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Tying Basics – Hooks

The foundation of fly tying for any pattern begins with the hook. With all the new technology available these days, deciding which hook is best, for which pattern, can be confusing to the novice fly tier.

There are guides on the Internet as to patterns from each manufacturer and how they compare in weight, gape and shank length. Unless you are creating a new pattern from scratch, every recipe you find in books or on the Internet, designates the hook style and size for the pattern to be tied. For most tiers, especially beginners, being familiar with only two types of hooks are all you need to be concerned with.

  1. Dry Fly
  2. Wet Fly

The Dry Fly hook is made with light gauge wire, which helps them float on the surface.

Wet Fly hooks, which for the sake of this article we include wet flies, nymphs and streamers, are typically a heavier gauge wire to assist in the sink rate of the fly. As you progress with your abilities, you will find the need to use a different variety of styles and sizes and brands.

The size, length, wire size or gauge and the shape of the hook all determine how the completed pattern will react in or on top of the water. The size of a fish hook is determined by its’ pattern and is given in terms of the width of the gape between the hook point and the hook shank.

Anatomy of the Hook

The two most important dimensions of the hook are its gape and throat. Note the width of the gape, the clearance between point and shank, and the depth of the throat of the hook. These generous dimensions make for a bigger bite, for deeper penetration of the point, and for better holding power.

Anatomy of a Hook

Anatomy of a Hook

The Gape (size of the hook) : The distance between point and shank and is what determines the size of the hook. Hooks range in sizes from 19/0 (largest) down to 32 (smallest).

The Shank (length): Can be longer or shorter than standard for a given hook size. It is a numerical designated by 2X long or 2X short. The higher the “x” number, the longer or shorter the hook . Without an “x” designation is considered “standard.”

Wire Size: Indicates the weight or gauge of the hook and determines how the fly will sink or float. For flies that you want to float, you can get hooks with lighter gauge wire designated by 1X fine or 1X light. For flies that you want to sink, you have available heavier gauge wire designated by 1X strong or 1X heavy. Again, the higher the “x” number, the heavier or lighter the hook. Depending on the pattern and the desired “sink rate,” other weight can be added to the hook during construction of the pattern in the form of bead-heads or lead wire.

Style: It’s incredible, how many varied styles there are today. Hook manufacturers label their hooks primarily based on the function, i.e., Dry Fly, Nymph, Shrimp, Grub, Streamer, etc. Most of the differences are dependant on the Bend, Gape, Shank and Weight of the hook. You should choose your hook based on the pattern description or on the type and size of fly you’re tying.

Barbed or Barbless: Most anglers blindly use barbed hooks, and think fishing with barbs is the only way to go. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With the proper technique, you shouldn’t lose any more fish using barbless, as opposed to barbed hooks.

Fishing barbless has become essential to the health of our fishing stock. Pressure on fish is growing intense as the popularity of fly fishing increases. It’s imperative that you use barbless hooks when practicing catch-and-release or in designated areas (it’s the rule in many areas). As you can imagine, barbless fishing is less likely to injure fish and will improve their survival rate.

Barbless fishing has its advantages:

  1. It enables you to release fish quicker, with less injury to the fish.
  2. You can un-snag yourself more easily when you happen to be the “catch of the day!”

It’s easier to achieve a solid hook set and it can actually increase your strike-to-hook-up ratio because you’re freed from having to overcome the resistance of the barb.

If you happen to be fishing with barbs but would rather not, the solution is simple — just pinch the barbs down with a pair of pliers either at the vice or on the stream. The best way to flatten a well-designed hook is to work slowly, starting at the rear of the point and working your way backwards towards the bend. Most of the time you will not be able to get the barb perfectly flat, but as long as you can get the point of the barb down to the hook proper, you should be in good shape.

Fish Barbless! It’s better!

Hook Eyes: Hooks come in basically three main eye types: Turned-up Eye (TUE), Turned-down Eye (TDE) or Straight. The eye itself, may be configured according to manufacturer or application. Any one of these types will work for just about any fly pattern. In most cases the type you choose is a personal preference.

Ball Eye: A strong un-tapered eye, it is the simplest eye form. It is available turned up and turned down. Considered to be too heavy for dry flies, hooks with ball eyes are used primarily for wet flies, nymphs and streamers.

Tapered Eye: Also produced turned up and turned down. The tapered eye is made to maintain a full inner diameter while at the same time it features a reduced outer diameter. This is achieved because the diameter of the wire decreases as the eye closes. The larger diameter makes for easier insertion of leader material in the eye of the hook and, when turned up, it faces away from the point of the hook, leaving the gap clear and enhancing the chances of the small hook setting firmly and quickly when hit. Tapered eye hooks are used for dry flies, wet flies and streamers.

I hope that this article has enlightened you and got you thinking about what to tie onto which hook type. I have seen many good flies tied on the wrong “iron” – a little thought is all it takes.

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