Fishing is probably every driller’s least favorite activity. But it happens. There are a huge number of tools available to fish almost anything out of the hole. For drill pipe and collars, there are overshots and spears — in many sizes for almost any job. But, when it comes to loose junk on the bottom of the hole, things get a little more interesting. It might be a loose bit, a wrench, a sledge hammer or tong dies. Anything that can fit in the hole will sooner or later end up on the bottom. I reckon it’s human nature, or Murphy ’s law, but it happens.

Most commercial fishing tool companies have pretty sophisticated tools, such as reverse circulation junk baskets, and all kinds of well-engineered tools to do the job. But, sometimes, they are not quite what a customer needs. If the fish is large in relation to the hole size, such as a bit, a reverse basket will not pick it up because of the wall thickness. Something else is needed. Or, if the hole is just not worth the expense of using a commercial fishing company, a driller may opt to build his own fishing tool for the job.

This brings me to a tool that is often overlooked, but has been around forever and recovered a lot of junk in the hole: the poor-boy basket. Most fishing companies don’t push them because they are not fancy high-dollar tools that make great testimonials, but they work and can be built by the driller on location.

A poor-boy basket is basically a short piece of casing with fingers on the bottom that swallow the fish and close below it, making a successful recovery.

The layout and design of the fingers is very important to the operation of the tool and successful recovery of the fish. I have built these for years and pretty well have it down, so I thought I’d share with you how to lay out the leaves on a poor-boy basket for your best chance of recovery.

  1. Get a piece of casing that is as big as you think you can get in the hole. For instance, if you have a 10¾-inch hole, a piece of 8- or 9-inch casing will do fine. In a 6¼-inch hole, 4½-inch casing works well.
  2. Adapt it to your drill pipe or collars on top. Crossovers, a swedge or welding are commonly used methods.
  3. On the bottom, lay out the leaves for the basket, using the drawing on this page as a guide. Be as accurate as you can, it makes a difference.

As I said, the diameter will be about as big as you think you can get into the hole. Measure the diameter of that casing, and make the basket about 25 percent longer than that number. It tapers into kind of a bullet shape. At one-third the length of the basket, it should taper to seven-eighths of the original diameter. At two-thirds the length of the basket, it should taper to one half of the original diameter. Cut the leaves so that they tend to close on right-hand rotation.

Once you’ve built your basket, here is the running procedure:

  1. Go in the hole at moderate speed, watching for ledges or doglegs. The basket is a delicate tool, and you need it intact when you get to the bottom.
  2. When approaching bottom, engage the pump, and note strokes and pressure.
  3. Slowly lower the tool without rotation until contact is made.
  4. Pick up a few inches and start moderate rotation. For smaller sizes, rotate about 50-80 rpm. For a larger basket, try about 20-40 rpm.
  5. Very slowly lower the string to drill over the fish. You should not see any weight loss on the indicator. The best way is to time drill. Lower the pipe about ½ inch every minute or two. Watch your pump pressure and torque.
  6. If you are in soft formation, you will core into the formation, trapping the fish in the basket. In this case, you will see an increase in pump pressure when the leaves have passed the bottom of the hole, and torque will increase.
  7. If you are in hard formation, the basket will not core much, but will close below the fish. Torque will go down.
  8. At this point, while still rotating, significantly increase the weight on the string, while watching your torque. This will close the leaves below the fish, and break any core you have cut.
  9. Come out of the hole at moderate speed, and lay down the tool and the fish.

Hope this helps. If you have questions about the poor-boy basket method or other fishing tricks, you can contact me through National Driller.