I just returned from 7 days of baby tarpon fishing in Mexico. No, it wasn't a dream trip or even great fishing. In fact, it was the toughest I've had in 4 trips to Campeche, but the new (for me) Varivas hooks I used saved the trip! I had previously used Owner Aki's, which I still believe are very good hooks for baby tarpon. But with the Varivas, I only jumped off about 4-5 fish in 7 days. I removed the fly from a couple dozen. That kind of ratio just has never happened for me before. Hell, I'm usually thrilled if I get half of 'em to hand. Some days I remember 1 in 3, 1 in 4, when I'm doing it right.
On this trip, I was sticking the fish, and they were jumping all over the place and staying hooked for the most part. I didn't miss too many hits either, probably only about one in 6 or so. There just weren't too many misses. I didn't change anything I've been doing for years except that I took a bunch of flies tied on the Varivas 2600 V. Same fly patterns I've always used. Same size of hook gap. (1/0 and 2/0 Varivas, 2/0 and 3/0 Owner)
For another test I guess, I'll be going back to Campeche the last week of March, and then I'll see if my hook-up rate and land ratio remain so crazy-high.
As said, fishing was slow compared to other trips there, but I was met with some VERY low winter morning tides (which I knew going in), and a cold front that had passed 3 days before I arrived, which dropped temperatures 15 degrees into the shivering 60's and 70's. Not a lot of action, but I believe the hooks allowed me to keep the rod bent and the silver flying much more than usual, for me anyway.
*I don't have any interest in the sales or marketing of Varivas hooks. They're Japanese imports. But I sure sold on 'em for a while now!
I don't like Owner Aki's for tarpon either. Although they are sharp and have a "cutting" point, it is wide like a shovel, and I think it might enlarge the hole it makes during the fight more than hooks with a rounder wire cross section. That is a much bigger problem in long fights with fish that are constantly switching direction than with bottom dwellers say.
I tried Gama Octopus last tarpon season, with good landing/hookup ratios on big tarpon, especially considering that most of the fish were caught by first time or first fish tarpon fishermen. The Octopus have thin roundish wire, upturned eyes and are offset hooks. The offset, I think, makes a big difference - but it could just have been a lucky string as you also allude to. Although the point does angle in towards the shank a bit, it is not so radical that I think it would not work with a straight eye - in fact, it is less an angle than the Varivas.
If you want a straight eye, the upturned eye can be straightened with a propane torch, a pair of vice grips behind the eye and a pair of pliers. I use a machinist vice, but not many people have access to one. Though the vice grips will act like a heat sink to help protect the temper beyond the eye, I dunk the hook in oil immediately after straightening to protect the temper in the rest of the hook. The entire hook is hardened, so the eye will simply snap off if you don't heat the eye before straightening.
I will hopefully get a chance to do more intensive empirical research this coming spring. I'll let you know the results if you do the same after your next tarpon trip with the Varivas.
Bob: No problems with wire thickness. I believe the sharpness and angle compensate for any thickness because these things go in. And on the baby fish in Mexico, I'm strip-setting with a fast 7wt and a softer 8wt, and it still goes in easily. I am using at least 20lb. leaders though, with a 30 or 40 shock, so I can stick it to 'em pretty good with that!
I'm a little over a week away from 7 more days of it down there, so I'll get to see if the results match the last trip, or if I was just lucky. I'm not fishing with any flies on any other hook though! I know my results with those. About par, on a good day.