Drillers can get into trouble when fishing for tools, so they should weigh carefully whether it’s worth it, or whether it’s time to cut losses and start another well. Source: iStock.

In my last column I talked briefly about fishing for food on the ice and that one had better be careful how thick the ice was or they could be in a rough spot. We had about 10 days of real winter here in Michigan recently, the chill factor got down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. On a few lakes this got the ice deep enough that one could safely ice fish. But starting the last week in January, we have had a warm up and as I write this near the end of the month it is 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside and pouring rain, which it has done most of last night and all day today. We even had thunder and lightning about 3:00 a.m. Now you know the weather in Michigan in January, which I usually put at the end of my column. Since it is really not safe to do any ice fishing, let’s talk some more about fishing for cable tools.

Last month, I wrote about loosening a tool string that was only slightly stuck. I want to remind readers that my stories in these columns come with no guarantee whatsoever-either by me or National Driller magazine-they are the result of a lifetime of cable tool drilling and what I have learned from other drillers.

I also want to remind readers that, before starting a fishing job, they need to take a moment and think about what they are doing. If you have ever talked to a driller who has had a disaster in the matter of fishing for tools, he will--if he is honest, and almost all drillers are-admit that he used the wrong tool or the right tool in the wrong manner. By disaster, I mean leaving a string of drilling tools in the hole or, far worse yet, a string of fishing tools and the string of drilling tools they were supposed to recover. I have even heard of a couple cases where the driller left not one but two strings of fishing tools and the drilling tools in a hole that was abandoned.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a successful first try at fishing. If this try is botched and the fishing tools are stuck in the hole, too, the job doesn’t become twice as hard but perhaps 20 times as hard. At this point, the wise driller needs to consider cutting his losses and abandoning the hole. Now, nobody likes to admit defeat, but you need to take a long hard look at what is going on before further attempts are made.

Not incidentally, fishing failures are not limited to cable tool operations. I once talked to a driller from another state who was drilling by the air rotary method with a down the hole hammer. He had reached nearly 1,000 feet and was not getting much water, so the property owner told him to keep going. He somehow managed to twist off his drill pipe part way down the hole and then proceeded to spend more than the loss of the drill pipe, the hammer and the hole itself were worth in a failed attempt to recover his drill string.

So my advice to any driller who faces a fishing job, especially on a cable tool hole, is to think long and hard about what he is doing before he does it. If you do not know how a fishing tool works, get some information on how it does before you run that tool. In this hurry up, hurry up world of 2013, thinking about what we are doing before we do it is counter to current policy, but in the case of fishing for lost or stuck tools it makes a whole lot of sense.

I’d add a few other bromides. First, make sure your drilling rig will lift both your fishing tools and the drilling tools. You don’t want to get a string of tools loose and find that you can’t lift them. Second, don’t ever, ever run a string of fishing tools in the hole without fishing jars unless you are absolutely, positively, 110 percent sure that the “fish” can be just picked up. Third, if you are fishing in a small diameter hole (3 to 6 inches) the tools are going to be nearly as large as the inside diameter of your casing. If you are drilling a large diameter hole, your tool string can be considerably smaller than your casing and, if lost or broken, can fall to one side and make fishing more difficult. Keep this in mind if you are drilling a hole of 8 inches or larger.

Having said all of this, I’m going to move on to a rather common and not really serious fishing job. This would be a string of drilling tools that are stuck tight in the drill hole, or perhaps the drilling line has jerked out of the socket or broken off somewhere below ground. If the drill line breaks right off at the socket, the top of the socket is going to be clear and getting a hold of it with the right fishing tool-most likely a combination socket-is going to be fairly straightforward. If the drilling line breaks part way up the hole, that is a “horse of a different color.” If the tools are loose, we might be able to push the cable into a tangled mess at the top of the tools and get a hold of them with a wire line grab. The wire line grab is somewhat like a fish hook with barbs that will grab the line and catch it. These grabs are made in one-, two- and three-pronged styles. The larger the hole, the more prongs you want to use. The prong is used below the fishing jars.

If the tool string is stuck tight, though, use of the prong will result in a more complicated fishing job and should not be attempted. We then have to use a tool called a drill mill and chop up the wire line all the way down to the socket. This is a very difficult job if we have any amount of line in the hole, and perhaps we need to consider our position regarding the depth of the hole, how difficult it was to drill and how much abandonment is going to cost. If we are lucky enough to have our drill line break off just a short distance above the socket, then the process should not be super difficult. Another tool that can be used for this purpose is the blind box, but the drill mill is more effective.

It looks like we are not going to get the tools out in this column as Jeremy, my editor, doesn’t like me to get too lengthy. So, next month we will go back after those stuck tools and, in the meantime, if you are in the north make sure the ice is safe and in the south make sure you have a good boat before any of you go fishing.  ND