by: Don Shipp


Obviously, the foundation of fly tying for any pattern begins with the hook. With all the new technology available these days, deciding which hook is best, for which pattern, can be confusing to the beginning fly tier. Unless you are creating a new pattern from scratch, every recipe you find in books or on the Internet, designates the hook style and size for the pattern to be tied. For most tiers, especially beginners, being familiar with only two types of hooks are all you need to be concerned with.  1) The Dry Fly and 2) The Wet Fly.


The Dry Fly hook is made with light gauge wire, which help them float on the surface. Wet Fly hooks, which include wet flies, nymphs and streamers, are typically a heavier gauge wire to assist in the sink rate of the fly. As you progress with your abilities, you will find the need to use a different variety of styles and sizes and brands.   

The size, length, wire size and the shape of the hook all determine how the completed pattern will react in or on top of the water.  The size of a fish hook is determined by its' pattern and  is given in terms of the width of the gape between the hook point and the hook shank.  

Be sure to check out our on-line store for your hook needs.

Anatomy of the Hook

The two important dimensions of the hook are its' gape and throat.  Note the width of the gape, the clearance between point and shank, and the depth of the throat of the hook.  These generous dimensions make for a bigger bite, for deeper penetration of the point, and for better holding power.  




The Gape (size of the hook) :   The distance between point and shank and is what determines the size of the hook.  Hooks range in sizes from 19/0 (largest) down to 32 (smallest). 


The Shank (length): Can be longer or shorter than standard for a given hook size. It is a numerical designated by 2X long or 2X short.  The higher the "x" number, the longer or shorter the hook .  Without an "x" designation is considered "standard."


Wire Size: Indicates the weight or gauge of the hook and determines how the fly will sink or float. For flies that you want to float,  you can get hooks with lighter gauge wire designated by 1X fine or 1X light.  For flies that you want to sink, you have available heavier gauge wire designated by 1X strong or 1X heavy.  Again, the higher the "x" number, the heavier or lighter the hook.  Depending on the pattern and the desired "sink rate," other weight can be added to the hook during construction of the pattern in the form of bead-heads or lead wire. 

Style: It's unbelievable, how many varied styles there are today. Hook manufacturers label their hooks primarily based on the function, i.e., Dry Fly, Nymph, Scud, Streamer, etc. Most of the differences are dependant on the Bend, Gape, Shank and Weight of the hook.  You should choose your hook based on the pattern description or on the type and size of fly you're tying.   

Barb or Barbless: Most anglers blindly use barbed hooks, and think fishing with barbs is the only way to go. This couldn't be further from the truth. With the proper technique, you shouldn't lose any more fish using barbless, as opposed to barbed hooks.

Fishing barbless has become essential to the health of our fishing stock.
Pressure on fish is growing intense as the popularity of fly fishing increases.

It's imperative that you use barbless hooks when practicing catch-and-release or in designated areas (it's the law in many areas). As you can imagine, barbless fishing is less likely to injure fish and will improve their survival rate.

Barbless fishing has its advantages:
    1) It enables you to release fish quicker, with less injury to the fish.
    2) You can un-snag yourself more easily when you happen to be the "catch of the day!"


    It's easier to achieve a solid hook set and it can actually increase your strike-to-hook-up ratio because you’re freed from having to overcome the resistance of the barb.

If you happen to be fishing with barbs but would rather not, the solution is simple -- just pinch the barbs down with a pair of pliers either at the vise or on the stream.  The best way to flatten a well-designed hook is to work slowly, starting at the rear of the bar and working your way forward. Most of the time you will not be able to get the barb perfectly flat, but as long as you can get the point of the barb down to the hook proper, you should be in good shape. You can also file the barb off.

Fish Barbless! It's better!


Hook Eyes: Hooks come in basically three main eye types: Turned-up Eye (TUE), Turned-down Eye (TDE) or Straight.  The eye itself, may be configured according to manufacturer or application.  Any one of these types will work for just about any fly pattern.  In most cases the type you choose is a personal preference.

Ball Eye:  A strong un-tapered eye, it is the simplest eye form.   It is available turned up and turned down.  Considered to be too heavy for dry flies, hooks with ball eyes are used primarily for wet flies, nymphs and streamers.

Tapered Eye: Also produced turned up and turned down.  The tapered eye is made to maintain a full inner diameter while at the same time it features a reduced outer diameter.  This is achieved because the diameter of the wire decreases as the eye closes.  The larger diameter makes for easier insertion of leader material in the eyes of the hook and, when turned up, it faces away from the point of the hook, leaving the gap clear and enhancing the chances of the small hook setting firmly and quickly when hit.   Tapered eye hooks are used for dry flies, wet flies and streamers. 

Looped Eye: Properly referred to as the looped eye because of its construction, this eye has been a traditional characteristic of salmon fly hooks.  It is a strong fly hook, easily tied to leaders and is less likely to fray them than ball or tapered eyes.   In addition to dry and wet salmon hook patterns, the looped eye is available in a barbless dry fly pattern and in a long-shanked streamer hook.  Available turned up and turned down. 

Oval Eye: This eye takes it name form it obvious shape.  A characteristic found on many traditional salmon fly hooks as well as numerous treble hooks.  The oval eye is used to achieve a slimmer profile than an eyed hook.

Because there are so many manufacturers and styles of hooks, I have purposely not included a 

Hook Comparison Chart.

However, a www.google.com search for "Hook Comparison" , will locate many brands and styles of hooks.  One of the most comprehensive charts I have found can be found at http://www.killroys.com/hooks/hookchrt.htm.


Fly Tying and Fly Fishing: