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The lowly hook is huge when it’s, “Fish on!”

A fly angler enjoying the bounty of a good cast with a strong hook – a bonefish ready to release. A commons image.

Steve Hudson on hooks

Hudson is the author of dozens of fly fishing books and probably the best introductory to intermediate level fly tying book ever written, A Structured Course in Fly Tying, had this to say about hooks:

“What’s the most critical thing that a fly fisherman brings to the water?

Rods are important. After all, you need them to get the fly to the fish. Having the right fly is essential; otherwise, you won’t interest the fish at all. The line is important, too, for it’s what keeps everything connected.

But I’d like to suggest that there’s one thing even more important than any of those. It’s something small and inexpensive – but something that’s often overlooked.

It’s the lowly hook. For if your hook is not the right one, you might as well not fish at all.”

So what’s it about hooks that are worth knowing? Parts of a fly hook:

The hook shank is the straight portion of the hook that runs from the eye to the bend

The eye is the loop at the front of the hook where you tie the fly to the leader.

Hook eyes have one of three different configurations (turned up, straight, or turned down). Turned-down and straight eyes are most common. Kinked is used for popper patterns.

Each fly fishing hook is curved at what is referred to as the bend – where it curves around to form the hook.

The barb is the sharp pointed piece at the end of the hook.

A fly fishing hook’s gape or gap is the space that is inside the bend. It runs from the shank to the point.

There are several types of hooks, but only three materials are used to make hooks:

1. Carbon hooks

2. Steel hooks

3. Stainless steel hooks

Hook comparison charts:

Hook comparison charts are confusing and inaccurate. The “hook” industry does not have standardization, so any conversion chart that attempts to “compare” equivalent hooks based on similar applications comes up pretty lame. With no standard, it is impossible to get an accurate conversion chart.

Many of my tyer friends, ones with decades at it, say that eventually they just picked one manufacturer and became familiar with its nomenclature and hook profiles.

Too, when a fly is shown in a tying magazine, website or on a YouTube video – almost always have accompanying recipe-which calls out the hook particulars.

Barbed or Barbless:

There are two good reasons to go barbless; one, when you hook yourself (yes you will), fishing partner or guide it is an almost a painless removal; two, a barbed hook can kill a released fish by having destroyed its mouth.

Holding a fish on with barbless hook involves keeping the pressure on the fish. Slack and it is off.

Fly fishing hook sizes:

Hook sizes are accounted for by the measurement of the gape or gap, and that measurement is from the inside distance from hook point to the shank and numbers designate them #1 to #28. A #28 hook being much smaller than a #1 hook. Hooks identified 1/0, 2/0 and so forth are larger than #1 hook. Starting with 1/0, the largest, the following hook sizes decrease as the number increases – 1/0 is bigger than 8/0.

Regarding hook sizes, Orvis writes in their Fly Fishing Guide:

Hook sizes that are used for flies range from less than 1/8 of an inch in length for the smallest to 3 inches for the largest. The actual size of a fly can be much larger; in some saltwater flies, the materials used will extend up to 6 inches beyond the bend of the hook. In the smaller trout-sized hook, we use even numbers 2 through 28; the larger the number, the smaller the fly. Hooks larger than size 2 use a numbering system that increases as the size increases, using a slash/zero after the number to distinguish them.”  – Orvis

Hook Length:

A hook length can be shorter or longer than a ‘standard’ size hook. For instance, if you wanted longer than standard #2 hook you would ask for a 1X long or 1XL – all the way up to 4XL.

If you wanted a shorter than standard #2, you would ask for 1XS and so on.

Wire diameter or hook weight:

Hooks are made of drawn metal wire in stainless steel, carbon, and steel. In the final process, the hooks are dipped or sprayed with a coating which reduces or eliminates rust. Trout hooks for dry flies are usually identified as 1XLight and 1XL “Fine,” and some manufacturers just mark their packet as “Dry Fly.”

If you lose a fish to a straightened hook, you used too fine a hook wire.

The shapes of hooks:

Hooks are either straight shanked, curved shanked or popper built with a kink to advantage no rotation of a popper fly.

A curved shank is excellent for freshwater scud, larvae, worms, and emerger patterns. They also enhance the natural escape profile in a saltwater shrimp pattern.

Hook deciding:

Fortunately, navigating the universe of hook styles is not as hard as you’d think.

One thing that helps is the fact that most fly recipes offer specific suggestions on what hook you should use. Some provide general guidance (as in “Size 12 or 14 light-wire standard length dry fly hook”) while others may give specific manufacturer and model number recommendations.

If you find that your local fly shop does not carry the exact brand mentioned, ask for an equivalent hook from the manufacturer that the shop does carry. Most manufacturers make most models.

Most fly recipes also include photos that let you see what the finished fly should look like. That can give you an idea of whether you’re looking at a hook with a “standard” shank length, for example, or one with a “long” or “short” shank length. With experience, you’ll find it fairly easy to determine what sort of hook you need simply from knowing the type of fly (wet/sinking or dry/floating) and taking a look at a photo or sample of the finished product.” – Steve Hudson

Sources: With permission, Steve Hudson’s chapter on Hooks: A Structured Course in Fly Tying (see link/s above), Mustad, Fly Fishing Fun Times, and Orvis.

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