These Hooks Bend Out

by | Feb 21, 2019 | 53 comments

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.

Not good. Not good at all.

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?

Really?

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?

Up and coming beast of 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.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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53 Comments

  1. Dom, would you feel comfortable using brand names in a positive way, i.e., mentioning hooks that you have come to rely on?

    Reply
    • Hey Alex,

      Nah, I’m not going to do that either, although you can look back through the many of the patterns I’ve listed in Troubitten Fly Box articles and see some of the hooks that I trust. I don’t want this comment section to become discussion about hook brands, really. In general, you get what you pay for, though.

      I think one of my points with the article is that hooks that work great for some guys, just do not work for others. So while I’m frustrated about the hooks in the images above, I have a friend who swears they never bend out for him. He probably uses thinner tippet, and maybe he just breaks off every snag, and maybe he doesn’t catch big fish. Ha! Whatever the case, they work for him but not for me.

      Cheers, brother.

      Reply
  2. Well…, I guess I’m about to find out if my ‘inexpensive’ internet hooks are going to pull their weight or not. I’ve been more than happy with my old standbys, I’m still working on a giant stash of ancient Mustads that have served me well for a very long time; but after a lifetime of fidelity some of that new hook-ish bling tempted me: I strayed. Thankfully, I kept my infidelities to a minimum and only bought a few packages of three different brands. I’ve tied most of them up, stocked the fly boxes, and was looking forward to fishing them this spring. I’m still looking forward to trying them (*sigh*) but I think I’ll go back to my faithful Mustads …if they’ll have me.

    Reply
    • Ha. I love that last part. Good luck. Let me know what happens.

      Reply
  3. Those images are unbelievable, can’t believe that kind of garbage is sold these days. I have my personal favorite “budget” hooks that have served me well, glad we’re not mentioning names because I want them to remain in stock for me to buy.

    Reply
    • Email me.

      Reply
  4. The lightest I get tippet wise is 5X. I don’t like to over play the fish or get broken off so 5X suits me fine as does 4X at times. I like standard hooks and mash the barbs down. My tactics may cost me fish, but those I bring to net are caught on my own terms and will do fine once released. Judging by pictures I took looking at the spots I am pretty sure I caught the same brown trout three times. Best, Sam

    Reply
    • “those I bring to net are caught on my own terms and will do fine once released.”

      I like that part.

      Reply
  5. I just lost a 25″+ brown a couple weeks ago due to this same issue… but wasn’t even a competition style hook for me, just a standard midge hook. Maybe that particular hook was a dud, cause I’ve never had the issue with any others from that brand. But it sure made me lose faith in that hook.

    Funny you mention your friend blaming the tippet. I had a good buddy say, “Should have been using a 3 weight!” And I thought, really? Seems the 5x should have snapped on the brown that well exceeded its breaking strength before the hook failed.

    Reply
    • Good point. 2 and 3 weight rods are a mask for inferior hooks. You can pull and pull and pull. The rod flexes A LOT and we think we’re putting tremendous pressure on the line. When in reality, it’s not all that much pressure. This is a BIG reason why some of my friends do fine with crappy hooks and I bend them out, because I prefer 4 weight rods.

      But I got back to the facts — if my tippet is 5.2 pounds and the #14 hook bends first . . . come on man.

      Dom

      Reply
  6. Can we take one positive away from this discussion? Those hooks may be weak but note that these comp guys who rely on landing every trout they hook use barbless almost exclusively. It is time for barbless to become the norm in fly fishing. Barbless are better for the fish, better for the fly, better for human tissue, and better for our clothing and gear. The occasional fish lost due to barbless does not come close to the benefits gained.

    Readers take notice of Dom’s flies, not a barb in sight!

    Reply
    • I agree. Most every fly I pull off of branches stream side is barbed. Pisses me off.

      Reply
    • I use high quality, name brand hooks with barbs. I routinely pinch the barb in my Regal vise before tying. Seems to me the little bump left after pinching is helpful in keeping a hook-up. Especially when tying large flies with shakeable bulk. i.e. articulated streamers.

      Reply
      • As a former “BARBarian” I have too may old hooks with barbs, so I do the same. The compression on my Regal does a great job as a barn masher. I am getting tired of finding wild brown trout with disfigured jaws; big barbed streamers really do a number on a an 17″ trout. If you scaled it up to human size. it would be like getting a barbed grappling hook stuck in your jaw?

        Reply
      • Same here, Bill. Most of my hooks are barbed and I pinch them at the vise.

        Reply
        • Very early in my fly fishing endeavors, I’d keep the barbs on the hook, probably because I didn’t want to lose any, and surely because I caught so few! Finally, I had a 5-6” squirt in hand, and was working hard at unhooking from its’ jaw. The hook was well-stuck, and after pushing the hook in, and moving the little jaw back and forth, I finally got it out. I’m sure it took too long , and was not easy for that little guy. Much to my credit, and my wife’s surprise, I fixed the issue right then. Said, I think out loud, to myself, “That’s it! No more barbed hooks!” I have kept that vow.
          I mash barbs down on bass hooks, and walleye jigs too. I release all bass, and most walleyes. I find I can get that fish off and go (try to) catch another more quickly. And of course, if the need arises, I can release myself much easier too!
          Cheers!

          Reply
        • One recommendation I saw recently recommended pinching the barb on the stream before fishing. This way the barb helps to hold the fly in place in the fly box. I do not want to name the person for fear of naming the wrong person.

          Reply
    • In today’s world of catch and release it’s is crazy that people still use barbs, especially in flyfishing. I have been fishing for 45 plus years. My dad taught me 30 years ago that mashing the barbs down make it easier on the fish. Have I ever lost a fish because of it? Maybe. But it’s probably due to user error or a bad hookup. And while we are on the subject of saving fish….how about stop with the in the net, out of the net, take a pic, put back in the net, post to Instagram or YouTube. Pretty sure that’s not helping fish today.

      Ok…now I’m on a rant…

      Reply
      • I appreciate your opinion Cory. I have two replies.

        First, one trouble with barbless hooks is that you can’t run a trailer off the hook bend. the tippet slides off. But barbed hooks pinched down have that little bump that does hold a trailer on the bend. Small thing to some, bid thing to others.

        Second, I don’t agree with your take on taking fish pictures. “Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release.” Here are my thoughts:

        “https://troutbitten.com/2016/09/05/their-heart-in-your-hands/

        Cheers.

        Reply
        • My bad Dom….didn’t mean I’m not for taking pics. I love a good pic. I have them plastered all over my wall. It’s the constant handling and keeping the fish out of the water way too long. You can take a great pic and release that fish unharmed and quickly.

          Also, I was talking about mashing barbs down. I still do today. I use both barbless and barbs that are mashed. Nothing wrong with mashing barbs down.

          Tight lines

          Reply
  7. Always making me think….
    One of those thoughts: If i were to loose a fish or get snagged, would I rather it be to a straightening hook or a break further up the rig?

    Reply
    • Good question.

      Ideally, if I must break off, I’d like it to be at the knot to the fly. Then I lose no material at all. And under no circumstances do I want the hook to bend out. If the hook bends out on a snag, and I get my fly back, what do I get back? A bent hook. Sure I can bend it back, but now the hook is even weaker. Know what I mean.

      Reply
      • Yeah I know what you mean, but…
        and I hadn’t thought about this fully till I read the article….it’s not what I get back but what I don’t leave; in a snag or in a fish.
        Like many I try and minimise the chances of leaving anything in the river or in fish. From the type of knot and where in the tippet it’s tied to chest packs (as I’m bound to be wading up to my armpits and beyond at some point to retrieve mine or someone else’s fly/tippet) to a tool for unhooking from underwater snags.
        If I get a bent hook back I’m just relived I didn’t leave it in the stream. Surely people don’t really bend them back! Do they!!

        Ultimately and realistically though I’m with you Dom, and I’d go with the tippet break at the hook knot. With the best will in the world it’s just not possible to fine tune hook straightening to that degree.
        So strong hooks please!

        Reply
  8. Competition derived equipment in general has wrong footed a typically conservative fly fishing industry. All be it a conservatism short sighted as to its own long history.
    Take the line rating on a rod designed for competition driven nymphing techniques. What does that number actually mean?

    Reply
  9. Name them; nothing wrong w accountability, esp given facile response.

    Reply
    • No. Like I said, there are hooks that don’t work for me that might work for you. The point is to just be cautious before buying hundreds of hooks. I’m also making the point that the industry standard for a nymph hook used to be 1x or 2x strong. Now it is moving to light and standard wire. So the quality steel on those hooks must be excellent to stand up to any significant force.

      Reply
  10. Good article. I’ve made the mistake of buying the unbranded version from some online fly shops. Unfortunately, you never discover the problem until you miss a couple of fish.

    Reply
    • Well, I usually discover the problem on a snag first. Ha. It’s true.

      Reply
  11. Great read. Totally agree with all that is said. I’ve sort of steered clear of the continuous testing process though. I’ve found a brand I like and just stick with them.
    I use heavy wire hooks because I have never really noticed any hook penetration difference and if anything the heavy wire hooks always hold bigger fish better.

    Had a big brown bulldog me one time and bend the hook right out. Needless to say I switched to heavy wire over a year ago and haven’t looked back. haha

    Reply
  12. Interesting read. My though is to use more jig style hooks. Also read
    Your post on the bread and butter nymph the reminds me of the carrot nymph which led me think about endless modifications which further led me to think about what Joe Humphries once said about patterns. “ if you aren’t catching fish.. it’s less likely that the fly failed you than .. you failed the fly. Keep up the great posts!

    Reply
    • And it’s not only competition hooks! I have Klinkhammer style hooks from a name manufacturer that I can bend using 10/0 veevus in my vice.

      Reply
  13. Maybe they’re designed for the for the up-and-coming trend of catch and INSTANT release. LOL! Hey, thanks for the warning. I was on the verge of buying some sexy hooks but I think I’ll wait until my supply of good old Mustads is depleted.

    Reply
    • I like the Mustad hooks too. I bought a good supply of them at the Kittery (Maine) Trading Post last summer at very reasonable price.

      Reply
  14. Great read. I’m of the same opinion of a popular, newer brand of hook. I contacted their page to inquire about why a 5x tippet on a 4wt rod would bend a #14 wide gap competition hook. I mentioned that I have seen this with overclamped hooks in the vise, but not for any other reason. The company agreed and left it at that; presumably, they find myself and my vise at fault. Interesting strategy, Company X: I will not be buying from you again.

    Reply
    • I won’t name them so as not to anger the author (curious why you won’t call them out) but got a good hunch we have dealt with the same brand of hook. One of those brands that’s got a huge “influencer” campaign on hashgram (please gag me with a rusty bodkin) but you’ll rarely if ever see that brand of hook in his client’s fish’s mouth. Hooks that look sexy because they’re black and barbless, but functionally brittle and soft crap. Funny that tiemco gets no love on social media any more yet it’s the brand 99% of us would probably choose if we had one chance to stick a 10lb trout on a size 22 nymph. My email is wes.sconce@gmail.com so feel free to reach out if you want to know the brand I’m speaking of.

      Reply
  15. An article such as this is not of much use without naming names. We have all had hooks bend, then we move away from that brand/style. Calling them out is EXACTLY how they get a bad reputation in the industry and will either buck up or close up. I read this article and have not learned anything I didn’t already know. For what reason would you not call them out?

    Reply
    • I have to agree. I understand as a business it’s a difficult thing to do, but the more you play the fence the less beneficial you are to the community at large. If would name every brand whose hooks bend out, and I would definitely name brands with that kind of customer service to that issue being addressed.

      Reply
      • I’m not playing the fence. And I gave my reasons above.

        Reply
    • I’ve already explained my take on this. This is not a witch hunt. It is an effort to caution anyone thinking about buying a bunch of hooks with wide gaps and thin wire. Some of the hooks that bend out for me DO NOT bend out for other guys, who are very good anglers, so for them, they are good choice

      I already said that above.

      Reply
      • A witch hunt doesn’t usually end with finding witches though lol. Bent out hooks are one thing, irresponsible customer service is another….

        Reply
  16. Losing a fish to a straightened hook may be maddening but at least you can blame the hook company not your partner or yourself. There is no worse way to lose a trophy trout than by personal error: misplaying, bad knot; bad netting.

    Reply
  17. I hung a nice Brookie maybe 4-6 lbs. last summer in Labrador . The line suddenly went dead…hook had straightened.

    Reply
  18. Just don’t go for comp hooks and rest on the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” After all, you wouldn’t fish with a $100 rod and expect it to perform like its more expensive brethren. Buy quality hooks and the issue is settled. No need to worry when common sense is in play.

    Reply
    • And another thought. In my experience, “competition hooks” may result in lost fish by their design: a wide gap, no barb, and usually a bead on the down-turned eye. When a fish goes airborne, they can frequently throw the hook. Now, I release all my trout, but some have come unhooked that I would like to have had a Kodak moment with….your experience?

      Reply
      • If you’re asking me, I’ll say that I really don’t notice much difference with barbed vs barbless. I feel like if you keep the tenstion on the fish, you don’t lose many either way. But this is fishing so of course you’ll lose some either way.

        That said, I don’t fish many barbed hooks anymore, so I don’t really A/B test anymore either. Most of my hooks are micro barbed with that barb pinched down. I do it for my own convenience as much as for the fish’s health, honestly.

        Reply
        • It’s the three issues put together….with a large gap and the bead way down on the hook eye, the fish can get leverage when they jump (how do you keep tension when they jump? – in fact tarpon fishing you give slack to the fish – not the same of course but the same principal). I’m not sure barb or no barb makes any difference with these hooks. I wasn’t asking about the barb issue but whether or not you regularly land fish using “competition” hooks. I also pinch barbs when tying on my Regal, but of course most all comp hooks don’t have barbs anyway. Thanks for a great blog!

          Reply
          • CHeers.

  19. I think you can’t confuse competition “style” hooks and actual competition hooks. Clearly from your article there is a big difference. I am fairly new to this, but I just bite the bullet and buy the “top of the line” (code for not mentioning brands at Dom’s Request. I only fish 5x and 6x tippets and have yet to bend a hook, but have broken many a tippet on snags

    Good luck out there

    Reply
  20. Well written article with very thoughtful points. As a Guide on the Great Lakes tributaries and inland waters, I too have had my share of “the bends”. In the service industry, I cant afford a customer to “loose a fish of a lifetime” as you clearly stated. I also think you are spot on interms of the numbers of companies producing softer hooks (50%).
    Ultimately, I end up tying my own or buying them from trusted tyers.
    Trial and error is how I know which companies to stay away from.
    Cheers!

    Reply
    • I use only the highest quality hooks I can find these days. I don’t have all the time in the world to fish these days, if a fish gets off , I want it to be something I did wrong, not equipment failure.Why would you want to tie a 20 minute streamer with a dog crap hook that may bend after a fish or 2? Thats 20 wasted minutes of fly tying you will never get back.

      Reply
  21. This one hits home for me Dom. I had one morning about 10 years ago when I arrived at the river with my freshly tied nuke eggs on a “trendy” hook. I straightened four out on 4x in the first pool before ditching my approach and rooting through my fly box to find anything not tied on those hooks. A true frustration. I currently take the approach of paying more; sometimes a lot more, than I probably should but at least I can sleep at night. There seems to be a plethora of instabrands popping up but I just cant give them a shot.

    Reply
  22. Had that happen to me yesterday. Rain and wind, my kind of fishing day knowing I’d have every great spot to myself. Fishing weighted nymphs I got a very hard hit that didn’t connect in a hole below a spill out. I couldn’t figure out how the hit was so hard and brief. Checked the fly out and sure enough it was straightened out just enough not to keep the trout on.

    Reply

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