Wide Gape, Curved Shank, down eye, sproat bend, 2X long, 1x heavy…what does it all mean? If you are new to fly tying or even someone with more experience it can be a little intimidating to find the correct hook for the pattern you want to tie. Don’t fear! Although there are many manufacturers of fly tying hooks and many more variations of hooks from each, once you understand some of the basic principles you will be well suited to pick the right hook for the desired fly pattern.
We are going to break down hooks into five aspects. Starting with the hook eye, the shank of the hook/hook bend, the gape (gap), wire type and finish and finally the point. Understanding each aspect of a hook’s makeup will give you the ammo needed to get the right hook for the juicy stimulator you are trying to get just right.
Let’s start at the front, the hook eye. This may seem pretty straightforward but as you dig into the options out there it can become somewhat confusing. Most major fly tying hooks are manufactured with a Ring Eye. This means there is a very small loop at the end of the shank that can either be open or closed. A lot of hook manufacturers are using a brazed ring eye meaning it is fully closed and flush with the hook shank. This is preferred as it helps prevent leader fray while fishing.
The other main type of hook eye you will see is a loop eye. Mostly used for Atlantic Salmon style flies and sometimes salmon/steelhead flies. You will also see this in most articulated shanks as it allows an open-ended connection point.
Another major aspect of a hook eye is the shape/curve. Typically there are four: straight eye, down eye, up eye and what has become really popular, the jig style. Most people use an upturned eye when tying emergers. This allows for wider clearance of the gape on smaller patterns and also allows for larger knots that will not get in the way of hookups. An upturned eye is also traditionally used to tie Atlantic Salmon type streamers and wet flies.
A straight eye can be preferred for many reasons. Some people believe it helps hook-up ratios due to the leverage provided during a hook set. You will also have more clearance in your hook gape when using a straight eye vs. a down eye of the same size and style. A straight eye hook is a go to when using it as a trailing hook on articulated streamers. The Gamakatsu B10S, for example, is a go-to streamer hook and makes an awesome stinger on many streamer patterns.
Down eyes are really popular and typically used for nymphs (beadhead or not), and soft hackle flies. A bead of any sort sits really nicely on a downturned hook eye. It can also allow for a little extra room when tying soft hackles and other beadless flies. It also helps keep from crowding the eye.
The final hook eye we see commonly is the Jig style. These are usually set to either a 90 or 60-degree bend forcing the hook point to ride upright while submerged. The hook eye is also typically turned parallel to the hook shank as opposed to all other types that are perpendicular. Growing in popularity with competition style nymphing on the rise. You can tie almost any nymph and some emergers and streamers on a jig style hook.
Working back from the hook eye the next major aspect of a hook is the shank. A standard shank hook is going to be two times the length of the hook gape plus the hook eye. From there, however, manufacturers have begun using an x rating to create different profiles to hooks. For example, a 1x long hook shank on a size 18 is going to be the length of a standard 16. In reverse, a 1x short in an 18 will be the length of a standard 20. This allows for a longer or shorter profile without making the hook gape larger.
Another important aspect of a hook shank is the bend. There are many styles and names out there but if you break it down there is really just curved or straight. All have their place and are really intended to either get the most realistic shape needed for mimicking a particular insect or increase the functionality of the hook. The Tiemco 200R, for example, is an extremely popular hook with a long gradual sloped bend on a 3x long shank to correctly imitate long slender bugs. At the same time, a hook with a sproat bend is intended to widen the gape of a hook for better hook setting. Some hooks have a bend that is very specific to a certain type of fly pattern. The TMC 212TR is made with a sharp bend that helps when tying Klinkhammer style parachute posts. Others have sharp curves to give the illusion of movement. The TMC 2488 or 2487 are really popular for tying small midge nymphs, scuds, and freshwater shrimps as they make the fly look like it is squirming around while dead drifting towards a hungry trout.
Hook Gape (Gap)
The next engineered aspect of a hook is the gape or gap. This may be the most important part of the hook as it can make the difference in short strikes and hookups. The gape of the hook is the standard for setting the size of a hook. You may see a size 10 next to a size 4 and feel like they look to be the same size. This, however, is thrown again by the x rating aspect. A size 10 hook with a 3x long shank may look like a size 4 with a standard shank. This allows manufacturers to come up with different profiles without having to increase or decrease the size of the hook gape. Many competition style jig hooks are made with an extra wide gape to allow for clearance with the downturned 60 or 90-degree hook eye. This is important to consider when tying patterns as you don’t want to shrink your hook gape or your hook-up ratio will decline.
Hook Wire and finish
All hooks are not created equal. There are many different processes, materials, and finishes used to make the final product. Japan has long been well known for their excellent steel, therefore their fly tying hooks typically do not disappoint. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should only buy hooks from Japan as the US, as well as some Chinese manufacturers, have come a long way and make quality products. Make sure you hook is strong enough to hold its shape with minimal give while fighting the biggest fish you will be targeting.
When considering what hook to use keep in mind there is an x rating used when talking about the density of the wire used for the hook. A 1x fine wire hook is great when tying delicate dry flies while a 2x heavy is a nice beefy hook for nymphs that are needed to be fished deep and larger fish.
Along with the metals used on hooks, there are a few different finishes applied. Typically you will see Bronze (most used) nickel plated or black anodized hooks. There are slight differences to each but it really comes down to the aesthetics. I like to use a black anodized hook in pressured water and also on dark patterns such as the Griffins Gnat. While a bronze hook in my mind makes on the difference when tying Tak’s Chironomid with the clear body tubing and no thread underbody.
The hook point, while discussed last in this blog is going to be the first thing into the fishes mouth. Many advancements have been made in hook engineering to improve the quality of a hooks point. Barbed or barbless hooks are getting sharper and sharper. Today manufacturers have gone away from mechanically sharpened hooks and moving into chemically sharpened hooks. This allows for a much finer and smoother, in other words, sharper hooks. Not only that but these days chemically sharpened hooks are much more durable than they used to be.
Beyond that, there are a few different shapes of hook points and the option to have barbed and barbless. For example, competition style hooks such as the Umpqua C450BL have an extra long needlepoint or even a spear point. With this, a lot of anglers believe that they can keep a fish pinned just as well if not better than a barbed hook with a standard point.
Shopping for hooks can be daunting but with the knowledge of how and why they are made they way they are, the task becomes more enjoyable. Spending time looking around and comparing/tying with different hooks will not only make you a better tier but also provide unique aspects to possibly old stale patterns.
Written by Brady Laehr
“Be good to the fish and the fish will be good to you”