Nymph Hook Inversion — And the Myth of the Jig Hook

by | Mar 15, 2020 | 60 comments

You probably make a lot of assumptions. Me too. And though we all understand the folly of assuming things, life isn’t long enough to track down and test every piece of knowledge for ourselves. So we collect information, we discard it, or we add it to our reservoir of accepted facts. As anglers, this trouble gets worse. Since you don’t get enough time on the water, you can’t test every line, leader, rod or fly against all the others. So in the fly fishing world, misconceptions and misunderstandings grow quickly. And here’s one that might blow your mind . . .

You don’t need a jig hook to invert the nymph. In fact almost all nymphs invert, especially when weighted with a bead or lead. Furthermore, nymphs built on a jig hook probably aren’t inverting the way you imagine. And how you attach the knot is much more important than the hook itself.

This is what most of us think a jig hook looks like under the water.

That’s what I thought too. But about ten years ago, right when the popularity of jig hooks for nymphs took off, I did some simple tests to understand hook orientation below the surface. I’ve since repeated the test two times in the last decade. So I’ve learned a lot about what really makes a hook invert, how it suspends under tension and how it falls through the water column.

I’ll share all of that below. And I’ll offer this disclaimer: I’ve tested many hooks, beads and flies — but certainly not all of them. I’m absolutely open to the possibility that my conclusions may not apply to every hook and weight scenario out there. But I promise you, after dunking hundreds of hooks into a fish bowl, I’m no longer surprised. The results are predictable.

About the Testing

Seeing is believing. So I’ve documented every claim and conclusion below, showing you, through pictures, what I’ve discovered.

For the sake of continuity, every hook is a #14. I assure you, I ran the tests from #8 to #18 in each style, and the results are the same. Behind bead head flies, I added lead wraps of .015” to about mid-shank and covered that with a simple thread body. I’ve learned that whatever materials of dubbing or legs are added to the fly don’t matter much. The orientation is largely determined by the hook, the weight and the attachment angle of the tippet.

My gear list is as follows: 6X fluorocarbon tippet, a glass fish bowl, some mediocre lighting and a Bells Two Hearted Ale (. . .or three).

They All Invert

I ran this test a decade ago, and here’s what stunned me: All of the weighted flies in my box already invert. Meaning, the flies ride hook point up and not hook point down.

We most often see flies pictured in a vise, a catalog or a video with the hook point down and the shank horizontal, so that’s naturally how we assume they drift in the water. They don’t.

Every fly with a bead head inverts, brass or tungsten. And every fly with built in lead-wraps on the shank inverts also. They all lay back instead of lean forward.

Scud Hook

 

Standard 2XL Nymph Hook. (Also notice the attachment angle — More on that below)

 

Tactical with wide gap. No weight. Yes, even without a bead or weight, most hooks invert.

The unweighted flies are different. The orientation of an unweighted fly (like the last picture, above) is strongly influenced by the attachment angle of the tippet.

Let’s address that next . . .

Attachment Angle

The first time I did this test, I missed how critical the angle of tippet to the fly really is. And I’ve since come to understand that it’s the biggest factor.

I’m talking about the way the line comes off the fly. What is its angle in relation to the shank? Standing in the river, as we knot the tippet to the fly, we control this angle. Great. So if you like, you can very well make your jig nymph ride with the shank nearly horizontal (as in the first picture of the jig hook, or the 2XL standard hook two pictures up).

But how long does the attachment remain at that angle? The first time you touch bottom and tug a bit, the line angle changes to a more natural one — pulling directly away from the bend. Likewise, I believe the very act of casting creates the same look. I’ve been aware of this for many years, and I’ve often noted that the angle of the line coming off the fly always ends up the same, once the fly is fished for a while.

In short, you have very little control over the attachment angle. You may start with the tippet coming off at a right angle to the shank, forcing a more horizontal angle to the fly, but sooner than later the knot slips into its average position and the hook orients as it will.

Here’s a jig hook with the tippet attachment forced to sit near the top. The fly almost lays back.

 

And here’s a jig hook with the tippet attachment pulled around to sit where it usually ends up (in line with the shank). The fly is still inverted, but hangs more vertically than horizontally.

 

The same can be demonstrated with non-jig hooks. Here the knot is forced toward the top of the hook and the fly rides close to horizontal. But, remember, it will not stay there.

 

This is closer to a more natural position for the knot. And the fly hangs a bit more vertically.

Again, realize that the tippet attachment angle cannot be controlled for very long. The knot will slide into its average position soon enough.

Also realize that every one of these hooks invert. All of them. Not just the jig hooks.

Suspending vs Drifting vs Dropping

The pics above show what a suspended nymph looks like. So, on the river, this is how flies appear on a tight line.

But good nymphing is really about slipping in and out of contact. That’s where the magic happens. And there are moments throughout a good drift where the fly is either gliding or dropping, uninfluenced by the attached tippet.

So, what do all these flies look like under the water? Does a jig hook make any difference?

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Lining — Not All That Tight

In short, no. All the flies featured above perform the same way. If allowed to drop, the head tilts down more, and the nymph flattens out. Or, the hook may tilt and drop with the head down and hook bend up (if the head is heavy enough).

Lastly, when allowed to rest on the bottom, all of the hooks pictured above settle with the hook inverted. There is virtually no difference in how a jig fly drops versus a standard fly. Ditto how it rests on the bottom.

The 2XL Nymph hook resting on the bottom of the fish bowl

 

Tactical wide gap hook on the bottom. Same as a jig hook.

 

Even the unbeaded fly lands with the bend first.

Mixed Currents and Things

Does any of this really matter, considering where most of us fish nymphs? In roiling, mixed currents our nymphs likely get turned around and flipped a good bit — especially smaller and lighter ones. But I suspect that most of the time, in a tight line system especially, all of these nymphs ride inverted, as that is their default position. They may be flipped and turned sideways, but gravity pulls them back into their natural position. And the less the currents are mixed, the more stable the nymph rides. That only makes sense.

But does it matter?

First, I don’t think trout care one bit if our nymphs ride upside down or right side up. Second, I never found that jig hooks hang up less than my standard hooks — and that’s why I did this test in the first place. While nymphing, I’m trying to avoid touching the riverbed. And it turns out that when I do tick the bottom with my flies, all of them are inverted anyway, regardless of whether they’re on a jig hook or not.

READ: Troutbitten | Forget the Bottom — Glide Nymphs Through the Strike Zone

Also, the recently popular “inverting” tungsten beads don’t change anything. They simply force a little more weight to the top of the head. So on the drop, the nymph’s head may angle down a bit more than with a standard bead. But remember, the fly is already inverted with a regular bead. So the “inverting” beads are simply not necessary.

Real World

Here’s a series featuring some of my favorite nymphs, suspended in the fishbowl. In each picture, the attachment angle is set to average or default — meaning, this is how the nymph really rides after a few casts and drifts.

Walt’s Worm on a 2XL Nymph Hook

 

France Fly on a Scud Hook

 

Polish Woven Nymph on a Scud Hook

 

Peridigon on a Tactical Wide Gap

 

Bread-n-Butter on a jig hook

Streamers are Different

Here’s one more thing: Streamers on a jig hook really are different. When the weight of the jig head is enough (around 1/32 of an ounce), a near horizontal suspension angle becomes closer to the norm. Attachment angle still matters, but the head usually balances out the streamer on the hang. Adding to that, the rest of the materials on a streamer tend to be more neutrally buoyant or even float a bit, so an angle close to horizontal becomes standard on a jig streamer.

Me and You

None of this may matter to you one bit. And again, I don’t think the trout care much either. But I meet a lot of anglers who are convinced that by using jig hooks, their nymphs are fishing differently. As I’ve shown above, I believe they are not.

I use jig hooks for a couple of my favorite patterns. On my Bread-n-Butter nymph, for example, I tied it first on a jig hook, because at the time, they were the only hooks readily available with a black finish and an extra long, sharp point in a strong wire. So I still tie the Bread-n-Butter on a jig hook because I have a stockpile of hooks. But now that tactical hooks are more readily available in other styles, I prefer the non-jig versions, as the gap is more open. (The hook eye blocks part of the gap on a jig hook.)

Lastly, If you don’t believe my conclusions, I encourage you to borrow the glass home of your kid’s goldfish for a few hours, and have a go at it yourself. Keep an open mind, and document what you discover. In the end, everything learned makes you a better angler.

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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60 Comments

  1. Interesting read. Do you think the jig hooks perform any differently on the hook set though?

    Reply
    • Thanks TJ. No, I really don’t. Again, given all that I mentioned in the article, I don’t know what would be different. I will mention again that the gap is partially blocked by a jig hook, so theoretically, the hookup percentage should suffer a bit. In the real world, though, I find no difference in hookup rate.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • I think that the big advantage of jig hooks, which outweighs the gap’s being partially blocked by the eye, is that the force you use in setting the hook is exerted nearly in line with the hook point, so that the point penetrates more effectively. Datus Proper wrote about this in his great book What the Trout Said. I was really skeptical when I started tying on jig hooks, and thought they wouldn’t hook and hold as well as regular “J” hooks, but I find that they are actually better in hooking and holding.

        Reply
        • Hi Greg,

          I sincerely respect you opinion. Promise. And I’ve also read that opinion in other places. But (again, respectfully) I just don’t buy it. For me, it goes back to that default attachment angle and the fact that there’s really no way to control the default position that the knot slides down to. There is no difference in the angle when hooking. Not on nymph sized hooks, anyway. As I mentioned above, on larger, streamer sized hooks, things change. But from my testing, I just see no significant difference in the angle of hang, or the hookset.

          On your last point, I agree in part. Because perfect bend, “J” hooks, etc. do not hold quite as well as jig hooks. But I attribute that to the long point of the jig hook and nothing more. I actually find that scud hooks hold even better, in my experience.

          Fun stuff to think about.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  2. Given that they all invert, does anyone style move the gape further upwards? For wax amp,e a combination of jig hook and off set bead.

    Reply
  3. Great read, and perfect timing. This Sat while fishing, I had a conversation similar to this post. I have always used jig hooks while Euro nymphing, and wondered if the hook eye closed the gap a little, created a disadvantage. I have almost always used Hanak H400 BL hooks from 18-14. I don’t miss too many hits (at least I convince myself of that, hahah).
    Out of curiosity, what brand / style hooks do you use (not recommend). I want to explore outside my regular go to, and not sure where to start. Thanks again for the post. Always enjoy.

    Reply
  4. As always, great information. If I could echo Greg H. below, would you be willing to share the “tactical” hooks that you use. Thanks and keep well.

    Reply
  5. Dom, Very interesting. I will immediately stop buying new jig hooks (and expensive slotted beads) since I have a large inventory of conventional Daichi nymph and scud hooks in all sizes. I can relate and debunk another common myth as a result of fish bowl research conducted in my fly shop by Eric Stroup and I sixteen years ago. Catskill dry flies do not rest on the tail and the hackle points as fly photos display. In fact, unless the tail is tied extremely thick it will not support the hook at all! inevitably on drop after drop, the tail punched through the surface as did the hackle points. The stiffer the hackle points (expensive ones) the more they punched through. We found that traditional dry flies (Catskills) rode on the hackle butts close to the bodies with tail fibers on a down angle under water! Another surprise was that Catskills tied with soft floppy hackles floated higher than with stiff hackles! As you said…if you don’t believe me, do your own experiment. This research led me to develop my CET Crippled emerger with a deliberate underwater tail made with tying thread and an upright wing of polypro.

    Reply
  6. Interesting, and in line with my experience. Related to this, Lloyd Gonzales has some interesting observations in his fly tying book. I have tried tying flies that I want to orient wing case up, such as split case nymphs tied with a foam wingcase, on ring eye hooks, to reduce the tendency to invert. I’ll use a scud hook and a bead for most nymphs, though, and I’ve quit putting wingcases on most of them, tying “in the round” partly out of laziness, and partly because I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t matter all that much.

    Reply
  7. Aha! I KNEW it! (No I didn’t). Good stuff, thanks. Nice new look on the comments section, by the way. 🙂

    Reply
  8. What good timing, since I was pondering this myself, “how to get flies to ride hook point up?” You answered my question in the fishbowl, but I need more convincing when in the stream. I think what is tied on the hook has the final say.

    For instance, fishing yesterday for steelhead, I was using a zonker “white death” and casting upstream with a sort of Euro-style drift down. I had success, but I did notice the fly riding point down all the time. I think the current in water can turn some flies especially as you say some materials float more than others.

    I also tie most of my nymphs without added weight this time of year. During the cold water periods, I prefer a nymph to be effected by currents more. I will transition when water temps are over 52 or so, and fish are holding in fast water again. I have not been able to get the light nymphs to stay point up. I’m going to try adjusting materials a bit. Maybe you have suggestions?
    Thank you Dominic!

    Reply
    • Hi Richard,

      As I mentioned, streamers on a jig hook are different — material matters more. But in my testing, on nymph sizes, material doesn’t matter much at all.

      And I grant you that the currents toss a nymph around. But there is still a baseline — a default orientation that the nymph wants to get back to. And I’d argue that the nymph likely stays in the default orientation more often than not. That’s just my take on it.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  9. Nicely done sir.

    Reply
  10. Any advice on using an open loop knot instead of a tight clinch knot? Have you looked at these knots in the same situations?
    Cheers, Stevie

    Reply
    • Yes. I used a Davy in all the test above. Clinch does the same. Loop knot doesn’t force the fly into any certain angle that much, but the fly ends up into what I referred to as the default angle above. Basically, on a loop knot, the fly orients to the same position as it takes after casting and fishing the fly on any other knot. More on that in my answer to Mike, below.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  11. OMG. You’ve done it. Prince “horns” are actually legs! ; )

    Reply
  12. What about effect of “loop knot”? Using this knot as most of us do, at least for anchor fly and for the dropper as well would throw out several of the knot/fly possibilities tested above.
    Not discussed above is the reduced frequency of bottom hook-ups and seemingly easier dislodgement with jig hooks. (Maybe this is a combination of the jig hook & loop knot.)
    Anyway, I am staying with jig hooks and two fly system with the ‘mono rig’–at this point it is too efficient for me to change. I must always remember: “Slack is my enemy.”

    Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      Few things:

      Most of the anglers I know do not use loop knots for nymphs. Personally, I find the loop knot more bother than it is worth, in most situations.

      You wrote, for the loop knot that it would:
      “throw out several of the knot/fly possibilities tested above.”

      But I didn’t really talk about knots. I only used the Davy for those pics, just to keep things uniform.

      I didn’t mention the loop knot, because it doesn’t really change much. In my testing, I found that the loop knot on a jig hook puts the hook in the default position that the fly ends up in with any other knot after a bit of fishing (as mentioned above). Essentially, a jig nymph on a loop knot ends up riding almost exactly like the Bread-n-Butter jig nymph featured in the last pic, above. It’s the same angle, or a little more vertical, actually. Is your experience different? Have you tested this?

      You wrote:
      “Not discussed above is the reduced frequency of bottom hook-ups and seemingly easier dislodgement with jig hooks.”
      I don’t find that to be the case at all. In my experience there is no difference. And again, I believe it’s because all my nymphs are inverted, really.

      But I do agree and encourage you to stay with what you like. If it’s working for you, why change?

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  13. Interesting, I wondered about this for sometime .

    Reply
  14. @ mike h i always use a loop knot for those reasons…mono rig rules

    Reply
  15. So, does this mean that all my nymphs are tied upside down? (The darker “back” really presents as a darker “belly” in the water?

    Reply
    • Your results do not surprise me, I found similar results when I did some testing with my favorite nymphs a decade or so ago. I was wondering why almost every fish I caught was hooked in the upper lip, and hook orientation seemed a likely culprit. That little experiment totally changed how I rigged my nymph setups from that day forward and I feel I became a better nymph fisherman because of it.

      Reply
        • Dom,

          I started sliding the fly on my leader, hook point up, and letting it slide between two surgeon’s knots a couple inches apart. It takes a bit longer to set up, but it solves the fly orientation problem, allows the fly to move somewhat freely, hooks fish well, and almost never tangles.

          Reply
  16. Good to know that even weighted nymphs follow the path of least resistance!

    Reply
      • And hydrodynamics!

        Reply
          • Think of your weighted nymphs as tiny weather vanes influenced by the forces of water instead of wind.

          • Thanks Rick. I’d still like to hear more. When I think of the nymph that way, the material would seem to matter a great deal, then. But as I mentioned above, what materials make up the fly had no affect in the hook orientation, in my testing.

            Dom

  17. Dom,

    Interesting read. I agree that the fly is not going to ride much differently depending on jig hook vs standard hook. I feel that it is also true that in addition to the attachment angle altering the angle of the fly in the water, it is also important to consider the angle of the tippet in relation to the surface. For example, if tight lining in a slow pool with your tippet entering the water nearly perpendicular to the surface, the head of the fly is going to be angled upwards as seen in your pictures. However, if you are fishing a faster riffle and your tippet is entering the water at more of a 45 degree angle, your fly should theoretically be closer to horizontal because your tippet is now at an angle but your attachment angle to the eye of the hook is the same. I doubt this subtlety truly makes a difference to catch rates, but conceptually its cool to think of what the trout are actually seeing when we chuck our bead heads at them.

    Dig the content, keep it coming.

    Reply
    • Thank, Drew. I think that’s a fair point. And it goes together with the influence of the river currents and other non-testable factors. After testing hook orientation a lot, with different knots and angles and tippet sizes, I don’t believe that leading at a 45 degree angler would actually change the hook orientation beyond what is shown above. That’s just my hunch, although it’s a strong one.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • The nymph and, importantly, the tippet/leader act as a single “unit” which is at the mercy of hydraulic drag. The falling/suspended/drifting “unit” will move into a position that allows for the least amount of resistance to the drag forces.

      Your suspension tests probably don’t completely account for complexity of forces that occur when your nymphs are drifting, however my guess is that those down/straight eye hooks would still invert in a hook up position. The up-eye experiment still follows the rules.

      Reply
  18. This thread got me thinking. What’s the breakdown (%) in hooking placement?

    Top jaw?
    Bottom jaw?
    Corner jaw?
    Gullet/gills?

    Reply
  19. A bent up eye hook should make the nymph ride point down.
    I don’t have any to test. Would this effect strike angle of hook point though?

    Reply
    • I don’t agree that a bent up hook eye would make the fly ride point down. The attachment angle is not as powerful as the pull of the weight of the nymph itself. And again, the fly ends up defaulting to it’s average orientation.

      Those are my thoughts.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  20. Guess I better see if I can bend some hook eyes.

    Reply
    • Rick, you are right. I just tested a 2XL, upturned hook eye, with bead and lead wraps. It does indeed orient with the hook down. Even when using a loop knot (essentially removing the attachment angle influence) the hook does ride with the hook point down.

      Now, I only tested that one hook, so I can’t speak to all hook styles. But those results are interesting.

      Personally, I’m glad that all my nymphs ride inverted. But if someone wants to force a hook down orientation of the nymphs, then a turned up eye may be the way to do it.

      Thanks, Rick. That’s cool.

      Dom

      Reply
  21. The only reason I see for hook point down is wing cases and two tone color nymph orientation. But it doesn’t seem to matter to the trout. I like the idea of using regular hooks to keep the hook gap open. Maybe that is why some think they snag more.

    Reply
  22. Great article. You just saved me a bunch of time & money trying to find jig hooks.

    Reply
  23. Dom,
    Very informative article. I didn’t realize not much difference between how a beaded jig hook and beaded non-jig hook ride in the current. I now wonder if natural insects ride inverted while drifting in the current? Since we as anglers try to mimic a natural dead dift of an insect should we adjust our nymphing tactics? In other words, simply use a beaded fly as the anchor and fish non-beaded flies on tags for a more natural drift? I love the science lesson – LOL!

    Reply
    • Hello Ty,

      I don’t think the naturals ride inverted, no. But depending on water type, I’m sure they get tossed around a bit, just like our nymphs. And honestly, I don’t think trout care what our nymph orientation is. That’s my opinion, anyway.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  24. I can’t explain why, but all of the sudden I want a beer.

    Reply
  25. I am questioning the wisdom of the extra effort involved tying wing cases.

    Reply
    • Well, I like wing cases on about half of my nymphs. Again, I’m sure trout see our nymphs at many different angles.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  26. I thought competition anglers used weighted jig hooks to solve two problems: they aren’t allowed to use split shot and hook point up decreases hang ups. Thanks for the informative article.

    Reply
  27. What do you think of the drop shot method of fishing a double nymph set up?

    Reply
    • Hi Larry.

      I drop shot sometimes. But I find it more bother to set up than it’s worth, usually. It also sets my nymphs a little too much out of the strike zone a little too often — for me.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  28. As usual, you are the BEST! Thanks for this info.
    Also, loved your pod cast on Wet a Fly Swing. More GOOD information.

    Reply

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