Fishing—running wire through walls, conduit, suspended ceilings, subfloors and other hard-to-access spaces—is a routine task for security, alarm, building control, data network and electrical projects. The choices of fishing tools available today prepare electricians for virtually any cable installation that arises on a job.

“Typically, cable for security, alarm and building control systems are run in wall cavities, crawl spaces and attics, but normally, the cable is not in conduit. So the installer uses fish poles, not fish tapes,” said Bruce Hartranft, senior product manager for tools and supplies at Ideal Industries ( “The type of fishing tool used isn’t so much a factor of cable type as it is the type of installation, such as conduit, open space, hanging ceiling or attic.”

However, the glass fiber is more fragile than copper, making it necessary to accommodate for larger radius bends.

“The most frequent cause of fiber breakage is right at the box,” Hartranft said. “As the fiber is pulled out of the box, the technician has to be careful to pull straight out, not up at a sharp angle.”
Doug Eichner, vice president of product development and engineering at Greenlee (, separates pole-fishing tools into two categories: inexpensive fish “sticks” and telescoping fish “poles.”

“Fish sticks,” he said, “are more flexible, especially for going around corners in tight places, yet are relatively stiff to span longer unsupported distances, and they make it easier to install voice, data, video and security wiring in dark spaces. Fish sticks with sturdy steel threaded connectors on each end are also very useful. The threads are the same on all rods, so different diameter rod sections can be combined easily for specific situations. A fish stick kit includes a bullet-nose tip for pushing through insulated walls, under floors or above ceilings and includes a hook tip for hooking wires and pulling them into position.”
Whisk nose tips, he said, are available for fishing over obstacles, guiding extended sticks sideways by rolling and providing a tip that can be snagged from the opposite direction with another fish stick that has a hook nose on its end.

Telescoping poles and/or threaded rods are useful for placing cables above suspended ceilings, below subfloors, in crawl spaces and other places where a tape may be difficult to navigate. They also are well-suited for fishing for short distances and when trying to route a wire in areas that a person cannot fit. Glow-in-the-dark fish sticks facilitate work in areas where light is dim.

“Many customers own several fish poles of different sizes, so they have the tool that is best suited for each pulling/pushing task,” Eichner said. “Fish poles are convenient for use in smaller buildings, such as residences and light commercial buildings.”

For runs of low-voltage, coaxial and fiber cable through conduit, current fish tape models come in many cross-sectional profiles of different materials housed in rugged cases with rotating reels on which tape is wound. Retainers keep tape properly positioned at the opening to reduce the risk of breaking. An important consideration when evaluating fish tape design is how smoothly tape pays out and is retrieved without kinking or tangling. Careful attention has been devoted to handle design and how the user’s wrist positions when grasping the handle.

The most widely used tapes are made of steel and fiberglass and are available in lengths from 25 to 240 feet.

Eichner said tapes with overmolded handle grips and 360-degree, no-bump case designs are also ergonomically appealing.

“Tapes with laser-etched markings serve to increase productivity by offering clear and crisp feet and meter markings,” he said. “Laser distance markings are accurately etched into the steel every foot and offer maximum durability and readability. And the markings are diamond-shaped, so they remain legible over the life of the fish tape, compared to the standard hash marks. Fish tapes with viewing ports also allow the end-user to see the amount of tape remaining in the case at all times.”

Ideal’s Hartranft said standard steel fish tapes provide omnidirectional pushing and pulling.

“Flat tapes—steel or stainless steel—have a propensity to flex only in the vertical axis,” Hartranft said. “Round-shaped tapes are omnidirectional, which facilitates going around bends and elbows. In many refits, where hidden elbows cause flat tapes to hang up, omnidirectional tapes race easily through the bends.”

Steel tape is good for most applications, Hartranft said, but suggests using stainless steel when in humid or salt-air environments. Fiberglass is recommended when pulling around hot wires.

“Always de-energize lines, if possible, before working around existing lines,” he said.

Hartranft said professional electricians should not use pure nylon tapes because they curl up and don’t push well. Nylon coatings on tapes are fine and actually enhance the lubricity of a fiberglass or stranded stainless steel tape, but pure nylon is for do-it-yourselfers.

When comparing fish tape products, durability, ease of use and safety are key elements to keep in mind.

“A true professional fish tape will easily handle a 25-foot drop test without failure,” Hartranft said. “Full-surround tape encapsulation ensures the tape will stay clean and safe if dropped onto a dirty floor.

peed-grip handles make winding the tape faster and more efficient. Laser-marked footage marks on the tape provide an easy and permanent method to determine length-of-run and facilitate economical cable cuts. A completely nonconductive fish tape, including the eyelet, makes work around hot lines much safer.”

Fish tape accessories include tape leader, multiwire pulling leader, swivel ball to prevent wires from twisting during pulling, kits with new eyelets and a crimping tool to attach eyelets to tape, and carrying cases.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at