A HANDY FISHING TOOL: Ponca City man's invention makes hook removal a little safer
The light bulb came on for Keith Lawrence several years ago during a fishing trip to Canada with his father for walleye and pike.
Lawrence had bought a local coil-spring tool to hold open the mouth of a fish while removing fishing hooks, a handy gadget when dealing with toothy fish.
But the fish-mouth spreader didn't work very well. The coil spring tool either provided too much pressure for small fish or not enough for big fish.
“It was ineffective,” Lawrence said. “I thought there has got to be a better way to do this.”
The Ponca City real estate agent then came back to Oklahoma and built his own, something he calls the OUT Tool, an acronym for Open Up Tool.
“I thought a pistol grip shape was more ergonomically friendly,” he said.
Lawrence worked through several designs and prototypes before arriving at one that he presented to the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University, a nonprofit, state-funded service that helps inventors navigate the invention process through education, information and referrals.
Staff at the New Product Development Center took Lawrence's product and evaluated it in the areas of engineering and design, manufacturing, marketability, competition and patentability.
With the center's guidance, Lawrence eventually licensed his OUT Tool to Alliance Sports Groups of Texas which has a fishing product line called Quarrow.
Lawrence's OUT Tool is now distributed and marketed as Quarrow's Fish Jaw Spreader and can be found in Bass Pro Shops.
Lawrence, 60, said he has always been a “tinkerer” but this is his first invention.
His gadget differs from others like it as it is a one-handed ambidextrous tool that can be locked with regular hand strength. It's totally controlled by the fisherman, not the spring, and the tool is designed to lock and hold.
“It's like having an extra hand,” Lawrence said.
The tool puts precise control of the force exerted on a fish's mouth structure and tissue in the hands of anglers, Lawrence said.
Not only will it help prevent anglers from getting a hook in a hand, it also assures significantly less stress and injury to the fish when removing the hook, making it more likely the fish will live if practicing catch and release, he said.
That makes it a useful tool for bass anglers as well as northern and saltwater fishermen who most often target fish species with sharp teeth.
Six weeks ago, Lawrence walked into a Bass Pro Shops in Olathe, Kan., and saw his creation on store shelves for the first time.
“It was a little bit surreal, actually,” Lawrence said. “But it put a big smile on my face, of course.”