If there is one tool that seems to get overlooked more than any by fly fishermen it is pliers. It never fails that I end up loaning mine out once a fishing trip to a friend. At Stillwater we sell a multitude of great fly fishing tools and pliers. To help you chose we decided to rank our top three selling fishing pliers. This task was difficult because each plier has one feature that outperforms another for a specific task while the latter is better for another task than the first. This being the case we have decided to rank them by three characteristics. These are the characteristics that we came up with here at Stillwater Fly Shop:
- Adaptability – Can the pliers be used in multiple fly fishing environments i.e. saltwater and freshwater. Are they good for more than one task?
- Price – Probably should have been the main deciding factor. But anglers know in the end that they get what they pay for. But value is value and having to pay more doesn’t always mean it is better.
- Toughness – I can break or destroy most anything. When it comes to pliers I have destroyed several different ones trying to cut wire leaders or mash barbs on hooks. Fly fishing pliers have to be able to handle the normal stuff like crushing barbs and the out of the ordinary complete outboard engine overhaul in the middle of nowhere.
Each were scored on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the best. Here is how we rated our three top selling pliers.
- Adaptability – 4
- Price – 5
- Toughness – 4
Score – 13
The Cheeky 550 Pliers are light with a ton of mashing power for such a small tool. We love that they come with a great sheath and tether too. For the freshwater fly fisherman they are pretty much fives across the board. The small diameter jaws are great for mashing barbs on tiny flies and have pinpoint precision to crab onto a small fly in a fish’s mouth if needed.
They are by far my personal choice when it comes to trout and steelhead fishing. It is when they get to the salt that they falter just a bit because of the shorter length grips and small cutting area.
Overall leverage with these pliers is less than the other pliers we rated because of the shorter grips which lessens their effectiveness on stainless hooks and wire leaders. Jaw strength is very good for such a lightweight tool. The HSS cutters are adequate for almost every material within reason. As a tool for trout, steelhead or lesser saltwater species there is not a better value than the Cheeky 550 Pliers.
- Adaptability – 3
- Price – 3
- Toughness – 5
Score – 11
Abel Pliers are tough. Super-duper tough would actually understate why they have been a staple of saltwater fly anglers the world over forever. They have exceptional leverage with long, wide grips for such a light tool, 4.1 oz. The replaceable jaws probably will never wear out but if they do they will replace them for $20. You can either send them to Abel or replace them yourself, a great fringe benefit for sure. I
can’t say enough about the jaw and cutting strength(I have actually used the cutters to cut barbed wire, but that is a story for another time). Where they lack for me is on the stream or lake. The size of the jaw points are just a little too big for using on smaller flies. They work great for steelhead and salmon flies down to about #6’s. The cutters will work for smaller tippets but aren’t great for more limp, lighter tippets. I never thought I would mention aesthetics about pliers, but Abel Automatics is famous for beautiful things. These pliers are no different, coming in plain and fish pattern graphics. Overall my choice for the tarpon, giant trevally or bonefish fly fishing. The price and a little ding because of the difficulty for usage when fly fishing for smaller freshwater species knocked down my score a little.
- Adaptability – 4
- Price – 4
- Toughness – 4
Score – 12
Simms makes good stuff. This has been accepted pretty much by most fly fishermen. The Simms pliers have good leverage because of the length of the grips. For me these pliers are too big -7” long for wearing only belt. Now for an in boat tool they are great. I have even used them to tear a boat motor apart that I alluded to earlier.
Great gripping and crushing power on a light frame are the features that I love. The cutters are adequate for most things but falter a little for wire leaders but the cutter is replaceable like the Simms’s jaws and they handle light leader and tippet wonderfully. The jaw tips are not defined enough for me to handle small hooks similarly to the Abel pliers. There is a reason they are the choice of guides everywhere. Light and tough with the ability to handle a broad range of non-precise tasks you can’t go wrong with Simms Pliers.