Wednesday 13th June, 2007
This week it's hooks, a topic that seems to cater more to tech talk than pure creativity. I'm filling in for Carlos for a while, but be patient, he'll be back. Yesterday Magnus, as always, came through with fantastic insights and explained in words and photos how to judge quality. And quality hooks are what you need when chasing coveted gamefish like Atlantic salmon, steelhead, and carp. Yeah, I said it, carp.
To be completely honest, I didn't spend much time thinking about hooks until I got serious about steelhead fishing several years back. I never got too worked up about losing a few trout here and there, and just never figured that the hook that I chose to tie on could really make a difference. Well, steelhead gave me a real attitude adjustment. When you're steelheading, every hookup counts, and every landed fish is a triumph. It's like the difference between a goal in soccer/football and a basket in basketball. I'm lucky if the number of steelhead I hook in a year matches the number of trout I'd hook during a good weekend down on the Madison!
This is a photo of the hooks I typically use for steelhead. I don't have a fierce loyalty to any particular brand of hooks. I buy the best hooks that I can afford in the brand/style/size that best fits the fly that I am creating for a given angling situation. And with the variety available to modern fly tiers, it's no excuse if you can't find exactly what you are looking for.
This selection covers me on all counts - classic hair winged wets, skating and waking dries, massive string leeches, tube and shank flies, egg patterns, and any other bottom crawling creations that might entice a steelhead. A couple of them (straight eye streamer and Limerick bend) never actually hook a single fish because I use them for string and shank patterns and break them off at the bend, opting for an Octupus style trailer hook. Back in the Great Lakes I used to fish some smaller hooks for nymphs and egg patterns, but i still liked the Octopus style hooks for that. While the applications, styles, and sizes of my favorite steelhead hooks differ greatly, they all have a few things in common. These are now features that I now look for in all the hooks I buy.
1. Consistent high quality. See Magnus' FP. 99 or 100 out of 100 should be perfect. Lack of visible blemishes makes me confident that there are no invisible blemishes either.
2. The hook holds its factory point well. The hook should also hold a resharpened point well (Carry a hook hone!).
3. Hooks with wider gaps and shorter shanks whenever possible. This protects against hooks twisting out during a fight.
4. Insane sharpness. So sharp that tying on them can be dangerous if you aren't careful. Steelhead have hard mouths and often take a swung fly softly. The sharper the hook, the better my chances of a solid hookup.
5. Short, conical points. I prefer these over longer points, which seem to be more delicate, and cutting points which I think may actually cut themselves out if the fish is not hooked in very solid tissue.
6. Light wire. With short shanks, light wire is plenty strong, even on huge fish. The light wire lets the hook penetrate easier and holds fish better.
7. Offeset points, when possible. Many of the shorter shank hooks like Octopus hooks and tube fly hooks are available with an offset point. I think that these result in more consistent, solid hookups when fishing swung flies compared to similar hooks with inline points.
8. Sexiness. Flies tied on sexy hooks give me confidence, and steelheading is all about confidence. For me, the sexiest of the sexy are the Alec Jackson spey hooks. They also happen to hold fish incredibly well.
Lately, I've been fishing a lot of flies designed in a way that the hook can actually be replaced without having to discard the fly. String flies, shank flies (wire hook harness), and tube flies all have the advantage of replaceable hooks. When I spend 10 or 15 minutes crafting a great looking steelhead fly with a bunch of expensive materials, the last thing I want to do is retire the fly after only a few casts because of a dulled hook point. Now, I can simply carry a pack of extra hooks and replace hook whenever it gets dull. This is particularly handy when fishing flies "on the stones" for winter fish. I've fished a fly all day, replacing the hook a dozen times, but never changing or losing the fly. How great is that?! Another bonus is that you can use those short shanked, light wire, extra sharp, offset point hooks that hook and hold fish so well.
PS - Someday you will travel to Oregon to see for yourself what these steelhead are all about. We want plenty of big wild/native fish for you to catch when you get here. Make sure to take a minute and sign the petition in support of wild steelhead release on the Umpqua River. We've got about 3 weeks left to collect signatures. Response has been positive and worldwide, but we need more support. Read More or just Sign the Petition.
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