Currently it’s thirteen degrees F outside here in Indiana, with six inches of snow that’s been on the ground for a week and no sign of any break in the weather unless this is it. Last night about this time it was below zero. So I’m sitting here thinking about fishing again and remembering all the times I got a little too hasty. It’s easy to forget, when you’ve spent all winter shoveling snow, carrying firewood, and all the normal cold weather chores, that the coldest time of year is that first morning on the bank of your favorite fishing spot on a day that’s supposed to be pleasant. The breeze coming off the cold river, the morning fog, the icy dew that soaks your pant legs as you walk to the waterline all conspire to reduce your hands to nubs of cold meat with useless stiff fingers that won’t do anything you tell them to do. If you did catch a fish you’d have to reel it in with your elbow, at least until the sun warms things up a bit and you stop shaking.
Spring is the easiest time of year to lose a good fishing knife, because you still have last year’s confidence in your hands and don’t expect everything to fall out of your grasp into twelve feet of water so clear you think you just might be able to reach the bottom without getting too wet. That’s probably why a lot of good fishing and trout knives don’t cost too much. Most of us have been there already and don’t feel like throwing away a hundred and fifty bucks on a knife we won’t have long enough to really get to know. The guy with five hundred dollars worth of fishing reels, poles, lures and other assorted tackle probably owns a fifteen dollar fish knife, and there’s a reasonable explanation behind that.
So in that same vein of function and thrift I’ve put together some choices of what I consider to be good knives, with only a few of them too expensive to lose. Some of them even float.
The Queen Cutlery #85 Trout Knife with a 3 inch narrow light hunter blade and traditional stag antler handle is my personal favorite of the choices here. Queen Cutlery, associated somehow with the Ontario Knife Company and its history of quality knife production and financial trouble, isn’t well known but does fine work. Stain resistant D2 tool steel gives this six inch belt knife unusual strength and the ability to hold a fine edge. Leave it in the sheath until you get to dry land and you’ll be fine.
Puma’s Steelhead fishing fillet knife usually costs around sixty dollars but very good deals can be found. Eleven inches overall and with a blade of six inches, the stainless steel is shaped for cleaning and fileting fish, not for rough camp work. Everything about it cleans up well, even the plastic sheath.
Running really close to Puma, the Frosts’ All Purpose Fillet Knife from Sweden has a blade ground so narrow you’d run out of steel if you used it much. Old worn knives often are the blades that work the best and you’ll get to that refined shape faster with this one.
From Case & Sons, the classic texas toothpick pocket folding knife gets outfitted with an extra blade for scaling fish and removing hooks. The Case Yellow Handle Fishing Knife features a stainless steel clip point blade just under four inches long and slender enough to fillet a medium sized fish. Easy on the pocket in lots of ways.
One of the real advantages of the Victorinox Swiss Army Fisherman Pocket Knife is that you can string a lanyard through the key ring and tie the thing to your belt. You won’t lose it even if it drops in the water. You get a scaling blade, a ruler for determining legal limit sizes, a disgorging blade, knife, flat and philips screwdriver — for most emergencies you will have something here that works, plus a toothpick. All that in a compact build that doesn’t have all the blades you don’t really need for fishing.
Those are just my favorites — the other knives in the carousel are also good choices for belt or tacklebox, and there’s even a set from Rapala that includes a good pair of fisherman’s longnose pliers. Most times the pliers work a lot better than a hook removing blade.