First, let’s cover some of the different terminology you’ll hear about hooks while tying flies.
The size of the hook is chosen based on the type of fly you’re tying. The most common fly hooks range from size 1 all the way up to size 32. The lower the number, the larger the hook. It’s necessary to know what size of hook you need before you begin any sort of fly tying.
For some avid anglers, they’ll argue gap is the most important part of the hook. It’s the distance between the bend and point of the hook. The size of the gap determines the size of the hook. This can get a bit confusing, but hang in there. A size 8 hook right next to a size 4 may look the exact same. However, the x rating of the hook is where the differences arise. That size 8 hook may have a 2x long shank and the size 4 is a standard shank so they appear to be the same size.
The important thing to remember with hook gap is that the more you shrink your hook gap, the harder it is to hook fish. A wider gap is more forgiving and can help you hook into the majority of the fish you find.
Download the FREE PDF detailing the different parts of a fly tying hook and the types of flies 👉 PDF HOOK DOWNLOAD
The shank is what comes below the hook eye. The eye is the ring that you put your line through to tie it onto your reel. In terms of size, most manufacturers use a similar formula to establish the length of the shank. It’s generally going to be 2 times the length of the gap plus the hook eye. Remember that the gap is the most important of the hook. Therefore, companies will throw an “x” rating scale on their hooks to manipulate the shank size but keep the gap. A 1x long shaft on a size 14 hook is going to be the length of a size 12 hook.
This also works in an opposite way. A 1x short shank on a size 12 would be the size of a 14. It keeps the gap the same size, but allows the hooks to be longer or shorter.
The bend of a hook is the other important detail that anglers need to understand. The bend of the hook is made to help imitate a certain insect. For example, a long and gradual bend is going to imitate some of the longer and skinnier bugs.
The barb is another facet of the hook that needs attention. This is what the fish are going to first get hit with when they bite down on your fly. The barb is the little ridge that sticks out of the hook just below the point. The barb and point are what are going to keep the fish pinned. However, more and more fisheries are requiring barbless hooks due to the damage a barb can do to a fish. As a result, anglers are having to become more skilled because of how simple it can be for a fish to shake a barbless hook. Be sure that your points are sharp and keep pressure on the fish.
The eye is the hole in the top of the hook that you run your line through. Most fly fishing hooks have a ring eye that is fully attached to the hook. There are four main types of hook eyes, but the most popular is the straight eye. The straight eye allows for more room in the gap and increases leverage on your hook set.
The other hook types are upturned eye, down eye and jig.
GUIDE TIP: Always check on your hooks. If you’ve been snagged, take a look at the shape. Is your hook bent? Does it feel as if there’s a weak spot on it? Here’s a link to a video 👉 How To Sharpen A Hook
How do you know what size fly/hook to use?
Now that you’ve read through all of these details, how do you know what to choose? First, it’s important to be familiar with some of the reputable brands. Those include: Partridge, Tiemco, Fulling Mill and Mustad. Now, there are many other brands available to be purchased, but these are some of the most common.
As far as what size to choose, you need to know what type of fly you’re tying. If you’re going to tie a wet fly (streamer, emerger, nymph) then there are three main weights to choose from: heavy, medium-weight and lightweight. Along with these, you need to choose the right shape. It’ll most likely be a round or sproat bend.
Generally, most wet trout flies will float between size 4-10 hooks. Some of the smaller dry flies will have hooks with sizes between 16-20. If you can, visit your local fishery and see what type of flies are hatching and the different bait available for the fish. You can choose your hook size based on what the fish are eating.
Get a FREE Download for cross referencing hook sizes for different brands 👉 Download Hook Cross Reference
Difference Between dry fly and a nymph/wet fly hook
A dry fly hook is going to need to be a bit lighter than a wet fly hook. So, most choose to use a fine-wire hook due to its lightweight. What you make up for in lighter weight, however, you can lose in strength. These fine-wire hooks won’t hold strong against heavier trout on a fast flowing river. They work well for small, mountain stream fish. Therefore, if you’re concerned about having a fish bend your hook, choose a lightweight hook and accept it’s lower buoyancy, but be more confident in its durability.
For a nymph or wet fly, go ahead and use a medium or heavy weight hook. Also, a round or sprout bend is the best shape to use. Both of these have plenty of power and will keep the fish pinned. The medium-weight fly is going to be best for nymphs. It’s not a terribly heavy metal and it can reach any level of the water column depending on the material that it’s tied with. Also, nymph hooks are going to have more of a bend in them to properly imitate the insects. A straight shank isn’t going to be as accurate of an imitation as a hook with a more severe bend.
A heavy-weight fly is best used for some of the large streamer patterns. If you’re targeting salmon or steelhead, it’s smart to use a heavy weight fly to make sure that they aren’t bent out during the fight.