We'll be adding additional FAQs on materials and techniques to this subforum to support the up coming series of step by steps for folks looking to get started in tying...
In addition to sizes, hooks come in a variety of shapes, and can vary in the thickness of the wire, length of the shank, configuration of the bend (perfect, sproat, limerick), orientation of the eye (turned up eye, turned down eye or straight), and other factors.
First let’s take a look at a typical hook and define some of the common terms and relate them to fly tying. Then we’ll take a look a few different styles of hooks. Finally, in our up-coming series of step by steps for tying some basic trout, warmwater and saltwater patterns we’ll boil it down to a few recommendations for a few different types of hooks in some specific sizes to start tying.
A Basic Hook
In the above pic the parts of a hook are shown in black.
In red are common dimensions often referred to in fly pattern recipes and in our upcoming step by step instructions that will be used in helping to get "generally accepted" proportions and for designating tie-in or tie-off points for different materials.
From front of eye to rear of bend, not the same as shank length
The straight part of the shank from just behind eye usually to a point just above the barb, this is shorter than hook length. In some cases recipes may refer to material ½ shank in length
In most of the patterns that we’ll be tying we’ll reserve a space of bare metal at the front of the fly for the head about the same length as the width of the hook eye
In many recipes and the step by steps you’ll see references to the different areas of the shank for tying in materials or length of different parts of the fly—for example mayfly nymph patterns may have an abdomen consisting roughly of the 2/3 length of the shank, followed by a thorax front 1/3 of shank (less eye width for head) and then the head (eye width of shank directly behind eye). In this case you might see a tying instruction for the abdomen from point above barb to 60% or 70% point on shank
Used in some fly patterns, for example the length of adult caddis patterns often extend to outside of bend
The hook should be inserted in the jaws of vise to grip the hook here
Hook Gap or Gape:
Often used as a measurement for the length of materials, for example dry flies often call for stiff barbs of fly hackle to be 1.5 x the width of the hook gap
Bite or Throat:
Used in the context of referring to hooks, it's the distance from the point of the hook to the middle of the inside of the bend, this can be an important consideration of the ability to hold a fish once it's hooked. The term "throat" is also used to describe the "beard" of a nymph or wet fly
May be used as a reference for a point to tie in on the shank
Examples of Common Abbreviations used in describing hooks
- Standard = typically used for dry flies some wet flies
- 1 xl = a bit longer than standard, often used in nymphs and many wets
- 2 xl for 2 extra long = a size 14 hook has the shank length of a size 12
Thickness of wire
- 1xf = 1 extra fine, a thinner, lighter wire than standard. Fine wire hooks are commonly used for dry flies to aid in flotation
- 2xh or 2x stout= 2 extra heavy, a thicker, heavier and stronger wire, a size 14 hook has wire the thickness of a size 12 hook. Heavy wire hooks are often used in subsurface flies like nymphs and wets and hooks designed for particularly strong fish.
Bend of Hook
- Perfect, Sproat, Limerick, O’Shaughnesy, Siwash etc describe different types of hook bends. For the most part we’ll be using hooks with Perfect bends for this series of lessons.
- Offset Reverse etc describe hook points that are not parallel to the hook shank but are off set to one side to aid in hooking. Often found on short shanked hooks like scud and egg hooks and on some hooks designed to be used with poppers
- Curved, scud, swimming nymph, kinked shank standard describe different bends of the hook shank
Orientation of eye
- TDE = Turned Down Eye, most nymph, wet , dry and streamer hooks used for trout
- TUE = Turned up eye, commonly found on salmon hooks, also used for very small sized hooks to open up the gap to aid in hooking fish
- Straight eye = eye level and in line with shank
Spear - (the portion of the hook between point and barb) Hooks will vary in their sharpness out of the box. Manufacturers have also introduced different designs such as "Microbarbs", and processes such as chemically sharpened hooks. In addition, barbless hooks offered by manufactures in some models or modified by anglers (just crimping the barb with pliers) are often required on some waters or used by choice to easily remove hooks from fish and for safety (self and others).
- Hooks designed for use on saltwater patterns often differ in the coatings and typed of alloys used in their construction, making some harder to sharpen than others, more brittle and/or arguably having more /less environmental impact.
A few examples of different types of hooks
Many of the hooks below are size 12 for comparison purposes to better illustrate differences among hooks used on different types of patterns.
Nymph Hooks, size 12
top row, from left:
Size 12 Nymph Hooks from left 1 extra long, 2 extra long, 3 extra long and a size 12 Draper Nymph (a specialized and expensive hook designed for tying nymphs with flattened bodies primarily stonefly and some mayfly nymphs)
Wet Fly hooks, size 12
2nd row from top, from left:
2 extra heavy wire, sproat bend, standard length, and the same hook but 1 extra long
Scud hooks, size 12
3rd row from top,
Both hooks are 2 extra short, reverse off set, but one on left is a light wire hook for fishing close to the surface, the other is a heavier wire hook for fishing deeper. (The heavier wire hook is also a better choice for small sized hooks size 18 and smaller because it is stronger.)
Dry Fly hooks, size 12
4th row from top
Dry fly hooks usually have finer wire than other types of hooks to reduce weight. From left:
Standard wire, standard length dry fly hook (used on most dries), Extra fine wire standard length shank (for lightly hackled patterns), 2 extra long shank (used for some long bodied dries)
5th row from top, from left
4 extra long size 12 on left, 3 extra long Perfect bend size 8 and 4 extra long with Limerick bend size 8
Warmwater (many of the same hooks listed in above rows are also used)
6th row from top, from left
4 extra long streamer size 6, Mustad 3366 standard length size 4, (an inexpensive hook used on a lot of warm water patterns) , Kinked shank popper hook size 6, Stinger hook size 6 with enlarged gap used to increase clearance for hooking on spun deer hair bass bugs and other patterns
Saltwater Hooks all size 2/0
3rd row from bottom, from left
Mustad 34007 ( with “00”)a standard shank stainless steel, Mustad 3407DT (yes with only one “0”) identical hook with Duratin finish (an inexpensive alternative) , 4 extra long shanked Stainless Steel with offset point size 2/0 used for poppers and other patterns
2nd from bottom
Eagle Claw 254N Short shanked 2/0 with nickel finish an inexpensive hook used for some patterns and an Owner Aiki 5370 size 2/0 (a premium priced hook with heavy wire and sticky sharp chemically sharpened point right out of the box used for tarpon and tuna etc. )
Salmon Hooks size 6 and size 3
Size 6 salmon hook- note turned up eye, heavy black wire, size 6 short shanked hook often used for eggs, “Spey” style salmon hook size 3 (Note the shape compared to the standard style Salmon hook on the left . Also most models of hooks are only available in even number sizes, but there are some specialized hook designs that are only sold in odd sizes. In this case this would be in between a comparable size 2 and 4 hook.
Cost and other considerations
Hooks can also vary quite a bit in cost and even the same type of hook from one manufacturer may be a bit different from another--- ie a size 14 1xl nymph hook from Tiemco might be a bit longer or shorter than another brand’s size 14 1xlong nymph hook. But in general, manufacturers have comparable hooks at least for the major categories of patterns.
In the upcoming series of Step By Steps we’ll be keeping hook types to a minimum. We’ll also recommend specific sizes that are large enough for beginners to tie on, but not too large to be outside the range of most productive sizes for the type of pattern
The recommended hook sizes will also be within the boundaries of what the recommended materials will easily tie. For example it may be more difficult or expensive to find size bugger hackle with barbs short enough to tie 12, or inexpensive feathers with stems long enough to tie size 2 to than it is to find hackle for size 6 or 8 buggers. The recommended materials will also accommodate a wide variety of different patterns that are recommended in the series of lessons.
What did I forget? Let me know....