Field Test: Fishing Pliers

BEST OF THE TEST

FISHING PLIERS may be the most ubiquitous tools in all of angling. Whether you're a panfish specialist in Missouri, a blue-water charter skipper in Florida, or anything in between, you need a pair. They make unhooking fish much easier than using your fingers. They'll also flatten hook barbs, grab line or hooks securely for tightening knots, and cut all types of fishing lines. In an emergency, such as when you've stupidly impaled yourself with a big treble hook, one of these will even cut heavy hook wire. I tested seven popular models. (Note that I haven't included multitools. They are hugely convenient but rarely as effective as pure fishing pliers.) Unless you already know that I'm a parsimonious old Yankee, you'll be surprised at which pliers came out on top.

1 RENEGADE PLIERS ($8)
THE LOWDOWN They cost $8 and they work. What more do you need to know? Okay, they don't do as well as some premium pliers, especially in cutting superbraids, but this needle-nose design has the longest jaws here. That means you can reach into the throat of a deeply hooked bass. The cutters are made of the same stainless steel as the rest of the tool and are not especially sharp. Still, they snipped medium mono just fine. Slots in one jaw come in handy for straightening line-tie eyes.

HITS These are Best of the Test based on reasonably good--not great--function and great value.

MISSES If style matters, they're inelegant pliers.

CONTACT Wal-Mart

2 BROWNING PLIERS ($50)
THE LOWDOWN This pair delivers great value, with one Achilles' heel: weight. Unlike other high-end pliers that have lightweight aluminum frames, these are thick, solid stainless steel. At 10½ ounces, they weigh nearly twice as much as some of the competition. Put these on your belt and you'll need suspenders. The replaceable carbide cutters are mounted on the outside of the joint area, separate from the jaws. Superbraid cutting is adequate.

HITS For a reasonable price, you get good cutter performance and a rugged nylon sheath and lanyard too.

MISSES They're heavy, with short jaws.

CONTACT 800-227-7776; basspro.com

3 ABEL #2 PLIERS ($130)
THE LOWDOWN These pliers from Steve Abel, the California maker of premium fly reels, are light (aluminum) and small enough to carry in a flyfishing vest, which is where mine usually live. Replaceable tool-steel jaws and cutters handle common duties easily, although cutting superbraids is a struggle.

HITS Small size combines portability with function in this elegant, extremely well-made tool.

MISSES They're pricey. The diminutive size means there is limited reach inside a fish's mouth. Shorter handles provide less leverage, making them ineffective at cutting larger hooks.

CONTACT 805-484-8789; abelreels.com

4 BASS PRO XPS ALUMINUM PLIERS ($90)
THE LOWDOWN At 7½ inches overall, these aluminum-bodied pliers are relatively light, comfortable in the hand, and easy to use. The replaceable steel jaws and cutters handle most things well, although cutting superbraids requires lots of effort. The longer handles afford plenty of leverage, but the short jaws have limited reach. A Cordura sheath and a lanyard are included.

HITS Light weight. Comfortable, shaped grips. Corrosion-resistant frame and jaws.

MISSES Poor superbraid cutting. The short jaw length can be a problem with deeply hooked fish.

CONTACT 800-227-7776; basspro.com

5 ORVIS ALUMINUM SALTWATER ($150)
THE LOWDOWN The second longest jaw length among this group helps keep fingers away from sharp teeth as you remove a hook, while the offset handle angle gives leverage. The replaceable carbide cutters deal with almost everything, including superbraids, extremely well. One of the cutter heads snapped when I tried to cut a 3/0 treble hook. In fairness, these pliers aren't made for that.

HITS A leather sheath is included. Longer jaw length. Good cutters.

MISSES They're pricey.

CONTACT 800-548-9548; orvis.com

6 XTOOL PROXSERIES FLOATING METAL PLIERS ($100)
THE LOWDOWN Although the hard-foam handle coating feels bulky, the pliers will float if dropped overboard. The replaceable carbide cutters are exceedingly sharp and did the job on superbraids easily. Attempting to muscle through a size 3/0 hook caused the cutter's cast-metal support to break off the pliers--not a good sign even though such a task is beyond the intended use.

HITS They float. Very sharp cutters.

MISSES Short jaw length. Pricey.

CONTACT 800-334-9105; xtools.us

BEST FOR CUTTING HOOKS

7 MANLEY SUPER PLIERS ($35)
THE LOWDOWN These pliers are the only ones I know of that excel at cutting heavy-wire hooks. If you get hooked in the hand or anywhere else, these will come to the rescue. I carry them everywhere. Since the blunt-headed jaws don't offer much finesse, I usually use other pliers, but the unique compound-leverage design of the hardened-steel cutters musters plenty of brute force.

HITS Inexpensive, powerful hook-cutting ability.

MISSES Clumsy for dealing with anything other than larger rigs. Short jaws.

CONTACT 732-905-3366; manleyindustries.com

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ABEL BASS PRO BROWNING MANLEY ORVIS RENEGADE XTOOLS
OVERALL LENGTH 5½" 7½" 7" 6½" 7½" 8" 7½"
JAW LENGTH 2" 2½" 2¼" 1¾" 3¼" 3.63" 2½"
WEIGHT 2.8 oz. 5.9 oz. 10.5 oz. 8.6 oz. 7 oz. 7.1 oz. 5.4 oz.
CUTTER TYPE Steel, in jaw Steel, in jaw Carbide, on frame Steel, outside of jaw Carbide, on frame Steel, in jaw Carbide, on frame
CUTS 6X TIPPET? Yes Yes Yes Marginal Yes Marginal Yes
50-LB. SUPERBRAID? Marginal Marginal Yes Marginal Yes No Yes
65-LB. BRAIDED WIRE? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
SIZE 3/0 TREBLE HOOK? No No No Yes, very well No, cutter broke No No, frame broke

THE TEST

I rated these for their ability to reach into a fish's mouth (jaw length) and to cut all common types of fishing line in a variety of sizes. I also tested their cutting capacity on solid-wire hooks, something for which only one pair (the Manley) is designed.