In my last three columns, I took a sharp turn in subjects to discuss pump hoists. Here, I return to fishing tools I consider necessary, or at least desirable, for a cable-tool operation.

I laid out previously the basic fishing string setup from top to bottom:

  • A wireline socket, preferably not a rotating type
  • A short drill stem
  • A set of fishing jars
  • An assortment of fishing tools

The fishing tool, of course, is the part of the string that actually grabs and catches lost or stuck tools.

Latch Jacks

One fishing tool a well-equipper operator might have is a latch jack, which looks like a large two-pronged fork one might use to eat. It has a hinged steel latch near its bottom end. The top, of course, has a tapered cable-tool threaded joint.

This tool is designed to catch a bailer or sand pump stuck or lost in the hole. Operators should run the latch jack below the fishing jars, as fishing targets can and often stick. Take care not to jar upward too robustly, as this could break the bail on the bailer. The latch jack would be a primary fishing tool.

Wireline Spears

Another rather simple but important fishing tool is a wireline spear. This tool looks something like a spear used to spear large fish. A wireline spear is essentially a square steel bar with a cable-tool joint at its top. A series of prongs attach to the center bar. Operators turn to this tool to capture wireline that may have broken off in the hole. This happens on occasion, but can be more frequent under certain conditions. We once had a rig with a gear-driven sand reel. If you were not careful to keep the sand line taut, it would loop around and go through the gears of the drivetrain. This would badly mangle the cable and we would have to chop it out of the sand line. We would then splice the sand line — and I guess we didn’t always do a good job, as it would on occasion break. We had a wireline spear, and we would go down the hole, capture the line and bring it out. We would then re-splice it (hoping to do a better job). We lost that sand line many times, but later added a friction-driven sand reel to this rig to fix the issue.

A wireline spear with a single bar will work effectively in small holes up to about 6 inches. Above that size, some sort of a wadding ring would be needed to compact the line for the spear to be effective. You can special order these wadding rings from tool manufacturers.

You may see a somewhat hybrid spear — a two-prong version that looks crossed with the latch jack I mentioned earlier. This type of spear has the prongs or grabbers on the inside only. This tool can function as a wireline spear, as a latch jack or both. It, too, should run beneath the fishing jars. A third type of spear grab has two or three long bars with grabs on the inside only. It is like the single-bar grab and quite simple.

Friction Sockets

Our next fishing tools include a whole family of friction sockets:

  • The solid-forged friction socket
  • The corrugated friction socket
  • The horn socket

Operators use these sockets to retrieve drill bits or other tools lost in the hole. The solid-forged and corrugated versions are driven down over the lost bit or tool, and then pulled straight from the hole. These two sockets will not withstand more than the lightest upward jarring, but should still run below fishing jars. They are made for holes up to 12 inches. The solid-forged friction socket has a machine bore of a specific diameter. The corrugated friction socket is made with corrugations along its length and has a wider range of tools it will grab, but is not as strong as the solid type.

The horn socket is designed to remove a loose bit from the hole. It is made of heavy-walled pipe split and welded to a cable-tool pin joint. This socket is not recommended for a caving hole or where any jarring is necessary. Both the outside and the inside of this tool are tapered. A horn socket to run in a 4-inch hole, for instance, would hold anything from 3½ inches down to 2⅝ inches in diameter. This tool is designed to be used in holes up to 8 inches.

A friction socket of any type is a handy tool to have as one can fish for many items, including pipe dropped in the hole if it is the proper diameter.

A Word of Caution on Drill Tool Fishing

As I said in an earlier article, be very careful when selecting a fishing tool. If you go fishing for a stuck or lost tool, and select the wrong tool or use it in an improper manner the difficulty of the fishing job can climb fast. Time is money and in 2023 everyone seems in a big hurry, but think about what you want to do before you do it. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Be very careful when selecting a fishing tool. If you go fishing for a stuck or lost tool, and select the wrong tool or use it in an improper manner the difficulty of the fishing job can climb fast.

If your equipment, including your tool string, is in good shape you (hopefully) won’t encounter many fishing jobs. However, these jobs are part of the drilling business. Next time I will write about some more specialized fishing tools and get through as many as I can.

As I write this on the last day of March, we have had a weird winter here in Michigan. December and January were quite mild, but we have had a string of bad weather starting in February. We did not have a lot of snow, but what we did have was the heavy, nasty kind. We also had a terrific ice storm and have had a lot of rain. Day before yesterday around noon, the wind drove the snow so hard it blew almost horizontal. Yesterday was sunny with temperatures in the 40s, but we had a low of 18 degrees Fahrenheit one night this week. My infamous lawn has actually started to turn a bit green, but it is still too wet and cold for our farmer friends to work in the field. Such is life in southern Michigan.

Until next time, as always, work smart, work hard and take time to enjoy life a bit.

For more John Schmitt columns, visit

A Lifetime in Drilling

We interviewed columnist and former NGWA President John Schmitt for our Drilling In-Site video series. Click here to hear him share his cable-tool expertise and wisdom earned with decades in the industry.