Notes on Fly tying Course
A Brief Note on Fishing Hooks
One of the problems that those new to fly fishing have to confront is the range of hooks available on the market. There are so many different sizes and styles that you can easily be confused and daunted by the potential cost of acquiring the necessary range. In order to aid selection it helps to know what the various terms mean.
Sizes are based on hook gape. This is not consistent between manufacturers but does indicate the variation in gape within a specific manufacturer’s range. There is therefore an advantage in specialising in a specific make of hook.
In theory a size 1 hook lies within the middle of the range and hook sizes expressed as 8, 10, 12 etc. reduce in size as the number increases. Those expressed as 2/0, 4/0 etc. increase in size with the number. Fly fishers will mostly be interested in hooks where the size reduces as the number increases.
Most makes of hooks do not have intermediate sizes any more, i.e. the sizes normally change in an increment of two, such as 8, 10, 12, 14 etc. with sizes 9, 11, 13 etc. being unavailable. At least one manufacturer, Tiemco, does produce some of its range in intermediate sizes, but this is unusual.
Shank length varies according to the style of hook. Lure hooks are longer than standard. Hooks with short shank are also available where the user requires a fly where the gape is large relative to the shank length. Many consider short-shank hooks to have superior hooking properties compared with long shank varieties.
Manufacturers will have a shank length they consider to be standard in their range, and variations in length will be expressed as 4x long, 2x long and 1x short, for example. If a hook is described as 2x long it means that the shank length of that hook is equal in length to the shank of a hook 2 sizes larger; for example, a hook described as “size 10 2x long” will have a size 10 gape and the shank length of a size 8 standard size hook. One described as “size 14 x short” will have a size 14 gape with a shank length equivalent to a size 15 hook. The intermediate sizes still exist when rating shank length’ even if they are unavailable in the range.
A manufacture will have a standard gauge of wire associated with the size of hook. Most hooks will be produced with this gauge, but some types will have a heavy or light wire - heavy wire being suitable for nymphs and lures and light wire for dry flies. Differences from the standard wire are also expressed using the x-rating system; an example being the Kamasan B175 Heavy Traditional hook. This is described as having 3x strong wire, which means that a size 12 hook will have the same thickness wire as a size 9 hook. A hook described as size 16 2x light wire will be of the same gauge as a size 18 hook.
Which hooks should a beginner buy?
The numbers of different types, sizes and weights of hook produced can cause confusion to newcomers to fly dressing as well as concern as to the initial cost. The type of hooks most useful to someone tying flies for their own use will depend on the type of fly fishing they prefer, e.g. river trout, stillwater, salmon etc. It would probably be correct to say that most newcomers to fly fishing start by fishing stillwaters – normally small stillwaters – and the hooks selected would need to reflect that fact.
I would suggest the following based on the Kamasan range.
To adopt a minimalist approach; Kamasan B405 in sizes 10, 12, 14 and 16 will enable you to tie many different types of fly. It is a round bend hook with a 1x short shank, normally regarded as a wet fly hook. The wire is, however, only medium gauge and to my eyes appears the same weight as that used for the B440 dry fly hook. These hooks are therefore suitable for wet and dry flies. The round bend makes it easier to apply a bead to the hook for additional weight, which is why I would recommend the B405 over the B170. The B170 is suitable for both wet and dry flies, but it is a sproat bend hook and will not accept most beads.
If you wanted to expand the range a stillwater fisherman would need some longer shank hooks for lures. In this case I would add the B830 in sizes 8, 10 and 12. This hook has a 2x long shank and is ideal for Montanas, damsels and Vivas etc. Many lures can be tied on these hooks, so they are well-worth adding to the basic range.
If you are prepared to spend more money it would be worth buying specialist wet and dry fly hooks, so instead of the B405 you might consider the B175 in 10, 12 and 14 for wet flies and B401 in 12, 14, 16 and 18 for dry flies. The B175 is a heavy wire (3x heavy) sproat hook and is noticeably stronger than the similar shaped B170. The B401 is a light wire dry fly hook with a down-eye. This range would be suitable for someone starting the sport on rivers, rather than the more usual small stillwaters. Adding the B830 hooks suggested above would increase your scope considerably. For river fishers these are useful for tying cased caddis larvae, when the hook is weighted, or mayflies. A highly-buoyant body material is essential, however, for tying the latter.
I would avoid purchasing shrimp, buzzer and sedge hooks until you have a specific use for them. Shrimps and buzzers may be dressed perfectly well on straight shanked hooks.
As you develop your interest in fly dressing you will want to increase the range of hooks in your collection. If you do this after you have tied numerous flies your experience will help to avoid unnecessary expense in purchasing hook patterns that you might rarely use.