Hemostats. Every fly fisher has a pair. Some call them forceps, some call them hemostats, my wife the nurse, calls them “snaps” , but I like the word “clamps” because that’s what I do with them: clamp stuff. Flies, lines, big honkin’ splinters, little-stinkin’-flies-that-I-can-barely-see, etc.
I’ve heard people say they like stainless steel or brass colored clamps because when (not if) they accidentally drop them into the water they will be easier to see and recover. I’ve dropped mine and I’d like to make it clear that seeing them would not have helped most of the time. In most cases I dropped them because other things were happening, either my graceless legs gave out and my feet slipped, or my cold-as-ice and horribly numb hands missed a grip and fumbled the clamp 5 feet away into a foamy seam of deep water where I could only glare at the ephemeral location where they had dropped and imagine them down there possibly within reach but impossibly difficult to recover.
So color doesn’t really matter to me when it comes to finding a dropped pair of hemostats but some other things do. I do not like shiny things anywhere on on my body when I’m fishing. I think it scares the fish away. Fly fishing is tricky enough without my gear spooking the fish by flashing a warning that there’s a predator nearby trying to stick them with a clever sharp thing that looks eerily like a meal of caddis pupa. I like my clamps to be black. I have to caveat that with this: I really like that prism finish some manufacturers have started using. This finish gives the hemostats a coppery blue color that nearly glows. They just look cool. Sometimes it’s important to feel like you are looking cool. Coolness is hard to achieve, I need all the help I can get.
When it comes to the shape, size, and features of hemostats, there are hundreds of different choices out there. You should try several different finger-loop sizes, shapes and proximity configurations to see which one fits your hand best. Clamps come in sizes from 3.5″ to 10″ or more but I think the 4-6″ clamps are probably the most functional. The most traditional hemostat comes with a simple locking system that keeps them clamped closed. When you want to open them you force the finger loops laterally away from each other and open the jaw. Another variety is the mitten clamp that you squeeze to open and squeeze again to close. The mitten clamp is a little more unusual and takes a little time and use to get comfortable with but once you get it, it is as simple as click, click, click, POW! and they are opened ready to do their job. Repeat the process with a little less vigor and they’re clamped shut again. It took me a while to get used to them but eventually I could not imagine living without them.
For fly anglers, the jaws are the single most important aspect of a good hemostat. They should be smooth, not serrated. There can be some serration back toward the fulcrum of the tool but the tips should be smooth as silk so they do not damage your expensive or carefully tied flies. Jaws with serration can break wire segmentation on nymphs, cut thread on dry flies, tear latex on scuds and Czech nymphs, etc. Make sure they’re smooth, and take care of those precious flies.
Some extra, and very useful features that may be seen on hemostats are a hook-eye cleaner which is simply a small needle point built into the clamp somewhere, and scissors-which I’ve had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the built-in scissor is very handy, but on the other, I once cut a very nice, very expensive, very new, Patagonia wading jacket while trying to clamp my hemostats to a pocket flap and juggle a nice, netted 21″ brown trout at the same time. Oh well.
Whether you call them clamps, hemostats, snaps or forceps, you’ve got a favorite too, I’m sure.