Knives – An Essential Tool for the Sea Angler
Knives are essential in sea fishing, and in the vast majority of fishing trips an angler will use a knife at some point, either to cut and present a wide range of bait, or to fillet any fish which have been caught and are being retained to cook and eat. However, there is a tendency for anglers to neglect the importance of knives, with anglers often purchasing a knife and then keeping it in the tackle box for years, completely oblivious to how blunt their knife has become. Furthermore, many newly purchased knives are surprisingly blunt and need to be sharpened prior to use. As this article will discuss, using a blunt or substandard knife does not just result in poorly filleted fish and substandard bait, but can also be dangerous.
Related article: Legal Issues of Carrying Knives for Fishing
Types of Knife
The vast majority of sea anglers use a filleting knife. This is a knife with a long and thin blade, designed for slicing, making it ideal for preparing bait and filleting fish. Rapala, Mustad and WSB all making high quality filleting knives, but many anglers use knives designed for use by chefs and there is no need to buy a knife specifically designed for sea fishing. However, most of the knives made by tackle manufacturers come with additional features such as a protective plastic sheath which allows the knife to be stored away in a bag or a tackle box safely, while other knives will float – a useful feature should they fall into the sea. Whichever type of knife is chosen the quality of steel used in the blade and a handle which is comfortable to use and hold are the two key features which buyers should consider.
The main uses of a knife are bait preparation and fish filleting. While some baits such as ragworm and lugworm can be presented on the hook whole, other baits such as mackerel, bluey, herring, large peeler crab and squid will need to be cut to size before an angler can use them. Mackerel, for example, can be cut into very small strips to make bait for species such as dab, or presented as large flappers for conger eels or shark species – but whichever size is used a sharp, high quality knife will be necessary to prepare the bait. In terms of filleting fish that have been caught a knife is obviously essential, and many anglers fillet fish at the shore with a knife that the angler has taken with them, rather than take the fish home to fillet there with a kitchen knife. The reason for this is that filleting a fish at the shore means that the guts and head can be throw back into the sea, avoiding the need to dispose smelly fish guts at home and allowing the unwanted biomass of the fish to be consumed by other sea creatures.
It is impossible to cut bait on sand, shingle or any other non-solid surface, while cutting bait on stone or rock will almost instantly destroy any blade. It is also unacceptable to cut bait on chairs or seats (which may be on a pier or harbour) and behaviour such as this is a sure-fire way to get anglers banned from an area. The answer is to pack away a chopping board in the tackle box. Cheap, plastic chopping boards are available from supermarkets for just a few pounds and are ideal for providing a stable platform to cut bait on and provide all of the protection necessary to protect blades while cutting. Having a chopping board is as essential as having a high quality knife.
It is important to use the right knife for the right job. Most anglers will find that a thin bladed filleting knife will be ideal for the vast majority of their requirements. However, other, more specialised jobs need a different type of knife. For example getting mussels out of their shell is done using a blunt, broad bladed knife, and it is dangerous to try and force shells open with a filleting knife due to the risk of slipping and causing a self-inflicted injury.
Sharpening and Maintaining a Knife
As discussed above, knives become blunt over time and many anglers who have used the same knife for a long time may have simply not realised how blunt their knife has become. Furthermore, some newly bought knives are not particularly sharp and could certainly do with additional sharpening prior to use. Blunt knives produce poorly presented bait and badly filleted fish as, rather than having clean and smooth cuts the bluntness of the blade will create ragged cuts. In extreme cases anglers can use knives so blunt that they have to hack with the knife, potentially damaging or destroying the bait or fish they are trying to cut through. Blunt knives can also be dangerous as anglers have to put so much pressure on the blade to cut the risk or slipping and cutting themselves is greatly increased. A properly sharpened knife is a pleasure to use, whereas blunt knives are a chore to use at best, and dangerous at worst.
The best way to maintain a knife is by sharpening it after every use. By far the best way to sharpen a knife is with a whetstone (which is also sometimes referred to as a waterstone or sharpening stone). Whetstones come in a huge range of shapes and sizes as they can be used for sharpening a number of different types of blades, not only of knives but also of razors, scissors, secateurs and planes. Indeed, the maintenance, honing and sharpening of blades is an art in itself, but keeping a filleting knife sharp is straightforward and requires only a simple, basic whetstone.
A whetstone is simply an artificial stone which provides a solid surface to sharpen a knife on. The stone is soaked in water prior to use to reduce friction and then the blade of a knife is drawn across this surface of the stone, grinding away the miniscule dents and imperfections of the blade and restoring sharpness. There are different grit-ratings of whetstones, with rough grit used to sharpen a very blunt knife, and finer grit used to finish a near-completed blade. This YouTube video provides a concise and useful demonstration on how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone.
Whetstones can be bought on line for reasonable prices, and many whetstones feature different grit ratings on each size, meaning that a single whetstone will cover the knife sharpening needs for most anglers. Grunwerg whetstones are highly regarded and are available to view on Amazon by clicking here. Be aware that some cheap knife sharpening devices can actually do more harm than good to the blades of quality knives, and gimmicky devices (such as sharpeners built into the sheath of a knife) are best avoided.
It is perfectly legal to carry a knife around if you are fishing or travelling to or from a fishing session. However, an article going into more detail on the legalities of carrying knives when fishing is available by clicking here.