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Fishing Skills

Toothy Critters: Handling is the Key

by Tom Melton 04 Jan 2022

Over the years I have encountered a lot of fish that by no means can be “lipped” after you land them. Although, I have seen more than one angler try to “lip” a toothy critter. The outcome is usually a scream like a scared little kid at a haunted house on Halloween as the blood begins to flow, and fingers are counted. Fluke (summer flounder), bluefish, pike, pickerel, weakfish, triggerfish, sheepshead and blackfish to name a few are fish you do not want to put your fingers anywhere near their teeth. Okay, so what is the best way to deal with fish that have teeth, that by no means do I want my fingers anywhere near you ask? There are ways to grab a fish, and there are tools. One of the best fishing tools is a lip gripper, and one of the newest on the market is the new KastKing Fish Lip Gripper. Not only is this tool top notch, it is reasonably priced so there is no big bite out of the wallet either! The tool is made from 420 stainless and has a weight capacity of 33 pounds, making it perfect for most freshwater and inshore saltwater species. The safety lanyard ensures the gripper does not end up in the water as well. The one common link of all good quality lip grippers, which is incorporated into the new KastKing version, is a quick release mechanism that makes landing, un-hooking and releasing a snap – without the fingers getting too close for comfort.

I have fished the beaches, jetties and from boats off Long Island my entire life, and I have seen a lot of anglers fighting tooth and nail with bluefish after landing them in the sand or off the rocky jetties. A bluefish in my opinion, is probably one of the most dangerous fish to try to unhook or hold without some tool! After a bluefish is landed, it goes into an immediate frenzy of flopping, twisting and flipping that make a circus act look paltry. And, to make matters worse, if you carefully watch a bluefish's eyes, they are watching you, and believe me, if you give them the opportunity, they will snap at fingers that get too close.



If you do not have, or do not like to use a lip gripper of some form, the key with holding any fish is knowing where to grab; as not all fish are the same in body make-up and slime coat, scale size (which depending on size will make it easier or harder to get a good grip). A blackfish for instance is so slippery that you can’t even grab them without a rag most of the time. Striped bass or largemouth bass have no teeth and once lipped, usually lie placid. A fluke is flat, flops and flips a lot, and has wicked teeth that will surely cut you up pretty bad if not careful. The list goes on as to what a certain fish may do upon being landed.

There is no sure-fire way to hold any fish with or without teeth. Unlike the toothless swimmers where you can always stick a thumb in the maw, the ones with teeth are much different. I have found the best way to grip a normal bodied fish (not a flatfish) with teeth is behind the head and to slide your fingers on one side and thumb on the opposite to just behind the gill plate. A firm grip in this manner will allow you to subdue the fish and carefully unhook it. For a flatfish like fluke (summer flounder), the easiest way is to grab the fish with thumb and fingers just behind the hard portion of the head. There will be a soft area where you can apply a lot of pressure and control them.



There is no question you can unhook and release a fish, or put it in your cooler without a lip gripper and pliers. But the real question is; “Why would you when there are tools available that make it quicker and safer?”

The KastKing Fish Lip Gripper will clamp down on any fish you catch. If it is a fish you plan on releasing, you can hold the fish up using the gripper for a quick photo op, then un-hook with your pliers for a quick release. If it is a flopping bluefish, the lip gripper will help you control the fish while utilizing the pliers to safely unhook without the danger of losing or mangling a finger or two. And, trust me, some of the toothier fish out there can, and will mangle fingers!

For unhooking I strongly urge you to use the KastKing Cutthroat or Intimidator pliers. I like the Cutthroat, but also like the 9-inch Intimidator as it gives you some length if the hook is a tad deeper into the gullet. By utilizing the KastKing Fish Lip Gripper tool to control the fish, and then the plier to unhook, your fingers stay clear of the teeth.



The tools in your arsenal – KastKing Fish Lip Gripper, KastKing Cutthroat or Intimidator pliers – are not just for fish with teeth. They also make it easy to hold fish that are, to put it simply, a pain in the rump top hold! In freshwater, trout are slippery as heck. Panfish and saltwater porgies have small mouths and a lot of dorsal spines ready to spike. Some fish will easily be over 30 pounds, which is no easy task to lift into the boat to un-hook. 

The bottom line is times have changed and tools have made major advancements. It’s time you get up to speed and add a lip gripper and pliers to your arsenal. The days of the old rag and trying as carefully as possible to keep your fingers away from teeth so sharp they can slice and dice is over. Get the fishing tools, you won’t regret it.

Tom Melton is an expert in all aspects of inshore saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing. As an authority on angling he strives to excel while teaching others, and in his own outdoors adventures. Whether it is a freshwater bass fishing tournament, or recreational fishing with family, his skills and knowledge always shine. Tom has been an outdoor writer for more than three decades.

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