Last summer we had the idea to gather a bunch of pliers so that we could fish with each one of them to ascertain their durability, effectiveness, and overall design. Similar to the reel industry, the plier industry is growing quite rapidly. There are so many companies making them now that we weren’t able to fish with nearly all of them but we did manage to get demos from 6 companies who chose to participate and it was a fine sampling of the industry’s offerings: Van Staal, 3-TAND, Dr. Slick, KastKing, Alutecnos and Abel. Some other reel companies and plier manufacturers opted not to participate.
The Players & The Company Line
Van Staal FP6000: “No Rust. No Wear. Corrosion-free in the worst saltwater conditions. Built to perform, and built to last. Lightweight and extremely strong. The spring-loaded ergonomic line cutter, with replaceable tungsten cutters and anvils are features you won’t find on ordinary fishing pliers. Van Staal pliers are available by themselves or as a kit with lanyard and leather sheath.” $314.00 (w/ sheath and lanyard)
3-TAND Surgex S-6 Pliers: “Created with comfort, durability, precision and affordability in mind. Fully machined for extra strength, comes with two types of tips; a multi-tool tip with split ring opener and crimping tool, and a standard needle-nose tips, extra tungsten carbide cutters, extra screws, sheath and lanyard” $79.95 (w/ sheath, lanyard, and extra tips and cutters)
Dr. Slick Typhoon Pliers: “Designed with HR 70+ anvil tungsten carbide side cutters, these T.C. cutters make short work of any monofilament and excel at cutting the new-age braid and synthetic lines. Can cut wire up to 60lbs. Jaws are made from heat treated SUS420 J2 coated stainless steel with a HR of 52. Frame is made from 6061-T6 anodized aluminum to withstand salt water, and is equipped with non-slip rubber grips and a self-opening spring. The most versatile plier in our arsenal.” $65.00 (w/ sheath, lanyard and extra jaws and cutters)
KastKing Madbite Mad Brite Pliers: These pliers sport tungsten carbide braid cutters, a super bright LED bulb, crimper, hook remover, and a split ring tool. $32.98
Alutecnos SPZM1000A Mako Pliers: Alutecnos Mako Pliers stand out for their lightness, simplicity, optimum performance and refined design. Alutecnos fishing pliers feature a distinctive ergonomic handle. Alutecnos Mako Pliers will cut monofilament, fluorocarbon, single and multi-strand wire as well as all high-tech braided line. $169.00
Abel #4 Pliers: “At 6.5 inches and just 4.1 ounces are for fresh and saltwater fly-fishing. They’ll remove a hook, cut 250-pound braided wire or any size monofilament line made. These pliers are a necessity when rigging saltwater leaders and are designed for this task. With built-in bottle opener!” $269.00
I have fished extensively with each of these pliers and I was pleased with the offerings available to the modern day fisherman. They are all different beasts. Much like in the wide world of fly fishing reels, the consumer has a vast array of options ranging from quite inexpensive to quite expensive. Similarly, there is quality product available throughout the range of pricing. In the long run, carefully machined high end pliers tend to be somewhat more bomb proof. Common plier failures include cutter failure/dulling, bending of jaws/misalignment, and corrosion. Another common cause for failure with pliers is caused by attempted removal of the fuel cap on motorized fishing vessels. I have bent too many budget and lightweight pliers by inserting the tips of the jaws into the 2 indents on the fuel cap. The torque created by this action can bend the jaws throwing them out of alignment. Old habits die hard and I continue to use pliers for this purpose, often separating the boys from the men when it comes to plier durability.
Van Staal FP6000: If I had to pick one pair to use for the rest of my days, I’d go with these. The only knocks on on them are their weight and the lofty price tag. Another cool thing about Van Staal is that the company has great customer service and truly believes in their product. Ask any surf fisherman and they will sing their praises. Seriously, you can talk to customer service, a real person who will help you solve any problems that might arise. I have heard more than one customer reveal that a VS customer service employee hand delivered new cutters and personally handled the issue at hand. That is just cool. Van Staal products are expensive but they last because of the quality build and solid design.
3-TAND Surgex S-6 Pliers: I love these pliers for a whole other set of reasons. They are so lightweight you barely know they are on your belt. The long nose gets pretty deep for hooks deeper in the fish’ mouth. The optional split ring tool is great for swapping out hooks on plugs and such. The cutters work well on the toughest braid. All of that said, if you are constantly working with heavy gauge hooks or are fishing offshore, you will want to choose a beefier design. If you are looking for a great technical tool that will serve you just as well in the Rocky Mountains as it will at Montauk Point chasing Albies, here it is.
Dr. Slick Typhoon Pliers: These pliers from industry veteran, Dr. Slick, possess the same quality that has run through their product line for decades. Their products are designed by their owner, Steve Fournier, and then produced over seas. Any tyer worth his salt has surely used their scissors and tying tools and come to enjoy their solid workmanship and fair price points. The Typhoons are similarly of solid design and craftsmanship. They are comfortable in the hand. The inset rubber grip and offset cutters both work very well. The snub nose on these pliers does not make them a great fit on the trout stream but increases durability for the rigors of saltwater fishing. At a moderate 4.5 ounces, these pliers are a great option at the $65.00 price point. The company has been here forever and is likely to stick around for the long haul. I find that comforting.
Madbite MadBrite Pliers: If you are looking for a plier for fishing at night, you have found it. These pliers put the light where you need it when you need it. They have the lowest price point of our round-up yet offer many of quality features one would expect on more expensive pliers. They are made overseas and are not intended be a family heirloom but I suspect they will stand the rigors of many seasons to come. So far they have performed very well. The cutters are sharp and the light is bright. It sounds redundant but it is worth noting. For fishing at night, consider the MadBrite Pliers.
Alutecnos SPZM1000A Mako Pliers: These pliers came out over 12 years ago and Alutecnos has not changed a thing about them. They are very simple with a traditional cutter design on the interior of the replaceable jaws. The design is quite beautiful in it’s simplicity. These are machined in Italy beside their offshore reels and other quality tackle. We found that the cutter worked well on braided material. The nose is moderately blunted for sturdiness and durability. With few bells and whistles, there isn’t much that can go wrong with these pliers. At $169, they fall towards the higher price point for this category of product.
Abel #4 Pliers: When I was a fishing guide in the Florida Keys in the 1990’s, these pliers were the creme de la creme and considered quite an indulgence. Thanks to Abel, we now have a full market for high quality pliers machined to the same exacting standards as our beloved fly reels. Like the Alutecnos Mako, Abel has for the most part stuck with their original design. They have added a handy bottle opener for your pleasure and have altered some of their porting on the handle. Also, Abel offers a wild array of anodized colors, designs, fish art and the like. Nobody has quite figured out the anodizing like Abel. They certainly excel in this department. Beautifully crafted leather sheaths, durable lanyards and replaceable cutters are available as well. Abel junkies will want to round out their arsenal with their pliers.
When it comes to the gear, we are in the golden age of fly fishing. It wasn’t so long ago that the Fin Nor Wedding Cake was the only fly reel option. Now we have literally hundreds of reel companies, fly rod companies and dozens of plier options. Overseas manufacturing quality has improved massively. The sport has grown and with it, the demand for quality products has increased. This is good for all of us. I really enjoy the fishing but I also enjoy the knots, the places and the gear! There are several quality plier manufacturers that opted to not participate in this roundup and maybe worthy of your research. That said, these six options that we have reviewed offer an array of price points and features. Take advantage of the plentiful options available to the modern fly fisherman and choose the gear that works best for your needs and your budget.