I’ve been meaning to get to this post for a long time (among plenty of others). A recent post on Gink and Gasoline and a conversation with an unnamed incredibly successful and talented teammate of mine yesterday brought the issue back to the forefront of my mind. He told me he’d been having issues with one of my favorite hooks rolling when hooking rocks but he didn’t have a sharpener to fix them!!! I told him, “yep, that happens every first time I tick a rock, but the hook is bomber after a sharpening.” So if you’ve been asking what I think the most neglected tool in fly fishing is, the answer is the hook sharpener (you can buy one in our shop here).
Today’s better hooks have strong, high carbon, tempered steel that is resistant to bending and dulling. I try to focus on quality hooks on this site and even decided not to add a large order of hooks from a new startup recently after I tested the hooks and found them to be soft and prone to bending out. It was a good chunk of inventory money wasted but if I wouldn’t be willing to fish them, I’m not going to ask you to pay me for them. But even the best hooks available will roll their points or dull when they become snagged, especially on rocks. The fine taper at the tip of most hooks will roll at least upon first contact with a snag. There’s only so much strength you can expect from wire at the point that is as thin as a human hair. The good news is that the typical hook point can be re-sharpened and restored to perfect function with a hook sharpener. But first, you need to know if your hook has been dulled.
Long experience has conditioned me to be extremely diligent (some might say anal) about checking my hook points. Early on in my competitive fly fishing career I spent a lot of time developing strategies to land the highest ratio of hooked fish that I could. While many improvements made were as a result of hooking and fighting angles and pressure, maintaining sharp hook points quickly rose to the top of the easy to fix list for lost fish. Many times over the years I’ve cursed myself for losing several fish in a row, often within the first few headshakes at the beginning of a fight. Often I’ve checked my hook after such a streak and have been angry to find I have a dull hook point that I could have fixed earlier. As a result, I’ve become acutely attune to each time I snag the bottom with any sort of force. I always check my hooks after a snag to make sure they are still in order. It’s a good time to check your tippet for nicks and abrasion as well.
How do you check your hook points? It’s a quick three step process for me:
- Inspect the hook point visually. Often you will be able to see a burr or rolled point.
- Give your fly the thumbnail test. This is simply pressing the hook point into your thumbnail at about a 45 degree angle. If the hook bites into your nail it’s probably sharp enough. If it scrapes across the surface, you’d better sharpen it.
- Rub toward the hook point with the tip of your thumb. This will help you feel which side of the hook the burr is on if you can’t see it visually.
The thumbnail test
Once you’ve identified if there is an issue, sharpening the hook is also simple. Take a hook sharpener/hone in one hand and the fly in your other. Start by putting the hook point against the sharpener at a shallow angle on the side where the burr is. Swipe the hook point against the sharpening surface 2-3 times moving the hook point up the sharpener with the hook point facing down (the sharpening surface tracks toward the hook point). I find it easiest to move the fly rather than moving the hook sharpener against a stationary fly. Then sharpen both of the hook sides with a single swipe of the hone to make sure the point is tapered from all angles. Follow with another quick thumb nail test. If the hook is still scraping swipe 2-3 more times on the side with the burr. If that doesn’t recondition your point, then your hook might have reached the end of its useful life.
Sharpen your hook points with swipes toward the hook point at a shallow angle.
The best part about the most neglected tool in fly fishing is that it isn’t an expensive one. You can pick up a diamond hook hone for the price of a couple of flies with the add to cart button below.