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January 18, 2005

Pocket Schizophrenics

From clipping line to cracking a beer to cutting rope, multitools have the hardware to handle all the important tasks that come up during a day's fishing.

Quick, I need some pliers to unhook this fish!
And side cutters to trim the tag end on heavy mono leader.
And a knife to cut bait.
How 'bout a file to sharpen this hook?
Got a Phillips-head handy for the loose screw on my reel?
Let's celebrate that last catch with a cold one.

Where's the bottle opener?

Resist the urge to push your fishing buddies over the side when they keep pestering you for immediate solutions to all the little tasks that arise during a day on the water. Relax, and remember - you have all the necessary hardware in the palm of your hand: Gerber, Leatherman, Sheffield and other manufacturers produce multitools in an incredibly wide range of models. Some may resemble a toolbox on your hip, while others, designed for specific activities like hunting or fishing, contain just a few carefully selected features. Pliers, knife blades and line cutters will likely see frequent use in the hands of an angler. Other implements, such as screwdrivers, are just plain convenient to have nearby for emergency repair jobs.


"We got into this business about six years ago by adding one folding multitool to the Great Neck line. It became so popular that we expanded the product line and named it Sheffield," says Steve Maltese, director of marketing for Great Neck Saw Manufacturers in Mineola, New York.

Maltese sees the market as wide open, not highly segmented, because consumers in many different user groups end up buying the most generally useful models. "Multitools are just as likely to be found on a construction worker's belt as on a fisherman's, and for the same reason: You never know exactly which tool you'll need or when, and it's nice to have everything right at your fingertips. Up until several years ago, you wouldn't have found multitools in many tackle boxes. But today they've earned the status of required equipment for just about every type of outdoor activity," he says.

Fishing in shallow water stands out as one outdoor activity in which a multifunction tool proves its value. Stop the boat, then slip over the side to sneak up on some spooky redfish - each step puts a little more distance between you and the tackle box. "The farther you wade from the boat, the more likely you'll encounter an immediate need for some kind of tool," says Capt. Mark Schindel, marketing services manager for Gerber Legendary Blades. "Multitools help anglers stay self-sufficient."

Schindel's relationship with Gerber began as a consumer. "When working as a fishing guide in Florida, I discovered -the hard way - there's nothing worse than pulling out a tool to find it's corroded and useless. I learned to look for
multitools with quality components that withstand saltwater conditions," he says. "I became a big fan of Gerber products because they hold up in saltwater use."

Essential Functions

Anglers and crew members must recognize that a multitool sheathed on
a belt does not replace a fully stocked toolbox. Every boat should carry an assortment of dedicated tools for regular maintenance chores and repairs. But multitools offer the convenience of handling common tasks, from clipping line to releasing fish, without having to rummage through the tackle box to find a different tool for each job.

Gerber's vast array of multifunction tools includes the 600 Fisherman, which features plier jaws slightly thinner and longer than those on a typical needle-nose model. These elongated pliers fit more readily inside a fish's mouth to facilitate hook removal, whether you're protecting your hands from toothy critters or practicing catch-and-release. "The Fisherman also contains scissors to cut superbraid line and carbide cutters to snip wire or heavy monofilament," Schindel says. "Anglers will find the file useful for touching up hooks, and the screwdrivers come in handy. Have you ever been out on the water and found a screw backing out of your reel's sideplate? It's important to be able to tighten that screw on the spot."

Maltese says that Sheffield's most popular folding tools for outdoorsmen have a knife, screwdrivers, scissors, bottle and can openers, hook remover, fish scaler and a few other items. Beyond these basic-necessity functions, manufacturers offer a seemingly endless list of options for multitools. For example, Gerber's Multi-Plier 650 comes with the expected tools such as knife, scissors and screwdrivers, along with a RemGrit hacksaw blade and four interchangeable plier heads: needle-nose, cable cutter, blunt-nose and technician (elongated needle-nose).

Whether you prefer a tool with just the necessary functions to get through a day's fishing or would feel better equipped for any emergency with a do-it-all model, a bit of shopping around reveals multitools for all tastes. Try to envision all the tasks that could come up, and choose a model that will handle them. Take the time to check out several makes and models. Observe the craftsmanship, and keep in mind that different types of metal go into a single tool. "Sheffield knife blades are made of stainless steel, while we make plier heads with chrome-vanadium steel. A few engineering tricks, such as heat-treating, and a variety of materials go into manufacturing these products. Each component must be strong enough for a particular job, but not brittle or too flexible," Maltese says.

When comparison shopping, pick up a tool and open it to see if all the parts that are supposed to fold out do so easily and without hurting your fingertips. And make sure they fold back into the handle properly. The unit should be tight, but not difficult to open and close.

Examine the handles while considering where and how you'll most often employ a multitool. One common design features handles that fold around the pliers; another has pliers that slide inside the handles. Sliding plier heads offer convenient, one-handed opening: A simple flick of the wrist pops them into position. Fold-around handles keep pliers from poking holes in pockets. Both Gerber and Sheffield offer tools with padded ergonomic handles that ensure a secure grip in cold or wet conditions.

Lighten Up

As the multitool market evolves to keep pace with current trends, consumers find two types of "light" models available. First, major manufacturers have downsized items to creat minimultitools that could almost get lost in the pocket of your jeans. Why bother with smaller models? "When weight or space becomes an issue, such as on fly-in trips to remote lodges, Gerber's scaled-down Fisherman 400 makes the perfect choice for anglers who want a smaller, lighter tool that will still get the job done," says Schindel.

The development and miniaturization of light-emitting diode (LED) technology has brought about another way to lighten up multitools. For a shining example, look to the Gerber Nautilus. Constructed in pocketknife format, this folding tool does not include pliers - but it does contain the essential knife blade, scissors, screwdrivers and a four-function miniflashlight that brightens the work area for nocturnal anglers. Sheffield also offers LED models in its multitool lineup.

Lube 'Em Up

Salt water is unkind to all things metal, and as with most complex pieces of equipment used in that environment, a little preventive maintenance goes a long way toward getting the most out of your investment. Multitools are no exception.
Right out of the box, it's a good idea to liberally apply some sort of lubricant or antirust agent, such as WD-40 or Boeshield T-9, to all hinges and moving parts. Doing so from the outset will not only make the tool easier to use, but also extend its life.

If you don't preventatively lubricate from the start, don't fret. Penetrating lubricants can often break loose stubborn parts and bring new life to multitools long since forgotten in the bottom of your tackle back or center console. Again, Boeshield or WD-40 are a good choices.

Even if you are unfortunate enough to drop the tool overboard in salt water, no worries. A warm, soapy-water bath and cool freshwater rinse will take care of the salt, and with another dose of lubricant you'll be good to go. Be sure to hit all the moving parts. The same treatment is a good idea after a day or two in heavy saltspray conditions.

A multitool will provide years of reliable service if properly maintained. Take good care of this trustworthy companion because you never know when you'll have to use it to perform emergency engine repair or rustle up dinner.

"I wouldn't recommend filleting fish with a multitool knife blade," says Schindel. "But I've been in situations where that was the only knife available, and it got the job done."