To survive in salt water, your saltwater fishing tools have to be as tough as the fish and the conditions. Nets, gaffs, pliers and hook removers need to come together to land the fish of a lifetime.
Gaffs and Nets
If you're planning on keeping a fish, nothing puts it in the box faster than a gaff. Fishing gaffs come in various hook sizes and handle lengths; the best fishing gaffs have a tapered aluminum handle, non-slip grips and a triangular point. Short gaffs are effective for handling big fish close to the boat, while longer gaffs are good for reaching out and grabbing a smaller fish. The size of the hook bite should match the size of the fish that will be gaffed. For really big fish, use a flying gaff with a detachable hook that is attached to a rope. A gaff should only be used when you plan to keep a fish. If you will be releasing the fish, use a landing net or a pair of wet gloves.
The size of the landing net should match the size of the fish that you are aiming to land. Look for a fishing net with a wide hoop, double-walled aluminum handle, and deep net. Fishing nets with rubber mesh help protect the fish's slime coat and scales if it will be released after landing.
With increased catch limits and conservation efforts, catch-and-release fishing is more popular than ever. While lip grippers aren't the best tool for landing a fish, they work well for holding and releasing the fish without putting your fingers in its gills or mouth. Look for a lip gripper that is constructed out of non-corrosive aluminum or stainless steel. Many lip grippers also have a fish scale incorporated into the handle. Clip the lip gripper on the fish's lower jaw, but never hold a fish vertically by the lip gripper. This can damage the fish's organs and jaw. Instead, support the belly of the fish with a wet glove on your free hand.
A good pair of saltwater pliers incorporates a half-dozen tools to do everything from cut wire to tighten knots and remove hooks. First, to avoid corrosion, saltwater pliers should be made of stainless steel or titanium. Shorter, more compact saltwater pliers provide power for removing hooks or cutting thick wire. Longer, needle-nose pliers can get into tight places for delicate work.
All fishing pliers combine jaws for gripping and blades for cutting. The best saltwater pliers will have replaceable cutting blades. Multi-tools may also incorporate screwdrivers, knives, scissors and other tools.
To replace hooks on plugs and jigs, use a pair of split-ring pliers. For big-game fishing, crimping pliers will snug down metal crimps and cut heavy monofilament and wire. A good pair of scissors is another indispensible tool for cutting line and bait.
A razor-sharp knife with a high-carbon steel blade makes cleaning fish and cutting bait quick and easy. A short, stout knife will make quick work of cut bait. When preparing fish for bait, look for a knife with a serrated edge. A longer knife with a thinner blade will fillet and skin a fish. When there is a pile of fish to clean, nothing beats an electric fillet knife. For fish that will be cooked whole, use a scaling and gutting tool.
Sometimes getting the hook out of a fish can be harder than getting the hook into the fish. Hook-removal tools make the job quick and safe. With toothy saltwater fish, removing the hook with your hands or even a pair of pliers can be dangerous. When releasing a fish, it is best to remove the hook without even taking the fish out of the water.
The latest generation of hook-removal tools works beautifully. Long-handled tools pop the hook out while the fish is still in the water. Shorter tools remove the hook and drop the fish in the ice box with a flick of the wrist. Both styles of tool remove the hook by using the fish’s weight to back the barb out of the hole in its jaw.
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