The Right Release Tools

Having the right release tools at an arm's reach will save time, and possibly the fish.

Quite a few years ago, I struggled to find a pair of needle nose or fishing pliers when I needed them. Because I'm a classic over reactor, I finally went out and bought like 10 pairs of assorted pliers and cutters and strategically placed them all over the boat. Now, I never wonder where, or have to move too far to reach them.

It's essential to the fish's health that you swiftly remove the hooks and get it back in the water as soon as possible. Have the pliers/hook outs/cutters within arm's reach—including the camera to quickly preserve the memory.

But, I've learned that not all pliers are created equal and a myriad of styles are need—especially when dealing with different species. For example, muskies and pike are bigger fish with a deeper mouth, a deeper-reaching needle nose becomes the norm.

Big Pliers

If you're fishing with big hooks, bigger pliers might be key. For example—again, I'll reference muskie fishing—these baits weight up to, and sometimes beyond, a pound, therefore the hooks are enormous. Small pliers just don't have the leverage to break that 7/0 treble from a fish's face. Bigger jaws for bigger hooks—in more ways than one!

Go deep or go home. Deeper reaching needle nose pliers are an excellent tool when a fish becomes deep hooked, and a speedy yet gentle removal is required. Extended reach could save a fish's life—keep them on hand.

Deep-reach pliers.


The need to cut hooks doesn't come often, but don't hesitate to do so if survival is on the line. In fact, many musky anglers will cut hooks if they are embedded inside the mouth, especially deeper into the throat. Yes, the cut ends do work themselves out in time, but the pressure is relieved and a hook is replaceable. For this fact alone, keep an assortment of replacement hooks on hand.

Wire cutters and scissors come in very handy and I keep multiple pairs in my boat at all times. Perhaps a big catfish—notorious for rolling during battle—is all wrapped up in heavy braid. That line will cut and deeply wound a big cat and a small pair of scissors might not "cut it." Wire cutters do the job and save time and assure a quick release.

Scissors have a million-and-a-half uses in a boat, knot tying not being the least of theses.

A good knife is always nice, but I have found that a multi-tool gets used extensively as well—keep both accessible.

Split Ring Pliers

Split Ring Pliers

Anytime you have to cut hooks, a replacement is essential—especially if the bait that just got wrecked is the hot lure of the day. Getting those hooks replaced quickly is vital to getting your line wet again, split ring pliers make this task a cinch. I keep two pairs on board—a larger pair for bigger baits and a smaller pair for crankbaits, jerkbaits and such.

If you are handling fish with big teeth, a glove becomes essential. Stitches are no fun, especially if it means cutting a fishing trip short.

I can't tell you how many times a multi-tool has saved my butt. Keep a pair handy and you'll be glad you did!

Not many anglers take the time to sharpen their hooks. Admittedly it takes time, but having razor-sharp hooks will help insure a good hook set, which means that big sucker will make it to your boat for photos. A worthwhile investment is a hook sharpener--they are cheap but valuable.

Learn from my mistakes. Stop putting it off, and get a bunch of these things stationed front-to-back in your rig. They aren't very expensive and always knowing where the pliers are will assure a quick and successful release.

North American Fisherman Top Stories