A fishing gaff is one of those bits of tackle that looks straightforward, until you go to buy your own. Then you've got different sizes, materials, and methods of construction to think about -- and suddenly it's not so simple.
We've been looking at all the latest models, so we can give you a few tips to help you choose the best. We've also listed three of our favorites at the end. Our top choice, the Aftco Fiberglass Gaff, has an unusual tapered design that's light and easy to handle while giving great fish security in the most challenging conditions.
Considerations when choosing fishing gaffs
Gaff types and sizes
There are actually two types of gaff: flying and fixed. The first has a hook that becomes detached from the handle once in the fish, with a strong rope you use to pull it in. It's really only a boat skipper's tool, so we're focusing on the second, which comes in a range of sizes for different fishing needs.
Small hand gaffs are just a couple of feet long and ideal for use on rowboats or those with small outboards. For bigger boats, a handle length of somewhere between 4 and 6 feet gives you enough length to reach the waterline easily, yet still be manageable. Telescopic versions are available, which increases versatility, though the tightening mechanisms do tend to fail eventually.
Hook sizes are 2 to 4 inches. A 2-inch hook is sufficient for fish up to 50 pounds and even heavier on slim-bodied breeds like barracuda. A 3- or 4-inch hook will handle just about anything else.
Hooks are almost always stainless steel, which will flex without straightening under load. It also resists the corrosive saltwater atmosphere. However, there are grades of stainless steel, and cheaper ones will rust eventually. If you want the best quality, look for high-grade 316 stainless steel.
Handles are made from either aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Aluminum is cheapest and perfectly acceptable, though it can corrode eventually. Fiberglass is lighter, performs equally well, but can shatter if someone stands on it. Carbon fiber is lightest of all, and immensely strong, but typically twice the cost of fiberglass. It does have the advantage of natural flotation, where aluminum and fiberglass do not. Some fiberglass fishing gaffs are made to float, though many don't.
Handles are smooth, and slippery if wet, so good grips are important. Foam is common, and it's usually EVA, which is the same as you get on some fishing rod butts. Rubber and woven nylon are also used. Ideally, you want plenty of area to put your hands. Telescopic models usually only have a grip on the butt, because it would otherwise get in the way of the mechanism.
Look at the way the hook is attached to the handle. Often it's with a couple of screws. They aren't usually a problem, but they can work loose. Although hooks are replaceable, you don't want it coming undone when you're trying to land a big tuna! Some more expensive models lock the hook in so that can't happen.
Small hand gaffs start at around $15, though they're really only suitable for small fish. In general, we'd expect to pay somewhere between $35 for a cheap aluminum gaff, up to around $90 for fiberglass models. Carbon fiber is a superb material, but expensive, so gaffs can be $200 plus.
Q. Are fishing gaffs legal?
A. It depends where you fish. There are no restrictions for saltwater fishing, they are usually allowed for ice fishing, but, in general, they are not allowed for freshwater fishing. There are regional variations though, so you might want to check with your local fish-and-game authority.
Q. Could I make my own gaff?
A. People have, of course. The main problem will be fashioning the hook. Stainless steel is difficult to work with. Cheaper steels that bend easily might also straighten with the weight of a large fish on them. They will also be highly prone to rust when exposed to saltwater. You probably won't save a lot of money, so is it worth it?
Fishing gaffs we recommend
Best of the best: Aftco's Tapered Fishing Gaff
Our take: High-quality fiberglass model is lightweight but very strong.
What we like: Four-foot double-walled handle is 20% lighter than comparable aluminum. Wedge-lock design ensures 2-inch stainless steel hook cannot come loose. Long, hand-wrapped grip gives security in many positions. Floats.
What we dislike: Expensive.
Best bang for your buck: KUFA's Telescopic Fishing Gaff
Our take: Versatile model ideal for boats with limited storage space.
What we like: Aluminum handle extends anywhere from 30 to 46 inches. Has a 3.5-inch stainless steel hook. Lightweight and manageable with secure grip on butt. Protective plastic sleeve for tip. Excellent value for money.
What we dislike: Some rust. Occasional problems with hook retaining screws.
Choice 3: Sea Striker's Fishing Gaff
Our take: Strong, corrosion-resistant anodized aluminum with excellent grips.
What we like: Four-foot long with 3-inch hand-sharpened stainless steel hook. Grips offer secure hold when wet. Spring steel tip cover is more durable than plastic or rubber models. Competitive price.
What we dislike: Nothing really, though given its fixed length, it's not good for small boats.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.