image fishrapper logo

image of walleye brought to the net alongside boat Between seasons, I’ve enjoyed a little time off from the computer, but yesterday, I was playing catch up on the internet and swerved into a topic that’s timely, and worth your time. The topic is catch and release fishing, and the specific subject, how to minimize damage when removing fishhooks, may well be one of the least talked about subjects on these pages.

My warning bell sounded when I was perusing the MN DNR website and swerved into their page called “Catch and Release”. On it, they advise practicing catch and release, but off little in the way of advice about how to do it effectively and that triggered one of my hot buttons.

Conservation minded anglers everywhere agree, releasing some portion of the fish they catch is a good idea. But have you ever watched some of them try to do it? It can be painful, tugging, ripping, yanking, dropping the fish, and so on. I have often been concerned that many fish die, despite an angler’s best efforts to release them.

image of 6 inch needle driverThe solution, in many cases, is educating anglers about how to handle and release fish safely. Sometimes though, it’s the tools we use that are to blame, anglers who know the right way to release fish, but fail because the tools they use to remove fishhooks are not well designed for the job. It happened to me more than once, when a pliers or clamp I use to get a hold of a hook will not hold the hook securely.

Many of the tools we see offered for sale were never designed to do a good job in the first place. The hemostats in the cup on the bait store counter look good, and so do most of the needle nose pliers or other hook removal tools most stores sell for releasing fish. Sure, some are better than others, and much of the time, many of them work “okay”. The problem is the times when we need them most is when they fail.

Delicate operations require effective tools and anglers who intend to safely release fish NEED a good quality tool called a needle holder, sometimes also called needle drivers. They needle drivers are designed to give doctors, dentists, and veterinarians the secure grip they need for applying stitches after a surgery, accident, or the like. As it happens, these tools also offer anglers a better grip on fishhooks, affording us better control over removal and reducing the odds of damaging the fish we catch.

I’ve seen them in use by some of the doctors and dentists I’ve fished with, and they’ve always impressed me. Previously, my impression was that getting a good needle driver would be an expensive proposition and to grab a top shelf item may well be. But I was amazed when my research turned up numerous models and sizes, offered by a variety of vendors, at prices below $20. In fact, the total bill for all 3 of these needle drivers I bought this week added up to a grand total of $51.00, far less than the cost of a tank of gas in my truck.

If it makes your decision easier, here is a list, and links to images of the 3 models that I purchased this week. You may find others that interest you and if you do, please share the info. Notice that I didn't provide links to the retailers where I purchased mine. Just to be clear, I do not have a “sponsor” or advertiser that sells needle holders. Nor do I have any relationship with a retailer, bait store or supply house that sells them. So, I don’t care which one you buy, or where you but it; I only care that you’ll humor me and give one a try. If you search the internet, you will find these available at numerous retailers, choose the one(s) you like best.

I bought the first two because I wanted to have both 6 inch, and an 8-inch sizes. The third one, the 5 inch size, piqued my interest because it also offers built-in scissors. That could come in handy at times, so I wanted it in my arsenal. Obviously, I haven’t had time to use any of them in the field, so giving an accurate review isn’t possible yet. But, through prior experience, I’m optimistic that at least 1 of the 3 will turn out to be a new favorite, I’ll keep you posted.