If you’re new to the fly tying world and a video starts with something like, “Oh, you’re going to need a 4x hook with a 2x long shank and a dumbbell bead to start,” don’t worry. You’re not alone in your confusion. The world of fly tying is layered. However, like many things in life, it’s best to learn one thing at a time. Let’s start with the most important part of a fly: the hook. The hook can be the difference between landing and losing a personal best fish.
First, let’s cover some of the different terminology you’ll hear about hooks while tying flies.
1. Hook Size
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.
2. Hook Gap
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.
I wrote a HUGE guide about fly tying. It describes the fly tying tools and even provides a strategy that I use for describing whether to buy my flies or tie. Fly Tying Tools and Materials: Buy or Tie Flies
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.
3. Hook Shank
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.
GUIDE TIP: When watching fly tying videos, always pay attention to the shape of the hook. More than likely the instructor will describe the necessary hook to tie the fly.
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.
5. Hook Eye
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.
Click on image below to Download a 5 page Hook Size Chart
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?
How Do you Know What Size Fly or 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 be 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.
GUIDE TIP: Generally, a smaller fly is better to use. They are less intrusive and fish are more likely to hit these even if they aren’t feeding.
Difference Between Dry Fly Hooks and Nymph Fly Hooks
A dry fly hook is going to need to be a bit lighter than a nymph 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 hook, 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.
Hook Size vs Leader Size – How to Pick
It’s important to match your hook size to your leader size. Take a look at this chart to help make your decision. The lower the number (0x, 1x,) the thicker the leader. The thicker the leader, the larger the hook size.
The smaller the leader, the smaller the hook size. The chart below is fairly straightforward and gives you a great amount of information.
Barb vs. Barbless Hooks
Like mentioned earlier, be sure to pay attention to the local regulations when choosing your hooks. The more protected waters are going to require barbless hooks. These make life a bit more difficult on the angler because the fish are not as likely to stay pinned. However, they’re better for the fish since the barb won’t be as likely to rip their mouths.
GUIDE TIP: Always carry a pair of pliers in your pack. They’re nice for crushing barbs.
Where to Buy Fly Fishing Hooks
There are numerous places to purchase fly fishing hooks. While some of the online stores may be cheaper, it’s never a bad idea to head to a store like Cabelas or Field & Stream to look. For one, you can spend longer and analyze the hooks. Also, there should be someone in the store who is knowledgeable and can help you make a decision.
Local fly shops are also going to sell fly tying materials! These are the best stores to visit because they will have intel on the local waters and give you the exact materials that you may need.
If you are searching online, visit online stores like Orvis or Simms to purchase hooks. Also, Big Y Flies is a great discount realtor that has high quality products, but it’s important to know what you need otherwise you’ll likely be confused.