The other other factor that goes into hook choice is the shape. This can be inconsequential or it can matter a lot. To me when the stakes are the lowest is when you are tying nymphs and you are tying to get the shape correct for just aesthetic purposes. It really doesn’t matter if you use a jig hook or not for a euro nymph, if a chironomid is curved or natural bend, or if a caddis on tyed on a caddis hook. The stakes get higher if you are doing it for strength. The curved caddis hooks are allegedly stronger just because of what I mentioned before with the lack of leverage that is directed at the hook. People who fish down in Tierra Del Fuego at Jurassic Lake used the curved caddis/scud hooks often because of the size of fish and they want hooking power. In streamer fishing the hook’s shape can impact the hook up rate and it can affect the strength. I often use a stinger style hook. These hooks are the ones with an upturned hook point. This means when force is delivered to the hook eye the hook point will drive up and out. This usually equates to an increase on positive well placed hook ups. This can be a subtle up turn like on the Ahrex SA270 which is a personal favorite of mine for fish like peacock bass, dorado, and giant trevally, or it can be more dramatic like my favorite clouser hook, the Gamakatsu B10S. These hooks are generally strong and offer little flex but break even less often as well. They are kind of the perfect streamer hook in almost every application.
Now, the hook makes a difference when it comes to fly design. I have gone over almost all the practical reasons for picking a hook, talking about strength, balancing, and penetration. There are more reasons to pick one hook over another. Not only does the hook have to function to aid in the presentation to the fish it has to do the same to the angler. Probably like you, when I go to pick a fly out of my boxes to fish it has to appeal not only to the fish but also to me. There are some flies that I fish more often than others just because they look better to me. I tie them that way so they stick out to me better when I get on the water. There are some cool hooks out there that can help or hinder that depending on your personal views. The Firehole 520 hook is a curved jig hook. This hook combines the look of a jig hook and caddis/scud hook. I think it looks sick and as soon as it came out I picked up a variety of sizes to try out and see if it can perform as well as it looks. I tie a lot of chironomids on natural bend hooks over curved bend hooks just because the style of fish I do doesn’t usually involve an indicator on lakes and I just have more confidence in a natural bend fly when fished on a hover tip over a curved shank fly. I know the fish don’t care, but I care. The more you care the more confidence you will have in the fly, this will equate to fishing the fly to its fullest potential.
A quick aside about barbs. Barbs are becoming less and less popular in the fly fishing world for many reasons. The main reason is the outlawing of them in a lot of areas. The other reason is the peer pressure from other anglers and guides touting the virtue of barbless hooks. From my experience you can get almost any hook style, shape, or type in a barbless version and I haven’t noticed an uptick in lost fish when I go out. The one time I still use barbs is when I go fishing to keep fish and even then it’s less and less these days. Barbless hooks are widely available and they make a big difference in the removal process from the fish, a person, or snag. If you can, when in doubt tie on barbless, you don’t want to spend your time crimping barbs in front of a game warden or a state police officer if you don’t have to.
The last thing I will touch on is the quality of the hook. This should play a factor in your choice as well. As someone who geeks out about materials and flies in general and is a commercial tyer for people, who travel around the world fly fishing, I know that the reputation of a hook brand can help take a lot of the nitty gritty out of choosing the right hook. There are some brands that have been around for a while and one of them that comes to mind is Gamakatsu. Their hooks have been a staple in the saltwater, steelhead, and warmwater world for a while. Another brand I want to direct you too is Ahrex. Their hook lines are really good. I haven’t had a bad experience with them at all. I also want to point out that they have one of the coolest resources out there. They offer spec sheets on their website for all their hooks. They have graciously allowed me to insert an example in this article. I recommend checking them out if you are looking at a specific hook you’re thinking about buying and trying. There are other brands of hooks out there that have good name recognition as well and for good reason like: Alex Jackson, TMC, Fulling Mill, Hanak, Daiichi, and others. Think of name brand hooks and ask your fellow fly tyer friends on what hooks they use and like. Word of mouth is some of the best intel you can get on things like hooks. Look at the UTC thread, it’s spun on the spool terribly. The spools backlash, and explode into a mess and are full of slack. Most tyers thought it was their fault until people started sharing their bad experiences with the thread on social media and with their friends. So talk to other tyers and see what they’re tying with and what hooks have the best features.
The whole point of this article is to make you think more about hooks you choose and why specific hooks are chosen for patterns over another. It is fly tying so there aren’t any rules and you can tie your flies on whatever hooks you want. If you are looking to advance your tying to the next level you have to get involved in the details like this. I go to fly tying shows around the PNW and I love talking to people about the nuance of fly tying and why specific things matter like thread, hooks, beads, hair, feathers, dubbing and whatever else, in a very detailed way. The hook is the foundation of a fly. No matter how well you tie the fly and how expensive the materials are, if the hook is bad, then the fly won’t last at all. The people who have really thought about this are the competitive, saltwater, muskie, and destination anglers. I want to bring in more tyers and anglers into thinking about their flies and materials more critically so that not only the individual ties a better fly, they can then share that with the masses and we can tie higher quality more convincing flies.
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