I have written in past columns about cable tools I consider nearly essential for fishing. This column deals with more infrequently needed and used fishing tools.
Before I get into these, let me say that if you follow good drilling practices and keep your cable tool string — including the joints — in good condition, fishing may be a (thankfully) rare occurrence. Many contractors may not stock fishing tools at all, preferring instead to rent them or borrow them from a friendly competitor. However, not stocking them requires you to go to the rental facility or competitor, which may be miles and miles away, in a time of need. You also risk losing or damaging the fishing tool, and having to pay for a new one. The decision as to whether to own fishing tools is up to each contractor.
Uncommon Drill Fishing Tools
First, let’s talk about the tubing spear or slip-type tubing spear. These spears, which come in several sizes, catch pipe or tubing that has parted in the hole. At one time in this area, many wells had 2½- or 3-inch pipe-based screens. These had a tendency to plug up and you could not effectively clean them in place. This made a process we called “changing” “pulling” the screen quite popular. With the advent of wire-wound screens made of bronze, brass, stainless steel or non-metallic materials, this changing process has become rare. However, there are still occasions when you may find it necessary to pull broken-off pipe from the hole.
In either case, the tubing spear makes for a good fishing tool for this process. This tool consists of a 4- or 5-foot-long steel bar with an API cable-tool joint at the top. Near the bottom are two slips or jaws, which ride in machined slots up and down a tapered cut in the main body. These are held in place by a half-moon key hammered into a slot on the body below the slips. A slip ring goes above the slips and it adjusts with a bolt or set screw.
This slip ring is important. Once you hitch on a fish with these “bulldog”-type spears, you must drive down to release. You adjust the ring so that when you bring the fish to the surface you can slide the ring away from the top of the fish, allowing the spear to be driven down to release the slips. Sometimes, this is best done in the horizontal position. If you cannot get the slips to release, you will need to cut the fish open with a torch.
I found this tool, run below a fishing jars, very handy and efficient for pulling plugged well screens. After cleaning out the casing, I would drop in a new screen that had a pointed bottom, remove the slips from the spear, place a piece of pipe above the slip ring, and use this tool to drive the new screen into place out the bottom of the casing. The spear I owned had a 2¼-inch API joint that was standard for 4-inch tools. It had slips for both 2½- and 3-inch pipe, which fit most of the screens we used.
For larger work, you need a tool called a bulldog casing spear. This spear, while designed for larger pipe, is very similar to a tubing spear. Use a bulldog casing spear to catch bailers whose bails have pulled off, or any other pipe or tubing lost down the hole. You can find these spears in sizes designed to catch pipe anywhere from 3- to 10-inch inside diameter (ID), with many sizes of joints.
As the name suggests, it too is a bulldog-type spear. Once you hitch on a fish, you can only release it by driving down on the surface. Likewise, it has a stop ring to keep it from entering the fish too deeply. Depending on the size, it may have two, three or four slips.
When using either of these spears, ensure that the inside of the slips and the ways that they slide on are clean and lubricated. You should find these relatively simple tools both easy to run and effective.
Other Handy Items for Drill Tool Fishing
While not really a cable-tool item, another tool I find handy for drill tool fishing is the taper tap. You run a taper tap on pipe. Follow recommendations and use extra heavy wall pipe, schedule 80 at a minimum. (I guess you could run it on a solid steel bar if you threaded it.) You lower a tap to the fish, and turn to the right with a pipe wrench until it gets good and tight. You then lift the fishing pipe and recover the fish.
Taper taps come in a wide variety of sizes, from small enough to go down a 2-inch casing to much larger ones of almost any dimension. The largest one I every owned would go down in 6-inch pipe or larger and catch 4-inch pipe. Changing screen in a 2-inch well — in most areas now, a thing of the past — usually got done with a taper tap.
I was once bumping back casing to set a screen by the telescoping method. I used a tool called a knocker head. A knocker head is a heavy steel plug with a slot in it that the drill line passes through. It screws into the top of the casing and the socket of the drill string, with a protective collar bumped up against it on the up stroke, bumping the casing back out of the ground.
In this case, the cable snapped off at the socket. Zoom! Down went the entire tool string right onto the screen I was installing and a removable weight above it to overcome the friction of a neoprene packer. Needless to say, the tool string falling about 90 feet made a mess out of everything. I got one of my taper taps, put a centering guide on it and lowered it down in the 4-inch hole on 1-inch extra heavy pipe. I was able to screw into the cable hole in the socket, tighten it up and pull the tool string out on the first try.
I reset the socket and went to fishing out the damaged screen and weight. The weight itself was undamaged but the loop at its top was. I finally got everything cleared out, successfully installed a new screen and, much to my chagrin, found that the formation did not yield the amount of water I needed. I had to re-pull the screen a second time and go deeper, and finally made a successful well at a lower depth. I cannot recall the job’s address but even though it happened over 50 years ago I could take you there today without a street map or GPS. To say this job made an impression on me would be a huge understatement.
As I wrote this column in early July, we have had some strange weather in southern Michigan. We had several weeks without rain, which is unusual. The non-irrigated lawns looked brown. Except for the nasty buckthorn, which comes out in dry weather, my lawn looks decent and green. The worst thing about buckhorn? You mow it off and it comes right back. You have to mow it four or five times to kill it, but just for this year.
Last week, we had bad weather caused by smoke and dust, supposedly from forest fires in Canada. One day Detroit, which is about 70 miles from me, had the worst air quality of any city in the United States. People were advised to stay indoors —tough to do when running a drill rig or pump hoist — and if driving around use the recirculation feature of their vehicle’s A/C. Thankfully, the air quality has improved now to about normal.
I still have many more fishing tools to write about, which I’ll continue to do next time.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.
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.