I grew into fly fishing under a different era. In the same way that Americans once got their news from three main sources, twenty years ago we bought our fishing hooks from just a few different suppliers. But now, an abundance of choice saturates everything: a hundred outlets for news, hundreds of hook brands and another hundred places to buy them. It’s no longer normal to stop into the local fly shop and pick up a fifty pack of 3906B’s.
And that’s alright with me. In fact I love the new stuff — when it’s done right. But wading through the mess of options for quality hooks takes some trial and error — just like finding fact-based news and truthful reporting.
It’s really not enough to read some article (like this one) and learn what somebody else thinks. You have to see what works for the way you fish. Because one man’s great deal is another man’s disaster. And competition-style fly hooks are a good example of this.
The popularity of European nymphing is driving a large segment of the industry. So, when fly fishing companies look to develop and manufacture products for European nymphing, they seek out experts in the field and look to competition fly fishers. (They certainly are the most visible.) But getting advice from the competition circuit and translating it into products for mass appeal leaves the rest of us with dangling problems. Like this . . .
These hooks bend out.
Here’s yet another competition style hook that is engineered to such an extreme that it fails. Comp hooks are great when they’re made from high quality steel and manufactured to strict standards. But when manufactured on the cheap, they are a disaster.
There are multiple flaws possible with any cheap hook. Years ago, I ordered a large batch of “New Brand” hooks upon the recommendation of a (formerly) trusted friend. The price was right, and the hooks were just as good as anything else, said my friend. What I found were brittle hooks that broke under moderate flexing. The sizing was inconsistent, and many of the hooks’ eyes were unclosed. Just a bad batch? Not likely.
I will say this: cheap hooks have gotten better over the years. I don’t find much brittle wire anymore, and the consistency is much improved. While the market for cheaper hooks seems constantly flooded by new brands, there are leading, reputable companies that are now making the best hooks in the history of fishing. No joke.
Competition hooks are most often designed with penetration as the primary goal. When you’re scoring fish, one nine-inch trout can put you at the top of the leader board (I think that’s what they call it). So super-sharp hooks with wide gaps and long points are the norm. While the standard nymph hook for many years has been 1X or 2X strong wire, competition style hooks are most often designed with medium or even light wire, under the belief that thinner wire penetrates easier. Of course it does. But oh my, the difference is slight. And the trade off is not worth it (for me).
That lighter wire is where the cheaper companies get into problems . . .
First, extra-skinny hook points are nice because they’re sharp and sticky. But cheaper wire bends when it dings a rock, leaving a dull point. And I don’t know about you, but I hit some rocks when I nymph.
Worse yet is the bend-out problem. And I’ve been ever so frustrated by this lately . . .
I think I’ve tried every brand of hook by now. When a new company crops up, I either purchase them out of curiosity, or somebody mails them to me because I’m that Troutbitten guy.
I’ve learned the hard way not to tie more than a handful of flies on any new brand of hooks. Oh sure, they all come with the guarantee and assurance that “these high-quality hooks are super strong.” But I no longer believe anyone about this. I need to see it myself.
My skepticism usually starts at the vise. When a hook flexes too much under the tension of 8/0 thread, what do you think it will do when tied to fluorocarbon?
Here is a #14 competition style hook. The wire is standard. (This isn’t even their light wire version.)
The bend-out happens, in part, because the gap of the hook is so wide. Well-engineered hooks don’t put too much stress on the bend when pulled at the eye. So, careful testing and consideration is important during development. Hook design is for grown ups, not for just anyone with some open-source CAD software. Poorly designed hooks will bend out, even with heavier wire.
I made the mistake of ordering a pile of these hooks because a couple friends raved about them. (Yes I fell for it again). And it didn’t take long before the bend-out started. I hooked a stick and pulled out the snag. The stick flew off, and I kept fishing. Then, after losing the next two trout, I checked the fly to see the trouble — a half bent hook.
I actually texted my friend:
— — —
Me: Your hooks bend out, dude.
His reply: What size tippet?
Me: It’s 5X tippet. 5.2lb.
Him: That’s your problem. You should be nymphing with 6X.
— — —
That’s ridiculous. Why not print it on the package then? Fish these hooks on 6X tippet or less.
If a #14 hook can’t stand tough against 5.2 pounds of pressure, then I want nothing to do with it. You can’t guide with a hook like that. Imagine the glare from a client who loses the trout of a lifetime when he reels in and sees a straightened hook.
That brings me to the next point. Do you really want to trust your fishing fate to an inferior hook? Is a tiny bit of extra hook penetration more important than not bending out on the biggest Namer of the season? And do you really think a hook that bends out on a snag will be strong enough against the best surges of the biggest beast in the river?
I texted my friend again:
— — —
Me: Really, though. What am I supposed to do with these hooks? They bend out.
Him: When they bend out like that, I just bend them back.
— — —
That. Is. Ridiculous.
So buyer beware, especially with comp hook styles. The lighter wire and wide gaps require very high quality steel to make a sturdy hook. Do some research, maybe spend a little extra, and never buy more than a small pack before you’re sure that a certain hook works for you.
** NOTE ** I’ve purposely not thrown any brands under the bus here. And I ask you not to mention any brands in the comments section below. Truth be told, I’ve found bend-out troubles with over half of the competition-style hooks that I’ve tried. And amazingly, it doesn’t seem to bother a large segment of anglers. But it bothers me. And now I’ve gotten all of that off my chest.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N