Whether you are on a flat, up a river, in camp or simply trying to get shit done – from cutting tippet, wire trace, biltong and wood, to stripping motors, servicing reels, debarbing hooks and releasing fish safely – the tools you carry on you can make a huge difference to how your day’s fishing goes. Just what to use is an intensely debatable subject so I spoke to a bunch of people who fish hard – from guides to members of the Feathers team, to find out which multi-tools, knives, and pliers they swear by.
THE LEATHERMAN LADS
Stu Harley, guide in Sudan, Tanzania, Cameroon etc.
That’s a big can of worms! For me it’s the Leatherman Wave – I have always had one. I think I am on my fifth one because they keep getting stolen, but in terms of quality and practicality they are second to none in a camp environment when you need to fix stuff, cut wire and screw-in things. Even the knife is very good, the saw is very good, the pliers are very strong, but they are a no-go for saltwater and their nippers could be a little better for cutting knottable wire and braid, but the scissors are good for that.
When it comes to saltwater, Hatch make pliers with a pair of replaceable cutters on the side and the head of the pliers are unattached to anything other than the pliers which is very good. So I would say Hatch’s saltwater pliers are unbeatable – or your Van Staals, but they are quite heavy. Then for freshwater and for a guide it’s the Leatherman Wave all the way.
Something that needs a mention is a little pair of Pro Hunter braid scissors that I have had on me for forever. They cost about R70 and you can cut four gauge mild steel wire with them and you can cut 5x tippet too. They are just indestructible. Whenever I find them I buy five or six pairs because they are just so good and amazing to give to people when they see how amazing they are. Cheap as chips and they are sooo good. I will cut 1.4 mm leader in Sudan with it, it won’t rust, it never gets blunt. There’s another pair that comes with split teeth on the nose so you can use it for conventional split rings, changing leaders out and changing hooks out. They are just flipped incredible. Pro-Hunter. They look like junk but they are so good.
Milan Germishuizen, FlyCastaway guide in the Indian Ocean and Sterkfontein Dam
The lekker thing about the Leatherman Wave that I have is that all the stock standard fittings on it fit perfectly with the Yamaha 15 Enduros so I can fix my engines on St. Brandons with just my Leatherman. But what I then did is I bought the Bit Kit which turns that little bit into so may different other tools, which is super handy.
In terms of hemos, I get older haemostats from my step dad. He’s a doctor so I get surgical grade ones. They are amazing and lekker strong. I don’t think I have ever bought a fancy Loon one.
My favourite fishing pliers were given to me by a client, they re Van Staals. They are fucking amazing, but they are like $380 now if you want to buy them straight up. They are amazing, but I would have to work a couple of seasons before I could justify spending that much on just the pliers itself. They are titanium, so super strong and super light and come with a lekker little leather pouch. They are only the second pair of pliers I have ver had. The first pair were those generic Stealth pliers which lasted me a long time but they eventually did give in.
The thing that I use the most is definitely my Leatherman with my bit kit.
Kyle Reed, former head guide Astove. Lodge manager at The Delphi Club, Bahamas
I am 100% a Leatherman guy, always have been. Specifically the Wave is the one to go with. That said, because it corrodes I would never have it on my hip while guiding, it was always in my backpack. It was the best multi-tool, it saved me so many times, I fixed so many fucking outboards with that thing you can’t imagine. Still to this day, I go nowhere without it. If I am on the flats or if I am in the bush, no matter what it’s always in my backpack.
Fishing-wise the system I used to use which worked really well, was I would use the Hatch Nomad pliers. They are great pliers, they are very strong and last a long time. They also corrode, but you just need to look after them obviously.
In combination with that I would have a pair of Pro-Hunter braid scissors on a lanyard. Those braid scissors are invaluable on the flats, especially if you lose a fly line or if you need to change something, re-do backing knots – Pro Hunter is the way to go. And those things are completely inexpensive and last forever. The pair I have got I’ve had for five years or something. So my combo would be Leatherman in my backpack, on my belt I would have my Hatch Nomads and around my neck I would have the Pro Hunter scissors. Gets the job done!
Trevor Sithole, Alphonse Fishing Co guide
I really like the Leatherman Wave purely because it’s a multi-tool kind of a deal. It has almost everything you need to quickly fix your engine if it fails you on the water so you can make a plan to get home. It’s really good, it has a lot of different tools that you can use, especially for our 40hp 2-stroke engines. You can almost strip that whole thing with a Leatherman.
When it comes to pliers, I really like Hatch Nomad pliers. They are really good and bullet-proof. I’ve used mine since I started guiding 4/5 years back and I’m still using the same pair today. It’s designed for the saltwater environment but I use it for trout fishing too, the jaws on it are really good. You can pinch or squash barbs for trout flies. There is another brand called Van Staal that are also really good, bullet-proof, and the guys who use those have been using them for a very long time without any problems at all. I’ve never used them myself personally. The downside of those is the fact that they are a little bit heavy.
THE VAN STAAL SQUAD
Justin Rollinson, FlyCastaway guide in the Indian Ocean, Sterkfontein Dam and Gabon
If I had to say, my favourite tool is definitely my pliers. I use Van Staals. You just don’t get a better plier, it’s as simple as that. The titanium blades are the best, you don’t have to worry about the blades getting blunt on the pliers and they just don’t seem to rust if you look after them properly and give them a good clean you don’t have to worry about them rusting up and jamming up. I don’t really go in for the multi-tools and stuff, but if I had to recommend one other thing that I love to use, it’s a simple elastic band for dry fly fishing. On a place like Sterkies I use the elastic band to dry the fly out after catching a fish. Van Staals and an elastic band – those are my two go-tos.
Brendan Becker, FlyCastaway guide in the Indian Ocean
In terms of fly fishing pliers, especially saltwater pliers, there are only two words – Van Staals. I’ve had a pair – I got given them in 2015 – so seven years ago and the client who gave them to me had them for four and half or five years before I did and they are still going strong. I’ve got the smaller pair. The big pair are also great, but the smaller pair are nice because they are a little bit more comfortable. They are the best I have ver used, I have not had to change the blades once, there is no wear and tear on the blades. I think they are made of titanium so they are super solid. They can murder needlefish that’s taken a fly deep, which is a great trick I learned from Wesley de Klerk.
TIP: The most important thing when you are using saltwater pliers is – if you can – try get a strong bungee. Mine is overkill as I’ve got a body-boarding or surfboard cord on mine and that thing is never coming off.
THE GUIDE’S LINE
Nic Schwerdtfeger, Gaula River guide, Norway.
I like these Guideline hemos because they are super solid, they have a really rugged design, they’re basically surgical quality. Stainless steel construction, the jaws are very precise, they are locking jaws, they’ve got a serrated and an underrated scissor built in to them, they’ve got the little pokey thing for poking glue out the eyes of hooks, they lock very well, so if you need to use two sets to get a hold they work well. Also the grips are really nice, easy to handle when they are wet which is very important. Uncoated handles when wet are a fuck-up, because they slip and hurt your thumb. These are just a fucking solid pair of pliers. They’re long enough so you will never need another pair really. They are the best pliers I have used.
TWERK 4 BERKLEY
Leonard Flemming, former guide, 1 x fish fokkertjie
Berkley line nippers are stainless (so fairly corrosion resistant), heavy duty nippers that cut anything from 7X to 180 lb fluoro, and even toe nails when they started bothering you on long distance hikes or when you’re on a liveaboard in Sudan etc. They are multi functional in other ways too, like some of the other fold out tools could be used as a screw driver which was handy to open a Shilton reel when you’re somewhere on an island like Socotra with limited gear and no other gadgets around. I also find that some multi tools or nippers scratch and poke you through your pockets, those Berkley ones never bothered me, they had nice smooth edges.
BUGGIN’ OUT OVER DONNMAR
Andre van Wyk, saltwater fly nut and co-owner of Lucky Bastards
There are two different tools that I like. First there’s the Benchmade Mini Bug-Out. It’s more of an Every Day Carry (EDC) than a fishing tool, but I like it because it is very light so you don’t notice it if you are not used to carrying a knife in your pocket. Opening and closing is super easy, it carries an edge beautifully, and mine is bright orange so I don’t lose it. Weirdly, I don’t notice it if it’s in my pocket, but I do notice it when it is not there because I always need it. So in terms of an EDC, the Benchmade is a winner winner chicken dinner. It’s not too big not too small and it’s a machine.
For pliers, I have a pair of Donnmar Titaniums. Sadly they are not the cheapest things in the world, but they have gone on every fishing trip I have done since I got them which is since 2015. I have treated them very poorly and they have not one stitch of corrosion, rust or anything on them. They are still as sharp as the day I go them. Beautiful. In terms of a lifetime investment, if you are going with pliers, titanium is the answer and those Donnmar titaniums are it. I think they are close on $350, but so long as you look after them in terms of not losing them you never have to buy another pair of pliers.
DANCO VERY MUCH
Peter Coetzee, 1 x fishy Pappenfuss and Benjamin Button impersonator
So I’ve been spending much time on clippers and pliers. My biggest concern about pliers is weight (I hike a lot), and in the non-corrodable stable there are only really the titanium players. Van Staal, Donnmar and Danco. Previously I didn’t consider Danco as they usually white label stuff. But they make the best size for fly I rate, 5.5 inches. Also spares are an issue on Van Staal (spare cutter blades) and they weigh just under 1lb (a shit ton). People are often confused. Titanium is not light. It’s considerably heavier than aluminium. The Danco 5.5s are 0.24lbs. Moerse difference. On the pliers, I reckon you want cutters outside the Jaws so you can see them cut. I’m buying those Dancos. The Premio 5.5. On size, weight and cutter position they win. And there’s a lifetime warranty.
In nippers at top of class it’s only really between the Hatch 2 nippers and the Abel nippers. 200usd + is a lot for nippers. But it’s probably my most used gear item. I guess Simms pro nippers are also an option. I’m done with waste and rust, I want a pair that will last 10 years with replaceable cutters and I don’t trust Simms to keep supplying. There is also a newer, even more expensive Abel nipper.
For in-depth reviews of nippers and pliers I love this guy’s videos.
Tudor Caradoc-Davies, The Mission editor and chronic loser of things.
Butterfingers, lack of co-ords, over-excitement at getting my next cast out – there are probably lots of reasons for why I lose so many hemos/forceps, but the fact is…my track record is not good. So, invoking the matra of ‘know thyself’ for the most part I go for inexpensive hemos (and nippers) like those you get from Dr Slick. That said, I managed to hold on to a pair of the Orvis Flow Hemos for about six months before dropping them off my float tube into a farm dam and they were by far the nicest pair I have ever had. For people with big-ass clumsy hands like me, they have extra large finger holes with a grippy coating so you are less likely to slip and drop them (less, not guaranteed), there’s a serrated scissor buit on the jaws and bonus of bonuses they have a carabiner attachment handle to make it easy to attack them to your jacket, pack, tube, boat whatever.
That carabiner attachment thing is something I really like on tools and it appears on another go-to tool the Leatherman Skeletool. Think Leatherman Wave, pared down to the essentials. It has great pliers, a combo knife (saw and blade), a bit driver, bottle opener etc, plus it’s super light compared to the heavier multi-tools. I’m not a guide so I do not constantly have to fix things so the weight and simplicity of these does it for me. Plus, there’s the carabiner thing again. I’ve been joining Conrad recently fishing of float tubes for silver kob and there are times where you anchor off the kelp in relatively shallow rocky gulleys. I’ve got my flippers twisted in the anchor line with some waves coming through and while I got free, it wasn’t pleasant. I now carry the Skeletool with me in an easily accessible spot so I can reach for the carabiner lever and cut the anchor rope if needs be.
Lastly, those Pro Hunter braid scissors recommended by Stu Harley and Kyle Reed? Mark Murray of African Waters mentioned them in an interview years ago and I have carried them ever since. I don’t fish hardcore salt often enough (yet) to justify buying one of the top-end pliers like Van Staals, Hatch, Donnmar and Danco, so I take along a cheap pair of Mustads that I know will last a week long trip (but not a guide’s full season). The other thing I wear around my neck are the Pro Hunters. They look like kiddie scissors from play school when you are learning to cut, but do not be deceived. They are brilliant. And cheap!.