Two or three times a season, fishing one of our favorite trout streams, friends and I would cross paths with a dude we eventually dubbed, "Gadget Guy." You know the type: one of those gear-loaded anglers whose fancy fly vest rather resembles a Christmas tree. But rather than flashing red and green lights, this particular fly fisher audibly clanked along as he not-so-stealthily stalked the streambanks. You knew long before he rounded the bend that Gadget Guy was approaching your riffle. I suspect even the trout might have detected the clank-fest through their lateral lines. Can't prove—that, though the fish did seem to stop rising just ahead of his arrival. What I do know for sure is that Gadget Guy definitely "felt it" when the expensive wood trout net festooned to his back by a retractable lanyard caught on a bush, broke free and wacked him in the spinelike a yo-yo on shot out of a canon.
Certainly, whether or not you carry all your devices on one big, overloaded toolbelt, there's something to be said for handy devices, as well as the value of preparation. When suddenly face-to-face with a whale of a muskellunge, or a sofa-sized tarpon wallowing boatside, only the proper tools can save you and the fish, while preserving your precious bragging rights. The cost of unpreparedness could actually hurt: a hook in the hand, an escaped personal-best, or even a mortally wounded muskie. On the flipside, habitually practicing the Boy Scout motto (Semper paratus a.k.a. Be prepared) can sustain your status as an angling icon—at least among your friends.
You don't have to be a chaser of 4-foot, 50-pound fish to warrant a few good release tools. Even if you're merely harvesting a meal of medium sized crappies, or a brace of channel cats, the right tools expedite unhooking, minimize fish handling time and get your lure back in the water fast. The other purpose of such tools is to keep you, the angler, safe from hooks and teeth.
For toothy species or those with prickly pectorals, a lip-gripping tool can be a real finger-saver—or at least provide peace of mind. The standard Boga Grip popularized in saltwater remains a rock-solid fish-grabber, instantly displaying fish weight while you do the unhooking. For a less expensive, floating version that lacks a scale, Team Catfish's Floating Fish Gripper locks onto lower lips and won't let go until you're ready. Grab a lower lip, grin for a snapshot and let her go. Additionally, to loosen the lips of pike and other fang-bearing critters that snap jaws shut, a Baker Mouth Spreaders further eases unhooking.
In terms of hook extraction, plus any number of other surgical tasks we regularly do on the water, Gerber's new Magniplier could easily qualify as the most fishing-friendly yet. An ultra-comfortable, ergonomic handle also has a strategically placed finger choil that mimics a trigger grip. The pliers feature an angled, off-axis shape so you can grab a deeply imbedded hook and still retain visibility of the job. A super-sharp set of carbide line cutters and a locking mechanism add function and fit. Even the jaw tips are easily exchangeable, making this perhaps the last pair of pliers you'll ever need.
If your quest leads you to big fish with an attitude, the 9-1/2-inch long Baker Original Hookout remains a must-have device. Put a pair in your boat, rain or shine, and it'll outlast most every other tool you own. Rapala's 11-inch Long Reach Pliers are another awesome big fish hook extractor. One other tip for dealing with large aquatic predators: If your pliers doesn't have a good wire cutter (most don't), consider keeping a Knipex Side Cutters in the boat. When treble hooks are difficult or deeply impaled, cutting them off the lure is often a better maneuver than performing amateur surgery and risking injuring you or the fish.
At the opposite end of the fish and hook size spectrum, you absolutely need a nice set of surgical hemostat forceps. Nothing works better for gripping and extracting little hooks from the delicate jaws of sunfish, crappies or trout. Get yourself a quality stainless steel set; best if it's a pair of the 5-1/2-inch curved versions from a medical supply or fly-tying shop. Or, for removing tiny hooks without fear of damaging them, a Panfish Toothpick is another exceptional tool, particularly for deeply hooked panfish.
For cutting and tying line and manipulating lures, might as well add at least the following to your fishing tool box: hook sharpener, line cutters and split-ring pliers. Multi-tools like Gerber's Linedriver perform numerous vital fishing functions. This "line management" device does some amazing stuff, such as helping you thread line through troublesome eyelets, plus clearing paint, epoxy or old knots from said line-ties. The Linedriver also actually helps you tie knots by vise-gripping the hook and effortlessly rotating it on a continuous axis. The dual line cutter works scissors light and heavy diameters alike, but also lets you simply push line across a cutting edge when the Linedriver is affixed to your belt.
Built with a retractable line scissors and jig eye punch, the Rapala Fisherman's Multi-Tool fits easily in your jeans pocket. This handy little tool also has a multi-size line threader, beverage wrench and a carabiner clip for attaching to your belt loop or lanyard.
The Freehander lives up to its name, providing one-hand operation when cutting and securing fishing line. Cutters and a line-grabbing vise ease retying, aiding these delicate functions even when hands are wet or cold. The Neat Freak looks like a simple line-cutting scissors, but it also offers a bottle opener and split-shot crimper. Gerber's specialized line cutters excel at cutting braid, employing a micro-serrated blade surface for maximum line grip and a nice clean cut. The Neat Freak's blunt nose tip prevents foot damage, if it's accidentally dropped on your digits.
Featuring its own built-in retractable lanyard, Boomerang's Super Snip Line Cutters have an integrated blade safety mechanism and easy-to-deploy stainless steel cutters, plus an integrated UV LED flashlight.
While plenty of tools cut line and hold hooks, only a split-ring pliers eases the process of opening the universal split ring, for quickly connecting a hook or a lure. It's one of those tools you don't think about until you try to pry a split ring open with your fingernail—and then you go groping everywhere to find such a tool. Many styles of needle nose pliers sport a split ring-opening tip, but the most functional devices are the specialized pliers, such as Berkley's Split Ring Pliers or Shimano's Power Plier Split Ring Tool.
Keeping hooks sharp is right up there with vital tackle tasks, and two different types serve hooks large and small. A pen-style diamond sharpener excels at honing a fine edge on trout flies, panfish jigs and other small hooks. These little tools also work great for sharpening smaller knives and scissors. For filing cutting edges on larger hooks, a standard Danielson Hook File is all you need.
You could easily throw all the above tools into a tackle box. But that means you'll be groping and grumbling when it's time to find that one tool and perform a crucial task. Better, in some cases, to go the Gadget Guy route and tether everything to one reliable lanyard, such as Gerber's amazing Defender. The large size Defender's 48-inch dyneema cable is retractable and literally bulletproof, capable of clipping to your belt or a vest loop. The tool features a finger-driven carabiner that takes the tension out storing and using gear.
Task-Specific Fish Tools
In addition to the aforementioned items for your fishing tool kit, a good crimping pliers is indispensable for pinching and securing wire sleeves on wire leaders. A VMC Wacky Rig Tool or similar apparatus eases the process of applying O-rings to wacky-rigged soft plastic baits. For illuminating things under dark skies or charging glow-in-the-dark lures, a nice portable LED headlamp, clip-on hat light or flashlight should always be in the truck or boat. For nighttime navigation, a powerful rechargeable spotlight, such as a Browning High Noon handheld light can prove invaluable.
Of course, we're all here to catch fish and maybe do a little bragging among our buddies. Boasting is a little easier if you've got the digits to back it up, and that's where a good measuring board enters the equation. Some anglers prefer bump boards, but the Travel Ready Measuring Board by Working Class Zero might be the handiest, most portable version yet. Roll it out when you're ready, lay fish on the pliable board—or, a wiser move—leave the fish in the water and do the measuring there. Don't forget to take a photograph. Short of hanging a fish from the old Chatillon scale, nothing impresses fellow anglers like actual evidence of a released 52-inch muskie, 16-inch crappie or 25-inch largemouth bass. Semper paratus, indeed.