In my last column, I wrote about leafing through old cable-tool rig catalogs, looking for a picture of the controls of a 20W rig. Drillers in many areas used this popular machine years ago, and some still do. As I wrote, the catalog for the 20W and its larger brother the 22W were very, very detailed. They included recommended drilling tools for each rig and for the size of hole drilled. The catalogs also included a list of recommended fishing tools preceded by the statement that “even the best driller could come across a fishing job especially in deep holes and tough formations.” They did not say that these tools were a necessity but strongly recommended having them on hand.

The recommended fishing tools included a swivel rope socket, a drill stem and a set of fishing jars. Fishing jars are like drilling jars but with a much longer stroke to avoid hitting both ways when fishing out tightly stuck tools. The list also included a horn socket, a latch jack and a center rope spear, all of which I wrote about in previous columns. It also included a combination socket, which I have written about (but with an extra detail) and a regular slip socket, sometimes known as a ring-collar socket, and a full-circle socket with two sets of slips.

The information about the combination socket was to have two sets of slips, one for engaging the rope socket neck and one for engaging a pin (the upper part of a cable-tool joint). It was also recommended that the full-circle slip socket, also known as a ring socket, have slips to engage the collars of a bit or stem. These sockets are made with very thin walls due to space limitations in small holes. The description of this tool urges drillers to avoid hard jarring, using it only as a last resort. The smallest ring collar socket in one tool catalog will just barely go down a 4-inch casing, but it will catch both the pin collar and box collar of tools used to drill 4-inch holes.

The full-circle slip socket will only go down in a 6-inch hole. Due to extra space, it is much more robust than a ring-collar socket. It too is available to catch both the pin collar and the box collar on standard 6-inch tools. It is made in different sizes, the largest of which will just go into a 16-inch casing. This large tool will catch the pin collar only of 4-inch-by-5-inch API joints — which are really big joints. The ring-collar socket, on the other hand, is made to go down up to an 8-inch casing. The maximum diameter it will catch is the pin collar of 3.25–inch-by-4.25-inch API joints — which are also big joints.

I found it interesting that several fishing tools were excluded from this list, one being the center-jar rein socket used to fish out a broken jars (although, I must admit, broken jars are pretty rare). Also omitted was a wire-line cutting outfit, which I wrote about in an earlier column. If the tools are stuck and can’t be pulled by the bull reel, the first job is to cut the drilling line because, without doing this, it is impossible to use any fishing tool. I do know that wire-line knives are available for rent, so perhaps the manufacturer of the fishing tools wanted to keep the cost low.

One fact that was very interesting to me was that all fishing strings included a swivel-wire rope socket. Other veteran cable-tool drillers have told me that a solid-wire rope socket was better for fishing. The solid type keeps the fishing tools from spinning. Spinning, of course, is desirable in drilling but not in fishing. One of the tool catalogs I have lists a Babcock wire-line socket. It says that the primary function is in making up a fishing tool string, and that it is also used to prevent rotation of tools in the hole. This socket is also attached to the drill line with molten zinc just like the swivel socket, but to the socket itself and not the swivel.

The catalog that I have referred to many times shows pages and pages of fishing tools I have not mentioned. Personally, I think those I have written about will get out stuck tools in most all cases. Some of the tools I have not written about are almost exotic, but do exist.

My final comment on fishing for stuck cable-tools: Avoid it in every way possible.

I have heard too many horror stories of failed first attempts followed by failed second attempts and even a third. … It’s against a driller’s nature to admit defeat, but sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

However, stuck tools do happen on occasion, even to the best drillers. So, if you must go fishing, make sure you have the proper tool and use it properly. I cannot emphasize that last point enough, because if the fishing attempt fails the job becomes many, many more times more complicated and difficult — so much so that you should probably consider abandonment. Second tries may be worthwhile if you have stuck tools in a really deep, difficult (and expensive) hole. But I have heard too many horror stories of failed first attempts followed by failed second attempts and even a third. I get it. It’s against a driller’s nature to admit defeat, but sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

Those are my final words on cable-tool fishing — an unpleasant phrase if there ever was one.

The weather here in Michigan has been rather dry after a moist summer. The lawns including mine are slowing down in growth and do not need mowing nearly as much as recently. Corn in the fields is drying up quickly and soybeans are turning yellow. Trees are changing color, as is the deer population. Winter will be upon us soon — brrrr. I hope these recent columns have been informative and that you avoid those fishing problems if you possibly can.

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.

For more John Schmitt columns, visit