Need a Good Knife? Best Fishing Knives Reviewed

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I’ve never gone fishing and not needed a knife.

From line to rope, cutting bait to cleaning fish, a knife is essential gear for an angler, and indeed, any outdoorsmen. And whether you fish, hunt, camp, or hike, a good blade is a trusted companion and a thoroughly useful tool.

In this article, I’ll review a variety of excellent angling knives, but I’ll be skipping fillet knives for the moment. While awesome for that task, they’re not particularly well-suited to general angling tasks, given their length and thin, flexible blades.

Folding Knives

Fixed Blades

What I consider when selecting a fishing knife

Steel

The steel is the heart and soul of any knife, and a little bit of knowledge goes a long way when selecting a good fishing/outdoor knife.

steel

Cutlery steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, usually with a few additions like boron, chromium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, titanium, tungsten, or vanadium. The more carbon present in the blade, the harder it can be made. But the addition of other elements to the steel can boost wear resistance, improve ductility, or increase corrosion resistance.

Knife steel really begins its life in a kiln, where it’s heated to re-arrange its chemical and crystalline structure. This hardens the steel quite a bit, but it also makes it brittle. To bring the steel back to strength, it’s subsequently softened by tempering. A perfect balance between hard enough to hold an edge well and soft enough to bend rather than break, crack, or chip is what manufacturers seek, and this is probably the most important step in the making of a good knife.

For instance, Buck uses a lot of 420HC steel, a very modest stainless. But through exceptional heat treating, they bring out the best in it, allowing it to perform well above its composition.

Stainless or carbon?

So-called carbon steel–essentially any high-carbon steel that is not stainless–varies quite a bit. But typically, it’s mostly carbon and iron, with trace amounts of sulfur, phosphorus, and manganese.

carbon steel knife

Stainless steels typically replace some of that carbon and iron with corrosion-resistant additions like chromium and vanadium.

There are other kinds of steel, too: things like tool steels (D2) that are nearly stainless in composition, but very, very wear-resistant.

In the real world, these differences have practical consequences.

Generally speaking:

Carbon steels (1055, 1075, 1095, etc.) will corrode quickly when exposed to acids like fruit juices, or simply liquids like water and blood. As a result, care must be taken to keep them clean, as rust at the edge can cause pitting and compromise cutting.

But carbon steels–when treated and tempered properly–tend to be quite tough and are far more likely to bend than break, crack, or chip. This makes them excellent choices for larger blades and for applications that will transfer a lot of force to the blade: think axes, machetes, and anything that chops.

They also tend to leave the manufacturer’s hands at lower hardnesses than typical stainless steels and are not terrifically wear-resistant. That makes them very easy to sharpen but compromises edge retention.

Stainless steels (420, 440, ATS-34, AUS-8, VG-10, S30V, etc.) are able to resist corrosion quite well, though this depends on their precise composition and exterior finish. Very popular as cutlery steels because of their ease of maintenance, they tend to be finished harder than typical carbon steels to promote edge retention.

The downside? Some are notoriously difficult to sharpen (S30V), and they’re often a bit more prone to chipping, though this depends a lot on edge geometry, which I’ll discuss below.

stainless steel knife chipping

This badly chipped edge was probably too thin and too brittle.

What does this mean for you?

Given that you’re spending a lot of time on or near the water, I’d generally recommend stainless steel of some kind. It’s simply easier to use and care for, holds an edge longer (generally), and is better suited to a life of (relative) abuse.

Edge holding

A dull knife is useless–and even worse, dangerous.

That’s because a dull edge requires more force, and more force often leads to mistakes and accidents. Dull edges can skip off whatever you’re cutting, the way a dull knife slides off the side of a tomato or onion.

By contrast, a sharp edge is easy and safe to use because it bites.

A good fishing knife will hold its edge well, allowing you to cut line, rope, bait, and pretty much anything else without dulling quickly. This performance has more to do with proper heat treating than composition, but composition matters, too.

In general, edge holding is inversely related to ease of sharpening: the longer an edge will hold, the harder it will be to restore. That’s not always true, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Sharpenability

Some steels are simple to sharpen; others will drive you crazy!

sharp steel knife

Composition matters, as tool steels like D2 are extremely wear-resistant, meaning that they don’t want to yield to your stone or ceramic.

Easy to sharpen stainless includes the 420-series, the AUS-series, and VG-10. At the other end of the spectrum is S30V, and pretty much all the other “wonder” steels.

I recommend a blade that takes an edge relatively quickly–let’s say in under 5 minutes–but will keep that edge through hard use.

To get a knife razor-sharp, I recommend the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpener. I’ve owned and used a lot of sharpening systems over the years, and this is the best and most fool-proof method I know.

Spyderco TriAngle Sharpener

Amazon 

Point

There are a number of different point configurations, but the two most common are the clip and the drop.

clip and drop knife point configuration

Can you tell which is the drop point and which is the clip?

A drop point has the edge rise to meet the spine, resulting in a stronger, more robust tip. It also provides more “belly” for slicing cuts, for instance, for cleaning game.

A clip point, by contrast, rises to meet a swedge that descends significantly from the spine. This creates a pointy, sharp tip that’s great for penetration, such as the initial plunge into the cloaca for gutting a fish.

Both are excellent options and largely a matter of preference.

Grind: geometry matters

The grind on a blade really affects its performance and can make it good at some tasks and poor at others.

blade grinds

  • Hollow grinds – create a very sharp, slender edge that’s ideal for cutting rope and flesh. This grind doesn’t leave much material behind the edge, allowing it to slice well, but also making it a very poor choice for working tough materials like wood.
  • Sabre grinds – including the “Scandi” are very robust, making them ideal for general utility and woodworking. This very strong edge won’t slice quite as well as other options, but that said, it has been used by countless generations of anglers in places like Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
  • Full flat grinds – are common on kitchen knives, providing a good balance between toughness and slicing ability. They’re a great choice for outdoorsmen, too.
  • Convex grinds – Axes are usually convexly ground, as were many knives a century or two ago. This blade geometry is making a comeback as it affords incredible strength and edge retention.

Serrations: yes or no?

Serrations can help you cut fibrous materials like rope, and they’ll keep cutting that kind of thing even when dull. But they sacrifice a fine edge capable of making precise cuts, and they can be very hard to sharpen.

serrated knife

I generally recommend a plain-edge for anglers and outdoorsmen.

Why?

A sharp plain-edge cuts rope like butter, while being easy to sharpen and allowing fine cuts.

Scale material

The two slabs of material that make a knife’s handle are called “scales.” Whether they’re bone, horn, antler, or plastic, their job is to provide a firm grip.

Most outdoor knives have scales made from one of three materials:

  • Micarta – is a composite composed of some sort of fibrous material (paper, fabric, etc.) in a plastic resin matrix. Available in a wide range of colors and textures, it’s beautiful and strong, and it also can provide a positive grip when wet or covered in fish slime and blood. Micarta can be heavy and will absorb trace amounts of liquid.knife made with micarta
  • G-10 – is a fiberglass laminate. Strong, stiff, and grippy, it makes excellent scale material, but it can be priceyG-10 can be heavy, and it will absorb trace amounts of liquid.  knife made with G10
  • Fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) – is essentially glass-reinforced plastic. Inexpensive to produce, lightweight, and very strong, it makes excellent scale material. It usually is provided some sort of molded texture to promote grip. FRN is very light and completely non-porous. knife made with fiberglass reinforced nylon
  • Rubberized plastic – is exactly what its name suggests. Done well, as it is on the Mora 2000, it’s soft, highly textured, lightweight, and very grippy when wet or slimy.knife made with ruberrized plastic

Fixed or folding?

Both styles of knife have their advantages.

Fixed knives are generally stronger, being one continuous piece of steel. Carried in a sheath, they can be accessed and stored with one hand, something that’s always useful for anglers.

But they must be carried in a sheath, usually on your belt, and they can be dangerous in a fall, where the tip might puncture the sheath.

Folding knives are generally weaker than fixed designs, given that they have an articulated joint. That said, modern designs are very, very strong.

When pushed past their capabilities, or when badly worn or very dirty, their locking mechanism (if they have one) can fail.

They’re easy to carry, and most are designed to be slipped into your pocket.

If you decide on a folding knife, you need to consider whether and how it locks, as well as how it opens.

Non-locking folding knives, also called “slip joints,” have been used by outdoorsmen for centuries. And in the hands of a careful, experienced user, they do everything one needs.

non locking folding knife

But when you’re hands are wet or slippery, they can be tricky to open (unless they have a thumb stud), and since they rely on the pressure of the backspring to stay open, I generally shy away from them for angling.

In short, for most anglers and outdoorsmen, I generally recommend a locking knife if you choose a folding design, as it adds a degree of safety if an error is made.

Nevertheless, always use a folding knife as if it had no lock.

Opening and retrieving: thumb studs and pocket clips

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had my hands busy and needed a sharp blade.

As a result, I generally prefer knives that can be safely opened with one hand, either by a stud, button, hole, or another mechanism. For that reason, I also recommend folding knives that are easy to retrieve with one hand, and that means a pocket clip of some kind.

True pocket knives work fine, too, but they can be a little harder to get to, and nearly impossible when you’re sitting down.

A good pocket clip will keep your knife handy and secure it in your pocket.

Locking

Many locking mechanisms have been designed by knife makers, but the most popular designs are the lockback and the liner or frame lock.

  • Lockbacks – are just that: the lock is depressed along the back of the knife. Well made, they’re very strong, but the placement of the release affects how easy it is to close one-handed. Basically, the farther to the rear, the harder to close with one hand, but the less likely you are to depress it in use.lockbacks
  • Liner and frame locks – work by the same principle. A piece of metal stops the blade from closing until it’s moved out of the way with your thumb. They differ only in how much metal does this work, with frame locks actually using the frame in this function.liner and frame locks

Best Fishing Knife Reviews

Buck Slim Pro 112

Buck Knives 112 Slim Pro Folding Pocket Knife with Thumb Studs and Removable/Reversible Deep Carry Pocket Clip, Micarta Handle, 3' S30V Blade
Amazon 

Overall length: 7.25”
Closed length: 4.25”
Blade length: 3”
Blade thickness: .12”
Handle material: micarta/G-10
Blade material: S30V
Blade grind: hollow, with Buck’s Edge 2X geometry
Locking mechanism: lockback
Weight: 2.6 ounces

I’ve written a long review of this knife here.

The Slim Pro Series is essentially an upgrade from the Select, offering everything good and bad about the other knife, but with higher-end materials.

Rather than 420HC, Buck offers this knife in S30V. A so-called “super steel,” I normally shy away from it, having experienced the excruciating task of getting it sharp. But Buck’s heat-treatment can’t be ignored, and in their hands, this steel is simply wonderful: it’s easy to sharpen, very, very tough, and holds an edge extremely well.

Indeed, I can touch the edge up in a few seconds and have it shaving sharp again!

The handle is similar in overall design to the Select but available in either micarta or G-10. I have no first-hand experience with the G-10 scales, but the micarta is well-textured and grippy when wet or slimy.

Pros:

  • Awesome steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock
  • Easy to open one-handed

Cons:

  • The scales take a bit of work to get clean.
  • This knife takes practice to close one-handed.

Buck Slim Select 112

Buck Knives 112 Slim Select Folding Lockback Pocket Knife with Thumb Studs and Removable/Reversible Deep Carry Pocket Clip, Nylon Handles, 3' 420HC Blade
Amazon 

Overall length: 7.25”
Closed length: 4.25”
Blade length: 3”
Blade thickness: .12”
Handle material: FRN
Blade material: 420HC
Blade grind: hollow, with Buck’s Edge 2X geometry
Locking mechanism: lockback
Weight: 2.5 ounces

Buck’s blades are legendary, and for much of the 20th century, they set the standard for locking knives. And though designs evolved to leave Buck trailing, the popularity of their flagship 110 and 112 never waned.

But Buck decided it was time to modernize these time-tested designs, and the first step in that direction was the Slim Select.

The Slim Select 112 features a clip point, hollow ground blade made from 420HC. Normally a low-end cutlery steel, in the hands of Buck’s truly phenomenal heat-treating, it becomes something any knife user will appreciate. Easy to sharpen and tough-as-nails, it takes a wicked edge and holds it well.

In my experience, it outperforms steels like 440A, AUS-8, and VG-10.

The blade shape and length are excellent for cleaning fish, opening tough plastic packaging, and cutting rope. I’ve used this knife to do everything from butcher game to cut tent pegs, and I’ve been impressed.

The blade is deployed with an ambidextrous thumb-stud. It opens easily and snaps into place with a satisfying pop. The locking mechanism is solid, and Buck has employed generations of engineers to make sure it works!

With the lock detent toward the rear of the handle, it’s very unlikely that you’ll accidentally depress it during use. But the trade-off for this safety is that this knife is hard to close one-handed.

The scales are composed of a coarsely checkered FRN, making them light, strong, and grippy. It is closed at the spine, as you’d expect, which can make getting every bit of fish goo tough unless you use a Q-tip or folded paper towel.

The pocket clip is excellent and secure; it comes from the factory set for right-handed use, but can be switched easily enough for south-paws.

Pros:

  • Great price!
  • Excellent steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock
  • Easy to open one-handed

Cons:

  • The scales take a bit of work to get clean.
  • The pocket clip is for righties only.
  • This knife takes practice to close one-handed.

Case Russlock

Case Amber Bone Russlock Pocket Knife
Amazon 

Overall length: 6.95”
Closed length: 4.25”
Blade length: 2.7”
Blade thickness: N/A
Handle material: nearly anything
Blade material: Case Tru-Sharp Stainless/CV
Blade grind: hollow
Locking mechanism: liner-ish
Weight: 2.7 ounces

If the look of many of the other knives on this list leaves you flat, Case’s Russlock might be a good choice for you.

Case has been making knives longer than we’ve been alive, and the Russlock is a proven, one-handed design. Relying on a unique “tail,” it snaps into place with ease, relying on back spring tension as well as a liner to prevent the blade from closing. Not a true liner lock, in that the liner doesn’t keep the blade open but rather prevents it closing, I’ve put this design to the test and can assure you that it works.

The blade is a deep, long clip, providing an excellent point for detail work like gutting fish. It’s made from Case’s no-name stainless, probably 420HC. In actual use, it’s very easy to sharpen and holds a respectable edge. It’s darn tough, too.

If you prefer, this knife is also available in Case’s excellent carbon steel, but be warned: it will pit and rust if you don’t take care of it.

The scales on this knife are available in a dizzying array of options. The ones pictured are “amber bone.” They can be a bit hard to get surgically clean, like any closed-back design.

Obviously, given the tail, this knife opens ambidextrously and is easy to close one-handed.

Designed as a true pocket knife, there’s no clip. You just drop this knife in your pocket like your grand-dad would.

Pros:

  • Good steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock
  • Easy to open and close one-handed

Cons:

  • The scales take a bit of work to get clean.

Opinel No. 6

Opinel No6 Stainless Steel Folding Knife with Beechwood Handle
Amazon 

Overall length: 6.5”
Closed length: 3.6”
Blade length: 2.9”
Blade thickness: N/A
Handle material: wood
Blade material: Sandvik 12C27/carbon
Blade grind: convex
Locking mechanism: ring lock
Weight: 1 ounce

Opinel’s knives have probably cut more cheese, bread, and sausage than any knife in the world, and outdoorsmen like Earnest Hemingway have carried them as far afield as Africa on safari!

Simple, elegant, effective: that’s what an Opinel promises. This no-nonsense design has been around for a very, very long time, and generations of peasants and outdoorsmen have put these knives to the test.

In short, you can depend on it to work, day-in and day-out.

The heart of this knife is a thin, slicing, convexed blade made from excellent Sandvik 12C27 steel. It sharpens in a snap and holds a good edge, and this 2.9-inch blade is renowned for its cutting ability. Essentially a trade-off between a clip and a drop point, it’s good at everything from gutting fish to making lunch.

It’s also available in excellent carbon steel for those of you who prefer that option.

The blade is opened with a nail nick, making it hard to use one-handed. Once deployed, you simply twist the ring closed, and the blade simply cannot fold shut. This locking system is as simple as it is effective, and it’s rock-solid, guaranteed.

The wooden handle on this Opinel is comfortable, even under hard use. And if you prefer something with more grip, it’s very easy to modify it with a file or Dremel tool, providing as much texture as you like. It can be a bit tough to clean, however.

Offered without a pocket clip of any kind, you simply slip this knife in your pocket.

Pros:

  • Remarkably inexpensive!!!
  • Excellent steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock

Cons:

  • The scales take a bit of work to get clean.
  • Hard to open and close one-handed

Ontario RAT 2

Ontario Rat II Folder OD Green
Amazon 

Overall length: 7”
Closed length: 4”
Blade length: 3”
Blade thickness: .09
Handle material: FRN
Blade material: AUS-8
Blade grind: full flat
Locking mechanism: liner
Weight: 2.4 ounces

Ontario’s RAT 2 folder gained an immediate following when it first hit the market, and just a few minutes in your hand explains why.

At an unbelievably low price, Ontario manages to deliver a great tool for the outdoor enthusiast. The three-inch blade is made from AUS-8, a mid-range stainless steel that’s easy to sharpen and exceptionally tough. Ground full flat with a drop point, it’s useful for everything from cutting bait to cleaning fish. The thumb-ramp and choil allow you to choke up on the blade, too, providing exceptional control of the tip.

I’ve found that this blade sharpens easily and holds an edge pretty well. I have had some minor trouble with the edge chipping on bone, but this was easily corrected with a single sharpening.

The blade is opened via an ambidextrous thumb stud, and it can be swung into place easily. The liner lock then engaged with an audible click, and the lock-up is solid and secure.

The FRN scales are backed by stainless liners, making this knife positively bomb-proof. But though they’re micro-textured, they can get a tad slick, and this is my only real criticism of the design. The overall shape of the handle is excellent, and the open design makes this knife very easy to clean.

The RAT 2 comes with a four-way repositionable pocket clip, making this a great knife for lefties.

I have found that after a few months, the clip can wear loose in the mounting holes, but a drop or two of Loctite fixes that immediately.

Pros:

  • Great price!
  • Nice steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock
  • Easy to open and close one-handed

Cons:

  • The scales can get slick, and a bit more texture would be welcome
  • The pocket clip can begin to come loose over time

Spyderco Delica 4

Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight Folding Knife - Black FRN Handle with PlainEdge, Full-Flat Grind, VG-10 Steel Blade and Back Lock - C11FPBK
Amazon 

Overall length: 7.15”
Closed length: 4.25”
Blade length: 2.9”
Blade thickness: .093”
Handle material: FRN
Blade material: VG-10
Blade grind: full flat
Locking mechanism: lockback
Weight: 2.5 ounces

Spyderco is a name well-known to knife cognoscenti, and it’s a name synonymous with quality and unique design. The Delica has been around for decades, and in generation 4, it’s as good a knife as you could want.

The blade is a uniquely-styled drop point ground full flat. Made from excellently heat-treated VG10, it’s easy to sharpen and holds an edge very well. That unique shape gives you plenty of point for fine work, and lots of edge for cutting things like rope and plastic.

It’s also very good for cleaning fish, and I’ve made short work of piles of crappie and bluegill with it!

The scales are composed of very nicely textured FRN, and of the wide range of knives using this material, I think Spyderco has dialed in “grippiness” better than most. A closed-back design as you’d expect from a lockback, it can be a little harder to clean than the Rat 2.

The blade opens with a unique thumb-hole, making it ambidextrous and easy to deploy. Once opened, the lock engages with a loud pop, and Spyderco’s reputation guarantees that lock will hold.

I’ve never had any trouble with this lock, and I’ve carried a Delica for years.

The pocket clip is four-position and secure, making this a good choice for both right- and left-handed anglers.

Unfortunately, this is one of the more expensive knives on my list.

Pros:

  • Excellent steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Excellent handle design
  • Solid lock
  • Easy to open and close one-handed

Cons:

  • The scales take a bit of work to get clean.
  • Expensive!

Mora 2000

Morakniv Outdoor 2000 Fixed Blade Knife with Sandvik Stainless Steel Blade, 4.3-Inch, Olive Green
Amazon 

Overall length: 8.8”
Blade length: 4.3”
Blade thickness: .1”
Handle material: rubberized plastic
Blade material: Sandvik 12C27
Blade grind: saber/scandi
Weight: 5 ounces

Morakniv has been producing quality outdoor knives in Sweden since 1891. Prized by anglers and hunters as no-nonsense outdoor tools, their reputation for quality and thoughtful design is the envy of their competition.

The Mora 2000 is simply an outstanding knife at a ridiculously low price.

Offering a Sandvik 12C27 scandi ground fixed blade with a drop point, this knife excels at everything from woodwork, to skinning, to cleaning fish. Purpose-designed for tasks like these, that’s really no surprise.

The steel is very easy to sharpen, especially if you choose to add a micro-bevel rather than continue the scandi bevel. It holds a razor edge far longer than you’d expect, too, and I’ve used this knife for a variety of tasks and never found it wanting.

Be aware, however, that the spine is not sharp enough to throw sparks from a ferro rod. A pass or two with a file will fix that.

The handle is soft, but strong, and extremely grippy when wet or bloody.

The sheath is cheap-looking, but secures the knife very well and is fully ambidextrous. Use it once, and you’ll understand why Mora designed it as they did.

Pros:

  • Incredible quality for a ridiculously low cost!!!
  • Awesome steel
  • Excellent blade design
  • Awesome handle design

Cons:

  • It needs to be carried in a belt sheath

Schrade Old Timer Sharpfinger 152OT

Old Timer 152OT Sharpfinger 7.1in S.S. Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife with 3.3in Clip Point Skinner Blade and Sawcut Handle for Outdoor, Hunting and Camping
Amazon 

Overall length: 7”
Blade length: 3.25”
Blade thickness: .14”
Handle material: Delrin
Blade material: 7Cr17MoV
Blade grind: hollow
Weight: 3 ounces

If there’s a more legendary fixed blade, I don’t know what it is. Carried by Sonny Berger, a Hell’s Angel, just in case he needed to pop a balloon or peel a banana, this knife has gained a cult following for its utility in the field.

Originally produced in the United States, flat ground, and made from carbon steel, Schrade knives are now produced in China, hollow ground, and made from 7Cr17MoV, essentially 440A with added vanadium to increase toughness and wear-resistance.

True knife aficionados may raise their hackles a bit at these changes, but I own this knife in its current variant and have put it to the test repeatedly.

Schrade Old Timer Sharpfinger

The blade is designed with a trailing point ideal for skinning and precise cuts. It also features a very fine point, making it useful for a variety of tasks. And though small, the original advertising copy suggested that it was ideal for skinning large squirrels and small elephants. Obviously tongue-in-cheek, this has proven true, changes in manufacturing or not.

The 7Cr17MoV takes a wicked edge very quickly, and it holds it far longer than you’d expect. I’m guessing that’s due to some heat-treating magic at the factory, and I have to say I’ve been quite impressed. No chipping, rolling, or problems whatsoever, whether cleaning fish, processing game, or doing camp chores.

When used in conjunction with a ferro rod, it throws sparks like a high-speed grinding wheel!

I’ve pushed this knife hard–and it holds its own.

The scales are made from Delrin, essentially high-density plastic–though probably not the original material by that name. Nevertheless, they’re tough and grippy, and they just plain work–wet or dry, clean or dirty.

The leather sheath that arrives with this knife holds it securely.

At this price, you can afford to buy one and put it to the test yourself. You’ll be impressed.

Pros:

  • Incredible quality for a ridiculously low cost!!!
  • Great steel
  • Awesome blade design
  • Great handle design

Cons:

  • It needs to be carried in a belt sheath

Final Thoughts

There’s no best knife, just the best one for you!

But you can rest assured that if you select a blade from this list, you’ll be well-equipped for whatever adventure awaits you on the water or in the woods. Indeed, any of these knives will impress you with their performance and quality.

If you decide to purchase something from this list, please let us know.

We’d love to hear how it worked for you!

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