Area anglers have witnessed a sharp decline in fishing-knife options in recent years.
Two major manufacturers of quality knives in the Northeast have ceased operations completely, neither selling their name nor merging with another company.
Imperial Shrade, operating out of Ellenville, N.Y., and makers of fine filleting knives for decades, declared bankruptcy in October 2004. The "Uncle Henry" line of pocket, hunting, utility, and fishing knives were superb cutting tools.
Earlier this year, Camillus Knives closed its doors. Camillus, located southwest of Syracuse, had a history of knife production -- during and between wartimes -- that goes back to just after the Civil War.
Both companies produced fish-blade steel that held an edge much longer than many discount and major-name brands that appear in tackle stores. Though not yet a collector's item, a bone-handled Shrade filleting knife could easily last through generations of anglers' lifetimes. Same can be said for a thin-bladed piece of Camillus cutlery.
Rapala and Buck now corner the market for fishing knife sales. But W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. in Bradford, Pa., steadily is gaining attention for its fine line of both fixed-handle and folding fishing knives.
Fred Beitner, media relations director at W.R. Case and an avid angler, invites area anglers to visit the Case knife works when near Bradford. Anglers, hunters, gun collectors and anyone interested in seeing precision work in progress could add to their enjoyment.
During a conversation with Beitner, I mentioned having a Case fishing knife XX Mode with a 6-inch blade. This knife has made cleaning of bluefish at the Outer Banks in North Carolina to walleye on northern Ontario lakes -- and of fish from many area waters -- quicker and easier than most other knives.
Most filleting knives produced today, if they come with a sheath, have sheathing material made of some sort of vinyl or plastic. The sheath protects the edge from wear and helps to avoid accidental cuts. But a leather sheath also can aid in keeping a sharp edge on the knife blade.
Most anglers don't realize that the stitched side of a leather sheath can serve as a last-stage honing strop.
Every angler has a pet sharpening stone, stick or holding device. Gatco, Lansky, and many other companies make fine sharpening gear. Cabela's industrial diamond stick is highly effective when kept clean with an abrasive cleanser.
But after working up that honed edge an angler can strop a finishing touch that adds to the edge-holding endurance of a fishing knife.
A few alternating passes over a leather edge on the knife sheath can add to cleaning efficiency and reduce the number of re-sharpening intervals while cleaning a mess of panfish or a box of Lake Erie walleye.
All blades used to clean fish eventually become dull. When cuts that usually can be made with a slice now require "sawing" or moving the blade back and forth along the backbone or through skin surfaces, that blade should be cleaned and given a better edge.
Just a swabbing with a damp cloth followed with a dry paper or cloth towel before re-sharpening helps with touching up blade steel.
While filleting, sharpened blade edges last longer if the cleaner avoids contact with bones, with the table surface and cuts around all but the finest of thin bones when cutting around belly areas.
Also, avoid cutting across fish scales. Spine scales line up so that an edge held as close to the spine as possible can cleanly slice from head to tail. When moving away from the back fins, the blade picks up fine scales that slow the cut and usually ruin some of the inside of the fillet.
Same goes for the belly cut. Scales are concentric. Place the knife at an angle in line with vertical scales. The knife can then be worked around the entire body, just behind the gill covers, without slicing thorough even the smallest of belly scales.
W.R. Case also offers a line of folding fish knives. The "Yellow Handle" model features a 4-inch blade and separate scaling and hook-disgorging blade, easy to see and handy when catching and cleaning most species of game fish.
As for storage, the old cliche applies: "A clean knife is a happy knife." At least, the angler is happier on the next pass.
The W.R. Case web site recommends a touch of oil on the hinge of folding-model fishing knives. A light swabbing along the full length of the blade is good for long-term storage.
But while on an extended weekend or week-long trip, simply washing and drying a knife blade after each cleaning session keeps a keener edge for the next day of filleting.
To check on W.R. Case fishing knives -- and on other models, on care of cutlery and on knife collecting -- visit the Web site: www.wrcase.com.