Every pastime, hobby or sport has required equipment. For fishing, the bare minimum is pretty basic: You need a hook, a line connected to it, and some method of retrieving that line.
But I don’t see too many local anglers using handlines. Instead, most folks prefer to get all fancy, with rods and reels and boats and all kinds of stuff. While there is a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from doing things as simply as possible, I lean toward the “fancy equipment” style of fishing. Since you probably do too, I’m guessing you’ll appreciate this list of what I consider to be essential tools for going fishing.
I have forgotten to take my pliers with me on a couple fishing trips. I am not exaggerating when I say I would rather forget my pants than my pliers. I use them for all sorts of things: Cinching down knots, cutting lines, flattening hook barbs, dehooking fish, etc.
The pliers I use are of the needle-nose type and made of aluminum with steel jaw inserts. They also have cutters built in. I want the cutters that are set off to the side, since cutters that are in the jaws tend to become misaligned easily. If your pliers don’t have cutters, you’ll want some other type of line-cutting tool. (I suggest the Boomerang Snip.)
I also want a good sheath that I can put on my belt or clip to my pocket. I’ll be reaching for those pliers a lot during any given fishing trip, so accessibility makes a difference. And it’s good to have a lanyard, especially if your pliers are also your dehooking device. It’s easy to drop your pliers overboard when a fish wiggles just right.
OK, I said essential, but then the second thing I list is one I don’t usually carry. What gives? Well, I generally fish with inline circle hooks. Hooking a fish deep is pretty rare for me, so I rarely need to use anything but pliers to unhook a fish.
However, if you’re using offset circles or J-hooks, there’s a good chance of throat-hooking fish. A long dehooker is a better tool for retrieving those hooks with less damage to the fish. So this tool may or may not be essential, depending on your particular fishing style.
This is an essential tool not just for fishing but for daily life. Any time you need to use a knife, ask me — there’s always one in my pocket. And that’s the knife I use for fishing tasks also, such as cutting bait, bleeding fish, cutting lines on those horrible days when I forgot my pliers in the truck, or whatever other jobs present themselves. If you don’t carry a pocket knife, get a bait knife with a sheath.
The sharper your knife is, the better. You’re less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife because it’s less likely to slip. Soft steel sharpens easily but doesn’t hold an edge well. Harder steels take longer to sharpen if you let them get dull. I suggest a quality blade and regular sharpening.
For offshore anglers, this is a great one to carry. If you don’t fish deeper than about 50 feet, forget about it. A venting tool is basically a large hollow needle, used to deflate the swim bladders of fish that have pulled up from deep water. No, you can’t just use a knife or icepick — it really needs to be hollow to prevent excessive damage to the fish.
Before using a venting tool, check out the how-to videos at https://bit.ly/3j2WAMS. Even if you have used one before, go get a brush-up. I’ve seen too many fish stabbed in the heart or the stomach by people who “knew what they were doing.” As an alternative, you may prefer descending gear. Most don’t because it takes too long.
If you’re a shark fisherman, you need these. No, really — by law, you need these. Anglers fishing for sharks are required to carry a tool that can cut through wire leader. While the cutter on a pair of pliers may work, the blades will be ruined by cutting wire. Really, it’s best to have a wire cutter heavy enough to slice through the hook (and long enough that you don’t have to get your hands close to those snappy jaws).
If you think about it, maybe every fisherman should have wire cutters. If you manage to hook yourself deep (and most of us do, eventually), being able to cut the hook can save you a lot of pain and torment.
Most of our fish can bite you. (Notable exceptions: Snook and ladyfish.) Even a redfish can give you a chomp and leave you bleeding if you grab it like a bass. Ask me how I know.
A lip gripper prevents that and also offers a secure way to hold onto the front end of a fish. You should still use your free hand to support the belly of the fish; dangling is not a good look nor is it good for the fish. If you don’t believe that, then let me lift you off the ground by your lower jaw.
I prefer the metal tools here. You can drop $150 on a genuine BogaGrip or spend $20 and get a “bogus grip.” The Boga will last a lifetime; the knockoff for a couple years. The plastic lip grippers don’t rust, but they also damage fish because they lock down too tightly. I’ve seen a plastic gripper tear right through a fish’s mouth.
Have you been stung by a saltwater catfish? If you have, you know it’s not something you want to repeat. If you haven’t, ask your buddies and you’ll find one who has. It isn’t good.
O&H makes the Auto Fish Grabber, and I consider it indispensable for those of us who catch catfish while targeting other species. It’s easy to use, surprisingly gentle on the fish, and it keeps those venomous spines away from my hide. I carry one plus a backup just in case.
While this may seem like a lot of tools to carry around, every one of them has its place in making our fishing experience more enjoyable. Are they truly essential? That’s up to you, but I can tell you that I’ll be bringing all of them next time I’m on the water.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.