Essential Fly Fishing Tools for the Discerning Angler

Last updated on December 11th, 2023.

Leonard Schoenberger

Embarking on a fly-fishing journey is not just about the thrill of the catch.

It’s a holistic experience that involves a symphony of tools designed to enhance your connection with the water and its inhabitants. From precision to practicality, each tool in the angler’s arsenal plays a crucial role. Let’s explore the key instruments that no fly fisher should venture without.

fly fishing pliers on wading jacket
Pliers and nippers are essential tools when heading out to fly fish. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger

Fishing Pliers: The Versatile Workhorse

Fishing pliers are the unsung heroes of the fly-fishing toolkit. Whether you’re delicately removing a barbless hook or crimping split shot onto your tippet, a good pair of fishing pliers is indispensable. The ability to cut, grip, and extract makes them a versatile companion for streamside problem-solving.

There are different kinds of fishing pliers for different fishing scenarios. You can go for a pair of forceps pliers (pictured above) that serve to remove a hook. Some of them also have integrated cutters. Or you can go for a more versatile option that has features such as a split ring opener.

Fishing pliers on wooden dock
Different kinds of fishing pliers come in handy in different fishing scenarios. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger

Fly Fishing Nippers: Precision at Hand

Abel Fly Fishing Nippers
Fly fishing nippers are one of the most useful fly fishing tools to cut monofilament or fluorocarbon. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger

Fly fishing nippers may seem diminutive, but their role is monumental. These compact tools offer precision in trimming leaders and tippets, ensuring a seamless connection between your fly and the line. Their small size belies their importance, making them an essential pocket companion for every angler.

Here again, the same holds true, that I said about pliers. Nippers come in all sorts of sizes and capacities to cut a line. You can go for a small one that is meant to trim your tippet leftovers or a bigger one such as the Abel (pictured above and below) to cut saltwater tippets.

Fly fishing nippers
Abel fly fishing nippers. Photo: Philipp Schrader

Knives: A Blade for Every Occasion

Shinola x Bushcraft Knife Folded
A knife is an essential tool for any (fly) fisher. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger

A reliable knife is more than a cutting tool; it’s a versatile companion that aids in various scenarios. Whether it’s freeing a snagged fly, preparing streamside snacks, or addressing unexpected situations, a quality knife is a cornerstone of preparedness.

Some pocket knives such as the Opinel Slim Line can even fillet a fish thanks to their slim blade. If you want to process your catch on a regular basis you should consider getting a dedicated fillet knife to get the job done properly.

Gerber Folding Fillet Knife Review
A (folding) fillet knife (pictured above: Gerber Controller) is one of the essential fly fishing tools if you plan on processing your catch, no matter whether on location or later on in your kitchen. Photo: Christian Anwander

Tethering Your Tools

Fly fishing tools including a retractor
A retractor comes in handy to attach a pair of pliers for example without the risk of dropping them in the water in case they slip out of your hands. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger © The Wading List

In the dynamic environment of fly fishing, keeping your tools within arm’s reach is paramount. Retractors, with their spring-loaded cables, allow you to secure your pliers, nippers, or other tools to your vest or pack. This ensures easy access without the risk of losing essential gear in the current.

Lanyards: Keeping It Together

Fly Fishing Lanyard over waders
A lanyard is like a necklace to which you can attach your essential fly fishing tools. Photo: Leonard Schoenberger © The Wading List

Lanyards are the organizational maestros that prevent chaos in your fishing routine. By providing a convenient hanging system for your tools, they keep everything within reach while maintaining order. Lanyards are the unsung organizers that elevate the functionality of your toolkit.

FAQs: Fly Fishing Tools

Are fishing pliers necessary for fly fishing?

Absolutely. Fishing pliers serve multiple functions, from debarbing hooks to crimping split shot. They are invaluable for streamside problem-solving.

What makes a good pair of fly fishing nippers?

Precision and durability are key. Look for nippers that provide a clean, sharp cut and can withstand the rigors of frequent use.

Why do I need a knife for fly fishing?

A knife is a versatile tool for freeing snagged flies, preparing food, and addressing unexpected situations. It adds an element of preparedness to your angling adventures.

How do retractors work in fly fishing?

Retractors use spring-loaded cables to tether tools securely to your vest or pack. They allow for easy access while preventing the risk of losing essential gear.

Are lanyards necessary for fly fishing?

Lanyards add organization and convenience by providing a hanging system for your tools. They are especially helpful in preventing the loss of gear and maintaining order in dynamic fishing environments.

Our expertise: Leonard Schoenberger and his team spend countless days each year on the water, testing and reviewing the best new gear for you. Their goal is to help you learn about fly fishing and explore pros and cons of certain gear in order to make a better purchase decision and ultimately become a better fly fisherman or woman.