Over the past few years, since I’ve been working out of the Northern Rockies in the oilfield, running fishing tools, a lot of my friends have asked me what, exactly, do I do. Of course the short answer is, I fish things out of wells. But there is much more than that to the job.
Columnist Wayne Nash says he even fished an iPhone out of a mousehole once. As you can imagine, it didn’t work after that. Source: iStock

Sooner or later, anything that can physically fit down a well will end up there. Besides things like pipe, bits and packers, anything can happen. Hammers, wrenches, slip dies, tong dies, chains — I even fished an iPhone out of the mousehole once. It wasn’t much good after that, but it satisfied the insurance company.

Obviously, it takes a tremendous number of tools to fish for this variety. They have to be small enough to go in the hole and large enough to go over the fish. This is something we sometimes have no control over. For instance, in a 6-inch hole, 4 inches is about the largest fish that can be easily retrieved without special, custom made tools. Obviously, larger tools will fit in the hole, but if they stick, I can’t get over them to make a catch. Most of the operators know this and design their drilling assemblies with this in mind, but there are exceptions. Bits are full gauge and getting tools over them is a challenge. Bottom line here is a good knowledge of tools in the hole, and what tools to fish them with. Most of this information is written down in various reference manuals, and that is a help because memorizing all the sizes, weights and capacities of everything is not possible for my small mind.

Just to keep my job interesting, there is a tremendous amount of information that is not written down in any book. I meet a lot of young roughnecks that think they really want to be fishermen. They see me show up at the rig, point at things, have them run the tools in the hole and take a nap in my truck. All while drawing a pretty good day rate. Looks like a great job!

First, when I get the call, it is usually about 02:00 and I’m sound asleep. The company man is wide awake, and starts explaining his problem in rapid fire mode over a cell connection that may or may not be worth a hoot. After determining his needs, I start waking up the shop hands to lay out the tools that I will need for plan A, B and C. Next, we call a hotshot truck to haul the tools to location. This can be iffy. Hotshot drivers are generally not in the same reliability class as say, fighter pilots or doctors, and their priorities sometimes differ from mine. Weather can also be a significant factor in the Northern Rockies.

After getting my tools lined up and transportation arranged, I head for the rig. This can be as little as 10 miles, in perfect weather, or 14 hours in white-out conditions. From that standpoint, we operate a little like the Coast Guard: “You have to go out; you don’t have to come back.” When I get to the rig, the first words are generally, “You’re late.” I try to get to the rig well ahead of my tools for a couple reasons. Many times, I go on a new rig where I don’t know anyone, and they don’t know me. A few minutes of conversation goes a long way toward a harmonious outcome.

The first one to talk to is the company man. He’s the one that called me and the one who will (hopefully) sign my ticket when I’m done. He has all the well parameters and the limits that I will operate under, so good communication is very important. Since he now has a fishing job, he is also operating on non-productive time and spending money hand over fist, which was not part of the original well plan. Doesn’t make for a happy camper.

The next one to talk to is the tool pusher. It’s his rig and he knows that fishing occasionally requires things from his rig that may be right at the limits of performance. I generally try to feel him out for particular problems or concerns he may have that will affect the job. He’s probably not too happy either, because he’s seen fishermen tear rigs up before.

My final stop before starting my job is the rig floor. I want to talk to the driller and crew because they know what really happened. The company man and tool pusher were probably asleep when the wreck happened anyhow, so I try to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. If the crew is well experienced, they probably won’t be too happy because they know that as long as I am there, they are going to be continuously tripping pipe in and out of the hole. So it is important to talk to them and let them know that I’ve been in their shoes, know what is going on and will make it as quick and painless as possible. This is where a few of my famous “Willard” stories go a long way toward a smooth working relationship.

Once I have all these groups working together and singing off the same piece of music, I am ready to pick up tools and go fishing. Every fisherman has a different way of doing these things, but whether they know it or not, it has to be done to have a successful job. Like I said, this is not written in a book, so I try to take the time with the younger guys to pass this along.

For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.thedriller.com/wayne.