I probably don’t need to explain to any avid outdoors person what L.L. Bean is, but it may come as a surprise to many that the company is actually celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. From the beginning, they have been famous for offering practical, high-quality clothing and gear, much of it of their own design, for both hunting and fishing. One of those exclusive items that I believe first showed up in their catalog back in the 1930’s was the “L.L. Bean Trout Knife.” Basically, this was a stiff, narrow 4-inch “boning” style knife with a comfortable but simple wood handle in a sturdy leather sheath. As a dedicated trout fisherman myself, I always thought this design was very close to perfection for cleaning panfish in the field but, for some reason, I never got around to ordering one when I should have. Maybe because it was so basic, it disappeared from the catalog a few years ago. The good news is they have brought it back in a commemorative version for their 100th anniversary celebration.
The latest version of the Trout knife still has the same straight, narrow 4-inch carbon steel blade on a 4.5-inch rosewood handle, but this time around in a heavy leather pouch sheath. All are made in the USA, by the way. As with many products these days, you can read a long list of customer supplied comments concerning the knife on the Bean website, many of which I found enlightening. Most purchasers openly referred to themselves as “knowledgeable knife users” yet they often complained about the fact this non-stainless blade rusted during use. The only assumption I can make is that stainless alloys have become so universal that the average outdoorsperson has practically no experience with a plain carbon blade. Yes, carbon steel stains and will rust if you don’t keep it clean and dry. A little oil isn’t a bad idea either if you are looking at long time storage between trips to the river. Actually, there probably would be some merit in offering a stainless blade on a knife intended for fishing, but then it wouldn’t be a true replica of the original product.
The next most common complaint was that the factory edge was totally dull when the knife arrived, followed by a couple saying they spent an hour sharpening their new blade. I certainly can’t speak for every knife shipped but the one I received was plenty sharp enough for cleaning trout, something I quickly proved in the field. I’m sorry, but anyone that needs an hour to resharpen an undamaged edge doesn’t know how to hone a blade in the first place. While I found the blade still reasonably sharp after having field dressing around a dozen trout and boning out a couple of chicken breasts, I went ahead and touched it up anyway on a diamond-surfaced butcher’s steel. That had it something close to scalpel sharp in about 30 seconds!