Review: Orvis Plier

A close look at Orvis' revamped, premium fishing pliers
orvis pliers - fishing
Photo: Cosmo Genova

The last year or so has been a big one for Orvis. They made a splash with new products like the Ultralight Wading system, the Mirage line of reels, the Orvis Nippers, and the masterpiece that is the Helios 3. With one stellar product after another, Orvis affirmed their direction and place in the industry. Another one of those products is the result of Orvis' attempt to breathe new life into its plier game, with a modern design that is a significant overhaul of past models.

Previously, Orvis offered their Hydros pliers which came in two varieties—the saltwater variation with rounded stainless jaws and the slightly smaller freshwater pliers with needle-nose jaws. Both featured replaceable stainless steel cutters, skeletonized aircraft aluminum bodies, and looked like your standard pair of fishing pliers. Orvis sold them for years before replacing the line with the latest iteration, now simply called the Orvis Plier.

The upgraded Orvis Plier is a serious reimagination of their predecessors. Orvis scrapped the Saltwater-Freshwater distinction for a single design with rounded jaws and a new ergonomic curved grip that departs from the look and feel of the Hydros Pliers. They are also TSA compliant, which is nice for the traveling angler. Available in pewter grey and dragonfly turquoise, they look pretty cool too, which always counts for something.

What works

The quality of the machining and components in the Orvis Pliers are fittingly high to justify their price tag. You can tell they are a premium product as soon as you pick them up. Made in the same machine shop as the Mirage reels, the Orvis Pliers are manufactured in the USA out of aircraft grade aluminum with type III military-spec anodizing. While the original Hydros cutters were made with AUS-8, the new Orvis Pliers cutters and jaws are made of Crucible CPM S35VN stainless tool steel for improved corrosion resistance and edge retention.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Orvis Pliers is the handle design. Unlike most other high-end plier options- with a standard parallel grip—the flat curved handle of the Orvis Pliers conforms to the natural shape and angle of your hand. I find the wide, flat handle sits in the creases of the hand better than the thinner, more rounded design of some competing pliers which tend to slide around. The Orvis Pliers are shaped almost like a pair of vise-grips, leading to a more intuitive grip and better leverage when snipping line, pinching barbs, or pulling hooks. Grabbing ahold of something seems to be a more natural and controlled movement than the grip of a traditional parallel handled plier. It feels more like an accurate pinch-and-squeeze than a wide grab-and-crunch. Also- because your hand is not sitting directly over the jaws- you get a better look at whatever you’re working on.

Perhaps most of all, I like the plier’s spring mechanism. It provides just the right amount of tension in your hands, and springs open cleanly. It just feels good to use. There’s nothing worse than fiddling with a non-springing pliers in the heat of the moment with a flailing fish and big hooks.

The cutter on the Orvis Pliers are pretty burly and are far more suited for heavy pound test than your 5x trout leader. Its apparent that these pliers are not a replacement for your everyday small-water nippers. With a beveled maul-like blade on the top, and a mostly-flat edge on the bottom, you get a log splitter-like effect as opposed to a more nipper-like, blade-on-blade cut. This provides a lot of leverage on heavy nylon, fluoro, and even wire, but lacks the acute edge that you need for fine tippets. It will get the job done on 5x, but not without some persuasion.

Like the cutter, the thick stubby nose and powerful jaws of these pliers are designed more for streamer junkies, musky fisherman, and saltwater anglers than your everyday trout dude. You will crush dry flies and nymphs if you’re not careful with these things, and you’re not going to have the same deep reach as a pair of forceps.

orvis pliers - fishing
Photo: Cosmo Genova

That’s not to say you can’t do fine work. The jaws sit completely flush, and you can pinch the barb down to about a size 14 or so with a little finesse. That being said, there are other premium pliers out there better suited for working with small flies. However, for your heavy pinching, prying, and wrenching needs, these pliers take the cake.

While the replacement blades and jaws won’t be available till the end of summer 2018, being able to replace the jaws and cutters is a nice feature if they ever wear out. I’m curious to see if they’ll be covered by a warranty, or more likely, what they’ll cost.

What doesn’t

At $250, you might have to ask yourself why you need these things. While they're made in the U.S.A., which means they're priced in line with other premium pliers that aren't all U.S.-made, if you're not spending some serious time on the water in search of apex fish, are they much more than a status symbol?

Big game
Seeing as Orvis identified the need for distinct freshwater and saltwater designs for the Hydros plier, they could have combined the two a little better in the singular Orvis Plier. While a burly pair of pliers is by and large unnecessary on the local trout stream, it would be nice to see a set of needlepoint jaws, fine cutters, and other accessories that could expand the pliers utility to the lightweight division. Being able to buy one tool to do it all might justify the steep price to a wider range of anglers, and modularity via accessories is not too much of a stretch given the replaceable jaw and cutter design. Anything that reduces the amount of crap I have to carry around is automatically more valuable.

While I have nothing against the coil cord and clip, I’m not crazy about the sheath. There’s nothing wrong with this one, perse, but I do question its long term durability due to minimal stitching in the belt loop.

Basically everyone uses leather or nylon for their sheaths so I can’t fault Orvis, but I just prefer kydex for pretty much everything requiring a sheath or holster.

Final Word

Overall, the Orvis Pliers are a refined, high end piece of gear that is worth your attention. Reliable pliers are critical if you throw big flies for big fish, and the Orvis Pliers perform the basics while also bringing a unique ergonomic design to the table. Freshwater or saltwater, fly fishing, or conventional angling, the Orvis pliers are a solid piece of kit. American Angler magazine gave them the Gear of the Year award when they debuted in 2017, and for good reason. The Orvis Pliers stand out as a well engineered piece of gear with many noticeable and subtle features that set them apart from the competition.

That being said, these pliers are made to do some things better than others. For the average nymph and dry fly trout fisherman, the Orvis pliers are overkill and lack some features that compliment certain tasks and styles of fishing. They are not a do-it-all replacement for other tools. You will still need forceps when dealing with small flies and deeply hooked fish, nippers for fine tippet, etc. It would be cool to see some accessorizing down the road that might make them more appealing to the average angler, and increase the value for those who already own them.

If you are a hardcore angler or guide that relies on his gear to handle big fish, big flies, heavy leaders, and is looking for that premium option, the Orvis Pliers are a helluva good choice. You’ll probably lose them before you have to think of replacing them.