Hooks; be sharp, be strong - is that too much to ask?

Hooks; be sharp, be strong - is that too much to ask?

Tracy&James | Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tracy and I are still enjoying ourselves on Long Island, for the month of April we can compete with Paul and Bernd for the most days fished – so far we haven’t missed one. Today (I’m writing this on Sunday – how’s that for efficiency?) was not great in terms of the weather – poor light all day and a howling gale, but we went out regardless to keep the record up. We didn’t add to our bonefish tally though.

The bonefishing on the more fishable days has been truly excellent, both in numbers of fish, size and the fact that we’re catching at all sorts of different flats.  One of these flats is a huge, rocky area where bones feed once the tide drops and they’re forced out of the nearby mangroves by the receding water level.  At this flat a weed-guard on the fly is essential,you probably wouldn’t be able to strip more than a couple of feet without snagging if you fished a ‘normal fly.  Knowing this before we travelled I tied up some flies specifically for this type of bottom.   For weed-guarding my flies I tie in two pieces of tippet material along the shank of the hook and then loop them forward and secure them near the eye.  With this sort of guard there is always a compromise between ‘anti-fouling’ and hook hold.  After many experiments I’ve settled on 19lb Seaguar fluorocarbon as offering enough resistance to fend off snagging but remaining soft enough to fold down once a bonefish takes the fly.  I accept that I’m going to lose more fish using a weed-guarded fly that’s been de-barbed, but that’s just one of those things (I’m going to hook a lot more for having the weed-guard over not having one).

The trip to the rocky flat went as planned (it can be a little tricky to navigate to despite its size), and we were soon into some good sized bonefish, nothing huge but fish in the 3 to 5lb range.  After catching a nice bone I watched Tracy playing her second fish of the day in the distance.  Just as she was getting ready to land it I noticed that she lost it, radioing me shortly afterwards to say that the hook had straightened.  Obviously a bit unusual, but not unheard of.  She changed fly and fished on, hooking another nice fish within 20 mins (this was turning out to be a great day).  After a long run the line went slack, not slack in the normal way when a bonefish stops fleeing and starts heading back towards the angler, but in a ‘it’s definitely off’ kind of way.  After a long wind-in Tracy inspected her fly and found, once again, the hook had opened!  Now, Tracy is no harder on bonefish than I am in terms of setting her drag – we both use a medium setting and let the bonefish do what they do best, run.  So this second failure was distinctly odd.

In the meantime I’d steadily been picking up similar quality bonefish, enjoying the searingly fast runs in skinny water. After fish number five I noticed that my weed-guard had given up the ghost, becoming detached from the whipping at the eye.  As such, I changed it for one of my new ties.  Not long after this I lost a fish due to a straightened hook.  Annoyed, I changed fly once again only for the same thing to happen on the next fish, and the one after that!

Clearly the flies I’d tied up were on ‘bad’ hooks.  I’ve used this exact hook previously with no issues, so there was obviously an issue with the particular batch.  For bait fisherman this is a minor annoyance i.e. lose some fish, determine that the hooks are crap, bin them and carry on with something different.  However for the fly angler, who has spent hours at the vice (I’m a particularly slow fly tyer) creating their bonefish masterpieces, it is a lot more frustrating – can I remember how many flies I tied, will I recognise ‘new’ flies from old, or should I just chuck the whole lot out?

I suspect the problem with the hooks is the thermal treatment after they have been worked into shape.  A close inspection afterwards showed that the barb had snapped off the affected flies, rather than crushed flat, during de-barbing.  Also, I tried to re-bend some of the straightened hooks – all snapped very easily, indicating that the metal is very brittle and work-hardened.

I looked up the hook manufacturer’s website, on it there were claims of world class quality – I wonder what this means in reality?  What actual performance checks do they do?  Do they inspect the digital data from the thermocouples monitoring their tempering firings?  Do they even capture this data?  Do they double up on the thermocouples (or more) to monitor the whole of their furnace space?  Would they recognise if their control thermocouple was out?  Perhaps I need to apply my own QA before I start tying.

I sense an Instron experiment coming up when I get back to my lab.  If anyone has any hooks that they want testing to destruction then please get in touch.

All the best, James.

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