your shop. I like the bag of my crowder to be more at the bottom of the net, so I set up the jig in a way that will help me achieve this. No need for the crowder net to have bag at the top in my opinion.
Next stretch the netting you want to use over the jig and use nails, staples or zip ties to attach it. It takes a while to adjust the netting into the shape you want. Don’t worry about areas of bunched up netting, it will all come out straight when you sew the edges.
You will have two straight edges, a side and the top. I stapled those edges first, then began to adjust the netting to make the bag. Be patient, its trickier than it looks. For the bag itself I place something in the net to hold it in shape so I can see how its going to come out. For this crowder net I used two Nerf footballs.
Now take the cord you plan on using for the edges and thread it through the netting, using the jig as a guide to keep the lines straight. I used a bamboo skewer as a fid (sewing needle) and tape the cord so it has nothing to snag the netting. At the corners leave some slack and tie and overhand knot making a 6″ loop. You will use this loop to attach the crowder net to your poles.
Once you get to the bag end of the crowder net on the jig, take special care to use the jig as your guide. If the net is properly set on the jig, this will define your bag. In areas the net will be bunched up, but you still need to sew the cord through every hole in the net. At the end you will have the tuna cord pulled though all 4 sides, with knots tied at each corner. Each corner knot should have enough cord hanging off to use for tying the crowder net to the poles.
Now you can cut the excess netting off the crowder. This should only be two sides. Be sure to leave enough outside the cord you ran through so the net does not break at the cord. The excess will be sewn on to the cord in the next step. I use a simple soft nylon cord or string, smaller than the tuna cord I used to outline the crowder shape. Sewing the net to the cord is the longest and most detailed part of the process, and takes hours or even days sometimes. Do not rush this, as it defines the quality of your crowder. Soft line is easier to pull through the netting and around the cord. You’ll thank me for this advise. Again, I use a bamboo skewer for the fid.
Pass the fid (smaller cord) through the inside of the crowder net around the tuna cord and over the outer edge of the net when sewing. I make three turns along the cord, then do a half hitch and repeat. At the corners, tie the smaller cord to the tuna cord to finish a side.
Continue to sew the edges all the way around the crowder net. On the sides and bottom I like to make two passes, going in opposite directions. This makes a strong criss-cross pattern in the sew. I sew only one side and finish the ends of the side, instead of trying to sew the entire crowder with one pass. It would simply be too much string to pull through with each stitch.
Now the the crowder net is finished, you’ll need to attach the net to a set of poles. Something strong enough for the nights when there is a lot of current and you need to rest the poles on the side of the boat and lift, without breaking the poles. I like fiberglass poles, the extruded kind. Some guys like bamboo, or even fiberglass gaff blanks. Be sure to leave about 2 inches of pole below the crowder net for less tangles at the tips. Refer to the “How to Make a Gaff” article on this site for the way I like to tie things to fiberglass poles, its exactly the same.
Netting can be found on the internet. Try Memphis Net and Twine or Nylon Net Co. I have some netting I got from a koi pond store that is intended for covering ponds to keep critters out. Its nylon and durable, but harder to push through the water than mono. Mono is very fragile, and hangs up on everything. When you begin to crowd squid and the mono netting hangs up on a screw in your rub rail, you risk tearing a hole in the net. Take special care to tighten all screws and remove anything that can snag the mono netting. You will also need to make a cover to protect the net from snagging and sun damage.
I go back and forth between mono and nylon on my personal crowders. I find that mono glows next to an underwater light, and sometimes scares away spooky squid. For this crowder its what I had in my shop at the time. Guys will tell you that mono is easier to push through the water, but I think the difference between mono and nylon is so slight, you will hardly notice. If the net is too hard to push through the water, its typically because the bag is too big.
You can expect it to take a minimum of 3 whole days to make a crowder from start to finish, not including the time it takes to get the materials. For this reason, crowders are expensive to buy. If you know the dimensions you want and the bag depth, one of the companies mentioned above might make you a crowder net special order. In the past I have done this with mixed results. They will charge you an arm and a leg unless you order several nets, the extras you can sell to your friends.