If you’ve ever had to retrieve a lure hooked deep inside a thrashing fish’s mouth – then you know how useful a good pair of fishing pliers can be. They truly are the workhorses of any fishing kit, allowing you to crimp barbs, cut through lines, cinch knots, retrieve deeply buried hooks plus much more.
If you’re like me, then you’ve learned the hard way that regular old pliers from your toolbox won’t last long in the saltwater environment. Mine fused shut after only a couple of outings! Make sure you get a pair of fishing pliers specifically suited for use around saltwater.
In this post, I’ll break down the different types of fishing pliers, explain how to choose the best pair for your needs, and review some of the top pliers on the market today.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Fishing Pliers
Why do you need fishing pliers?
The main purpose of fishing pliers is to safely extract fishhooks without destroying your fingertips on sharp teeth or barbs.
Fishing pliers are specifically designed for fishing use – they’re mean to withstand saltwater use without rusting or corroding. Unlike typical pliers you’d find in your toolbox, they have features like line cutters, split ring openers, and crimpers which make them invaluable to many anglers.
They’re also much lighter than other pliers, with many utilizing lightweight materials like aluminum and titanium. This means you can store them in an easy-to-deploy place on your belt or in a vest pocket without the annoyance of lugging around extra weight.
Most fishing pliers are built with needle-nose style jaws. These make them perfect for reaching deep into a fish’s mouth to extract a fishhook. If you normally catch larger fish with long toothy mouths – like northern pike or wahoo – then look for a pair with extra-long jaws.
If you’re a catch and release fisherman, then fishing pliers are especially important – they’ll allow you to quickly and safely remove a hook and return the fish back to the water with minimal disruption.
Top 5 Fishing Pliers
How to pick the right fishing pliers for you?
Picking the right pair of fishing pliers will depend on your personal preferences, how you plan to use them and which features you prefer.
Keep in mind that the best pair of fishing pliers is the one you’ll carry with you – even a cheap pair is far better than trying to pull a deeply buried fishhook out with your bare hands!
Let’s take a look at some of the key features to look out for.
Top manufacturers have been making fishing pliers from stainless steel for decades, but in the last few years, many have started making aluminum alloy and even titanium models.
Stainless steel pliers are still generally a good choice – they’re tough, durable and fairly corrosion resistant. Keep in mind that stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, not corrosion-proof. You’ll still need to give them a freshwater rinse after using and be vigilant about removing and corrosion that starts to form.
Aluminum pliers are lightweight, have excellent corrosion resistance and are fairly rigid. As aluminum is a softer metal, they’re not as durable as stainless steel and can bend if too much pressure is applied. Don’t use them as a crowbar!
Keep in mind that aluminum is not a great material for high-stress areas like cutting surfaces or jaws – for these, you’d ideally like to see tungsten carbide or stainless steel.
Titanium pliers are also lightweight, practically corrosion-proof, and offer a high level of durability and strength. Their major downside is price – titanium ain’t cheap!
Many newer pliers are spring loaded – which gives you more control when you’re using them one-handed. The spring keeps the pliers open and ready to use anytime they’re outside of their sheath. This means you’ll never need to force them open single-handed while you’ve got a wriggling fish in the other hand.
Obviously, this comes down to personal preference, but I’d recommend going with spring-loaded pliers for the added convenience.
Grip is often overlooked when considering any tool – but it really shouldn’t be. After all, a good grip means you’ll be able to use your pliers comfortably for hours at a time. If you catch a lot of fish (like a tournament angler) then a comfortable grip will be doubly important.
Obviously, a comfortable grip is pretty subjective – it will vary depending on your hand’s size, shape, and personal preferences. Look for a grip with individual finger inlays or soft rubber grips. Another thing to consider is the effect of water on your grips, you may want to add some grip tape if they’re slippery when wet.
The ideal nose and handle length is an important consideration and will depend on the species of fish you’re targeting.
Most anglers prefer longer needle nose style pliers to their short stubby counterparts. The added length gives you better reach when you need to reach deep into a fish’s mouth and extract a fishhook.
This is particularly important if you’re a saltwater angler targeting larger fish species. If you fish mostly smaller freshwater species like bass, trout, and walleye then a shorter pair of pliers can work well.
As mentioned previously, pliers made from lightweight materials like aluminum and titanium can be so light you’ll forget that you’re carrying them. These are particularly handy for kayak anglers, fly fishermen or anytime you want to keep added weight at a minimum.
Many models feature CNC bored out handles to further reduce the weight.
Beyond just retrieving fishhooks, fishing pliers have a number of extras that make them highly functional for fishing tasks.
Below are some of the most important features to look out for:
A good pair of line cutters can cut through thick braided line like butter. This makes them invaluable for cutting leaders, mainlines and tag ends.
Look for a high-quality cutter material like tungsten carbide or high carbon steel. These will cut cleanly through line without causing and fraying or line weakness.
Another feature to consider is replaceable cutting blades. Even if you use your pliers correctly, with enough cutting through heavy braid and steel wire, they’ll eventually wear down and need replacement. Replaceable cutters allow you to easily remove and replace worn out blades.
Line cutters can either be built into the base of the jaws or into the side of fishing pliers. Again, this comes down to personal preference, but cutters built into the jaws will provide more leverage and cutting power.
Split Ring Opener
A split ring opener is a nice feature to have if you work with small tackle components like swivels, split shots and lead sinkers. It makes switching hooks on a lure much easier than trying to do it with your fingernails.
A crimping tool is used to crimp together leaders and sleeves for mono and cable line. Many pliers will have a notch cut into the jaws specifically for this task.
A good lanyard and sheath are a major plus for any pair of fishing pliers. If you’ve ever lost a pair to the bottom of a lake or river, then you’ll know how important properly fastening your gear is!
Most fishing pliers come with some kind of coil lanyard and sheath. These make it is easy to clip your pliers onto your fishing vest or waders – so they’re close at hand whenever you need them. If you fish from a kayak or canoe, then a lanyard and sheath are a definite must.
Some fishing pliers come with extra features like flashlights, bottle openers, multi-tools built into the handles and removable soft grip handles. While some of these features can be useful, they aren’t really necessary for most fishing tasks you’re likely to encounter.
Fishing Plier Uses
Fishing pliers are extraordinarily versatile – they truly are the “jack of all trades” in your fishing arsenal. Here are just some of the tasks you can perform with your fishing pliers:
- Cutting through mainlines, leaders, tag and hooks.
- Removing hooks from fish or even your skin!
- Holding, cutting and preparing bait.
- Making adjustments to your rod and reel.
- Flattening or ‘crimping’
- Holding up fish – don’t use them for catch-and-release fishing (get a pair of fish grips for that).
- Cinching and tightening knots.
- Changing the hooks on a lure.
- Crimping leaders and sleeves.
- Much, much more… (You’ll always find something useful to do with them when you’re on the water).
Maintaining Your Fishing Pliers
The number one enemy of any metal tools is, of course, saltwater. Saltwater can even corrode high-end coated stainless steel pliers if you’re not vigilant.
Any pair of fishing pliers is going to be better at resisting rust and corrosion than regular pliers, but you still need to maintain them properly if you want them to last.
To keep your pliers in top condition for as long as possible make sure to do the following:
- After using around saltwater, rinse with fresh water and dry thoroughly.
- Apply a thin layer of mineral oil over the entire pliers every few weeks.
- If corrosion or rust does start to form, remove it with steel wool and then coat in mineral oil.
- Don’t store your pliers inside a wet sheath! Make sure to let your sheath dry completely before storing your pliers.
Keep in mind that fishing pliers aren’t meant to be replacements for regular pliers. If you need to perform heavy-duty prying tasks, use a Leatherman or regular toolbox pliers.
Q: How to remove a fishhook using fishing pliers?
A: In order to remove a fishhook, firmly grip the hook with your pliers near the bend and rotate the hook out the same way it came in. Depending on the type of hook and how fish is hooked, you may need to flatten out the barb in order for the hook to slide easily through the fish’s lip.
If the fish is gut hooked or hooked deep inside its mouth, it may be very difficult to remove the hook without causing major injury to the fish. In this case, using your pliers to cut the hook (or line) as close to the fish’s body as possible. This will allow the fish to spit the hook out once it’s started to corrode.
Q: What is the pointy tip on fishing pliers for?
A: The pointy tip on fishing pliers is made for opening split rings. This feature makes changing or replacing the hooks on a lure simple and straightforward. Trying to do this with your fingernail can be a major pain, so look for a pair with a split ring opener if you normally use split rings in your tackle.
Featured image courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Source.