A hook is a hook, is a hook, isn’t it? surely?
Well in a nutshell NO!
I wonder how much consideration most fly anglers give to their choice of hook rather than following whatever is on trend… What are these considerations then and why are they so important??? I hear you shouting at me!!
Lets start at the beginning with tying the fly and the pattern of hook. When I first started tying flies well over a decade ago the choice of hook was much more limited than it is currently. Most hooks available, especially for fly tying, were of the longer shanked streamer type pattern. A good example of this is the Mustad 34007 Steamer hook in a saltwater pattern and for Pike fishing we would have been looking at the Partridge Ad Swier Predator range, all of which, again feature the longer shank.
Of course these hooks were fine and did the job for many years. In recent times though we have seen an increase in the use of shorter shanked, wider gaped hooks, particularly for Baitfish patterns. So what is the difference and which pattern should you use for your flies?
The answer is that there are no hard and fast rules regarding hook choice for tying Predator flies, but it is worth considering the points I am illustrating and from my own experience, I lean towards the shorter shank wider gape patterns for two reasons. One, there is less available space on the shank to fill with materials and two, the hooking potential is greater.
Lets look at hooking potential first.
For many years I used the longer shank patterns for my flies, being a saltwater fisherman primarily, my ‘go-to’ fly was the Clouser Minnow, and the required hook for that pattern was the Mustad 34007 or similar such as the Tiemco 811s, both of which are good patterns and ideal for the original version of the Clouser Minnow and still are. The only problem was I seemed to ‘bump’ a lot of fish, in other words the bite to hook up ratio was quite poor which could be extremely frustrating.
Being from a Coarse fishing background, and in particular Carp fishing, which has become a highly technical pursuit as far as rigs etc. for these wily overly pressured fish goes, Hooks, their shape and hooking potential as well as sharpness has always been at the forefront of any fishing I engage in. And so I began to look into why I was missing so many fish and exactly what I could do about it. Bass have quite hard bony mouths too so anything I could do to improve penetration would be a bonus.
A new kid on the block in the hook world at the time was the Sakuma brand, and in particular their 410s pattern for saltwater fishing being a stainless steel hook. Now at first glance this was, at the time a bit of an odd looking hook, with its short shank and inwardly angled straight point, however I had read that it was an extremely good hook and had done very well during competitions. Being the openly curious angler I am, especially when it comes to potentially catching more fish I ordered a couple of packs to try with my usual fly patterns, including the Clouser Minnow…
I admit at first the shorter shank concerned me, and I failed to see how the reduced length of the hook would help me to hook more fish, as, at that time I put the missed bites and bumps down to the Bass simply not getting a hold of the fly properly, but I also had my concerns regarding the sharpness of the longer shanked patterns I had been using. The Tiemco seemed to perform slightly better than the Mustad and definitely appeared to have a sharper and more needle like point. The Sakuma however was amazingly sharp, and considerably sharper than the afore mentioned patterns.
So, I tied up a few flies with the new hooks and toddled off out to try them on my local Bass population.
The difference was startlingly obvious from the start, with a much higher hook up ratio compared to my previous hooks. I was completely amazed by the results and even the Clouser Minnows I had whipped up onto these new hooks had worked far better than previously. It was a break with convention and You could call it a Eureka moment!
I concluded that there were indeed two main differences in comparison to my old hook choices. The first and most important one in my opinion being the difference in sharpness. The Sakuma’s are a world away from the hooks of old in terms of sharpness. The other main difference being the wider gape. Although on this pattern, to the uninitiated it may at first glance seem that the inwardly tapered point would promote less hooking potential, this is simply not the case and as the fish attempts to eject the hook the shape of the hook causes it to roll and force the point downwards earlier and grab more flesh rather than straight back out as a conventionally shaped hook might. I believe it is the combination of these two factors that provide the higher hook up ratio.
But every hook is sharp isn’t it? Surely if it feels sharp when I touch the point it must be??
There is sharp and there is SHARP!!!!
One thing in the Carp fishing world that has seen great focus in the last few years is the attention to the sharpness of the hook. Carp are wiley, clever fish when pressured, and have learned to rid themselves of hooks upon initially encountering them as they prick them in the mouth, even when attached to a heavy lead. Therefore the less sharp a hook is, the less penetration into the flesh there is and the easier it is for the fish to throw the hook. So it makes perfect sense to make the hook point as needle or razor sharp as possible to aid deeper penetration on that initial pricking to make it harder for the Carp to rid itself of the offending object and give the angler more chance of catching that prize.
This is something I carry with me all the time, regardless of what type of fishing I am engaging in and what species I am targeting. In my humble opinion the Fly fishing world has a lot of catching up to do in terms of realising that attention to this one small detail can make all the difference. If we look at fly fishing technically, we are already at a disadvantage when it comes to making contact with our quarry. we have a comparatively floppy rod and a very stretchy line, both of these make the task of striking into a fish much more difficult and the ratio of bites to fish hooked can be frustratingly disparate! The more we can do to ensure that initial contact and making sure the fish stays on the better. Its been said that fishing is about percentages and each part of the puzzle from the tackle you use to location to the hook on the end of the line all add up to make that 100% target which we strive to achieve. 100% being the ultimate goal of catching and landing that fish, perhaps of a lifetime. Attention to the little things such as ensuring that you hook point is as sharp as humanly possible so it sticks (sticky sharp!) in the fishes mouth upon first contact are certainly considerations that should be high up on the list, if not at the top, when deciding what equipment we use and not just accepting that hook is a hook and they are all sharp enough.
I have been disappointed by some brands, I won’t mention any names, but it is safe to say I was very disappointed by their lacklustre performance upon initial trials and the number of fish I kept bumping on them was very disappointing and upon checking through the packs there was often a big difference in sharpness between the hooks contained within and I had to pick through to find the sharpest and discarded the others. It’s safe to say I will be reverting back to my favourite Sakuma 410s which I have found to be far more consistent in quality. I think a lot of hook manufacturers need to look at this more closely. Sakuma also produce some other high quality, super sharp hooks in the form of the 420 and 545 ranges. The 420 is a heavy gauge short shank pattern and the 545 is a more traditional long shank round bend Aberdeen type pattern. Both are excellent hooks for the Pike angler on which to mount their creations and both retain that sticky sharpness that I am advising you to seek from your hooks. This is not meant as an advertisement for Sakuma hooks by the way, just because I stock them in the shop. The reason I stock them is simply because they are the best I have come across and using them as an example is purely an example of how a good hook should be.
Lets now look briefly at another consideration when choosing your hooks for Predator flies although I understand this can be a more personal choice but again I would advise taking on board the points I make, especially for the novice tier.
I might have mentioned this before but there is always a temptation when confronted with a long shank pattern such as for example the partridge Universal Predator or indeed the Sakuma 545, both of which are very similar, to fill all of that lovely long shank with fibre, especially for the beginner fly tier. I was as guilty of this as anyone when I first started tying and my flies would turn out overly bulky and probably almost impossible to cast because I had used too much material. I can now, after many years tie a nice profile fly on this type of pattern without using too much material, but for me I am not keen on the Aberdeen pattern for baitfish flies. They are in my opinion more suited to streamers than baitfish and I much prefer to tie Pike and other Predator patterns on the shorter shank beaked point patterns such as the 420 and my Saltwater flies on the 410s. This type of hook removes the temptation to throw loads of fibre on the shank and indeed I am getting to the point where less than half a dozen ties is more than adequate to create the profile I personally require.
I hope that I have given you some food for thought when deciding what pattern of hook to choose and how much difference your choice of hook can impact on your success rate.