Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best fishing gaffs

Fishing gaffs have probably been around for as long as people have been eating fish! Historians have examples from a number of different native tribes around the world, and written records of a “landing hook” date back to the 1600s.

The design is so efficient that little has changed, and several traditional styles are still available. Depending on where they’re from they have a handle made of either local hardwood or bamboo, and hooks that are little more than sharp spikes held at an acute angle. Of course, today’s versions,use different materials, and we also know more about ergonomics. As a result, fishing gaffs are lighter, stronger, and easier to use. When you want to buy a fishing gaff, you might want to look at those older styles, but most people go for the superior performance of the latest versions.

We’ve been looking at the wide variety of fishing gaffs currently available so we can offer detailed advice to you. Our top picks are at the top of the page, and we look at specifications in more detail in the following fishing gaff buying guide.

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The word “gaff” comes from the Provence region of France, which used to have its own language. Originally spelled “gaf,” it simply means “hook.”

Key considerations

Types of fishing gaffs

At a glance, fishing gaffs look very similar, but there are two distinct types: fixed and flying.

Fixed: These fishing gaffs can be a set length or telescopic, but the defining feature is that the head (hook) is permanently attached to the pole. Fixed gaffs are far and away the most common kind and almost certainly what you’re looking for.

Where you’re going to store your gaff when it’s not in use is also a consideration. While telescopic poles can be a convenient solution in smaller boats, mechanisms do fail, rendering them useless. We’re of the opinion that fixed models are better.

Flying: A flying gaff has a head designed to come away from the pole as soon as it’s embedded in the fish. A strong rope is attached, up to 30 feet long, which is the maximum allowed under the rules of the International Game Fishing Association. As you might guess, these gaffs are for capturing very large game fish, such as marlin. Two or more may be deployed, each requiring a different handler, so it’s really a team effort. The use of flying gaffs can be dangerous, so they are only recommended for use by experienced game fishing crews.


Materials: The hook (head) is almost invariably made of stainless steel because it has high tensile strength, which makes the bend in the hook very strong and resistant to straightening, breaking, and rust. Stainless steel takes effort to sharpen, but it retains an edge and point very well. You’ll often see “304 stainless” mentioned, which is simply the most common variety (it contains chromium and nickel). Another, “316 stainless” contains molybdenum, making it even more corrosion resistant.

Size: It’s easy to assume that the larger the target fish, the bigger the hook size you need. In reality, once you’re up to about a 3- or 4-inch hook (the opening, not the length), it’s really a question of personal preference, unless you’re looking at flying gaffs which can have openings of 6 or 7 inches. If you have two heads the same, the greater diameter will give more resistance to straightening, though on quality gaffs it’s very unlikely it would be a problem. In the rare event you should damage a hook, most are replaceable.


The handle is made from one of three different materials, none of which rust.

Aluminum: This metal is far and away the most popular choice in fishing gaff handles. Aluminum is light, reasonably strong, and relatively cheap. It’s often anodized to add color. It can bend under heavy load and is difficult to straighten, so look for good wall thickness.

Fiberglass: This material is very strong, lighter than aluminum, and rigid. However, it can shatter under heavy impact. It’s also quite expensive.

Carbon fiber: Up to three times as strong as aluminum and twice that of fiberglass, carbon fiber is a quarter of the weight at the same size and extremely rigid. The only downside is that it’s very expensive.

Length: Handle length depends to an extent on how high your boat rides in the water and thus the reach you need. In a sea kayak or small skiff, a 2-foot pole is often enough; 6 feet is a popular size for midsize offshore fishing boats.

"When you’re thinking about gaff size, you need to consider not just reach but also where you’re going to stow it. There’s not a lot of room for a 7-foot gaff on a small skiff!"



You need a firm hold on your fishing gaff, whatever the conditions. While some poles are wrapped in cord, most have grips made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), a kind of plastic that has the feel of rubber but is very hard-wearing. Real rubber is also good, but it’s seldom used because of the increased cost.


While carbon fiber has natural flotation, fiberglass and aluminum do not. Most fishing gaffs will sink if you drop them in the water. A few are designed to float, but doing so usually relies on a portion of the handle remaining in place. Owner feedback tells us these often come loose, so any buoyancy can be short lived. It’s possible to slip a piece of pool noodle over the handle of some gaffs to improve flotation.


For your own safety, look for a fishing gaff that has a shield or cover for the tip. These can be thin plastic, which isn’t very durable. The best cover is a stainless steel spring, which is very protective and rustproof.

Fishing gaff prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest fishing gaffs we found are under $10. They sound good on paper (if a little small), but construction is not what people hope for. Decent fishing gaffs for occasional use start at $15 to $20, so there seems little point in bothering with the really cheap ones.

Mid-range: There’s a wide choice of quality fishing gaffs in the $25 to $60 range. These are good products from well-known brands and everything that most anglers need. The largest and strongest fixed fishing gaffs can be $70 or so, and a few top $100. However, if you go for a carbon fiber pole instead of aluminum, the price can rise above $300!

Expensive: Flying gaffs are a lot larger and stronger and are often sold as a separate hook and handle. It’s not difficult to pay over $200 for these specialized tools, and top models that include rope can be $400.

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A good fishing gaff is very sharp. If the tip doesn’t come with a guard or cover (and some do not) find a piece of rubber or nylon hose to slip over it when not in use. Keep it out of reach of children.


Q. I’ve heard that gaffs are illegal. Is that true?
It depends where you are and whether you’re talking about saltwater or freshwater fishing. At the time of writing, we found no restrictions on saltwater fishing. However, freshwater fishing regulations vary from state to state, and most have restrictions. But the rules can be very confusing. For example, in California, it’s illegal to own or use a gaff on inland waters, except for a particular stretch of the Sacramento River! Where ice fishing is allowed, gaffs may be legal, but it’s still important to check local regulations. To be on the safe side, if you’re freshwater fishing, it’s probably best to use a net.

Q. Where do you position the gaff?
It varies depending on the fish and whether you’re attempting to return it after catch. Lip hooking is usually fine for grouper and rays (never go for the wings), and it can be used for barracuda, but you need to be extremely careful when you’re bringing a fish like that onboard. There’s a lot of debate about sharks, with some experts suggesting you shouldn’t gaff but use a tail rope instead. If you’re fishing for large predators like that, you should only be doing it in the company of an experienced angler or skipper, and they will be the one who sets the rules.

Q. Is it better for a gaff to be barbed or barbless?
Almost all fixed gaffs have a barbless head. If you’re going for catch-and-release fishing, it’s really the only option. The drawback is that there is a chance that the fish will escape. Barbed heads are usually found on flying gaffs. They’re effective at securing very large game fish, but the damage they do is frequently not survivable. Whether that’s a desirable outcome is a question for the individual.

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