February 29, 2024

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Angling Artist: Joe Mangiafico

(Above, from left) Mangiafico’s original knife designs, The Brook Brown Trout, The Brook, and The Brook Yellow Trout.

As is often found when examining angling artists, their artistic products are clashes of two passions. For Georgia-born knifemaker Joe Mangiafico, this could not be more evident. Born in Sandy Springs, Georgia, a bustling Atlanta suburb, he had a love for fishing and an interest in knives since early childhood. These passions were fostered by his father, an avid knife collector and angler.

Mangiafico got to nurture his fishing skills in some of the greatest waters in the states, the inexhaustible fisheries of Cape Cod. “I was a summertime kid on the Cape.  I’ve been fishing here since I was one year old,” Mangiafico said as he explained the origins of his Cape Cod entanglement. He spent his early fishing years learning the Cape’s fisheries and now uses his hard-earned knowledge as a striped bass fly-fishing guide on the legendary Brewster Flats of Cape Cod Bay. When the stripers aren’t blitzing, Mangiafico throws flies at trophy trout in the Cape’s ponds. Those trout were the influence for his first blockbuster knife design, “The Brook,” released in collaboration with Boker Knives in 2021.

The colors and patterns of brook trout inspired Mangiafico’s first design “The Brook”.

The path from fish-obsessed Georgia boy to New England fly-fishing guide and knifemaker was winding, with many stops along the way. Mangiafico spent his college years at the University of Vermont, which is located near some of the Northeast’s most secluded native trout streams. He also began toying with knives when not on the water, setting out to make one he could comfortably carry every day. Of course, this led to many prototypes accumulating next to his “meager tool set of a hack saw, file set, and blowtorch.” 

Mangiafico set out to develop a knife that anglers such as himself could comfortable carry and easily access while on the water.

While at UVM, Mangiafico studied fisheries biology, intrigued by the gorgeous native trout that patrolled local streams. Upon graduation, he spent time as a fisheries researcher in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and then in Idaho, researching trout and their everchanging habitats. Clearly, a devout learner, Mangiafico’s curiosity for knives expanded with his curiosity about fish. As his knifemaking skills advanced, he became enthralled by high-performance materials such as fiberglass, which is called G10 in the knife world. 

After starting out with scrap cherrywood from a Vermont farm, G10 seemed ambitious, especially because of the toxicity of airborne fiberglass particles. Regardless, Mangiafico put in the time to learn about fiberglass and his efforts paid off. G10 opened a new realm of creativity, meaning he could now replicate complex visual patterns without sacrificing strength. His most noted knife iteration was created after dropping brass pins into a G10 handle, forming a nebula of speckles as seen on Mangiafico’s beloved native brook trout.

Mangiafico’s “The Brook” knife-handle design.

Over the last 10 years, Mangiafico has been tinkering with many renditions of fish-patterned knives. He has since become a year-round Cape Codder, so he has no shortage of subjects to imitate. His at-home knife shop has been gradually enhanced over the last decade and now contains thousands of dollars of equipment. This humble but well-equipped knife shop is the birthplace of his custom knife builds and designs. His first folding knife design, the Canoe, named for the cumbersome blue canoe he toted when he first moved to the Cape, was forged, assembled, and electrically anodized all by hand. 

Each of Mangiafico’s custom-made knives bears his personal insignia on the blade and are often tied off with an aesthetically pleasing paracord or leather tab. The knives are far from just good-looking, though. Each fish-inspired design is engineered to be durable and functional, as well as alluring. When crafting fish-themed knives, Mangiafico inlays G10 and metal pins to match each species’ pattern—this means no paint scuffs, no misprints, just solid steel and fiberglass.  He even ran over one of his creations with his truck to prove its toughness. His designs have not only cemented him as a creator of functional art but have also been welcomed by knife manufacturers worldwide. 

Boker knives, a longstanding German blade manufacturer, caught a glimpse of one of Mangiafico’s brook trout-inspired knives at a trade show and could not resist a collaboration. Boker has a history of working with independent craftsmen to keep the art of knifemaking alive amid industrialization of the trade. Boker now manufactures Mangiafico’s original designs, The Brook, The Brook Yellow Trout, The Brook Brown Trout, and The Canoe. 

Mangiafico is thrilled to be working with a respected manufacturer who can get his knives into the hands of many people. He hopes to release more fish-centric knives with Boker in the future and is already looking to the Cape Cod salt for his next target species. These days, Mangiafico spends his time in his workshop or on the water, without much in between. The crystal-clear flats of Cape Cod Bay keep him busy with clients in the summertime, but the fall brings trout to be desired. 

Mangiafico plans to release a saltwater lineup of his knives in the near future. Shown above (from left) are his patterns for striped bass, mahi and green mackerel. (@joe_mangiafico)

The Cape is home to an underrated freshwater fishery that Mangiafico knows very well, but the west often beckons his return. Although no longer professionally involved with fisheries research, Mangiafico continues to support conservation efforts such as Science on The Fly. From taking river samples to donating batches of custom knives to their annual fundraiser auction, Mangiafico understands science’s role in keeping fisheries healthy and productive. This fall, he will be embarking on a research trip to a remote Alaskan river where he will spend a couple weeks drifting flies and crunching numbers before his fall slate of knife shows. 

As I came to know Mangiafico, it was apparent that he was a ravenous learner unaware of limits. Even after taking decades to learn the craft of fly fishing, he hasn’t gotten enough of it. Knifemaking was craft number two, and a fly fisherman’s attitude of doing things the hard way shines through in his knives. “Making non-fish-themed knives felt monotonous,” Mangiafico said, “despite all of the extra labor in making the fish-themed patterns.” This level of attentiveness and drive makes a great fisherman; however, it seems to make a world-class craftsman too.

Click here to learn more about Joe Mangiafico’s knives or visit his website mangiaficoknives.com

Follow Joe on Instagram @joe_mangiafico

The post Angling Artist: Joe Mangiafico first appeared on On The Water.

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