A Primer on Fly Tying Hooks
At first glance, and well maybe even at second glance fly tying hook sizes can be confusing. They have not only the size number attached to them but then they have all those x numbers following them. So they come out reading size 12, 1x short, 1x fine. Or size 8, 2x long 2x heavy. To the beginner it is hard to discern what hook should be used for what style fly. Or further how to obtain a decent hook inventory without buying fifty different hook styles.
I tied flies commercially for years, and worked into a basic hook inventory that consisted of dry fly hooks, nymph hooks, scud hooks, streamer hooks, and a few specialty hooks. For each style I kept various sizes of each style. For the hobbyist, one needs to write down the flies one would like to tie. And the sizes you like, and then proceed from there as your budget allows.
To help you distinguish the style of fly hooks, most if not all fly hook manufacturers label their hooks as to the basic style. For example dry fly hooks. A Mustad 94840, is a basic dry fly hook, likewise a Tiemco 100, as is a Daiichi 1180. They also have a basic size 10,12,14,16, etc. It seems perhaps a bit misleading that the lower number denotes a larger size, but that is how the system goes. The size also only measures the gape, between the hook point the hook shank, it actually means nothing for the hook length, which is where many fly tyers and fly fisherman get confused.
While most dry fly hooks are what is called 'standard length'. Nymph hooks can be standard or 1x long, 2x long and on up, or even 1x short, 2x short on down. What the number before the 'x' means, is they are actually 1 hooks size longer or shorter shank than standard. For example a size 14 1x long nymph hook, is actually the same hook length as a standard size 12. Every tier and fly supplier has their own preferences, so a size 14 Hare's Ear, might actually be tied on a 1x long hook or a 2x long hooks, thereby appearing like a larger fly to the fly angler. To repeat the size actually only refers to the gape of the hook, between the hook point and the hook shank and has nothing to do with the size of the fly.
There is help however, almost all standard dry flies are tied on standard hooks. The exceptions being Stimulator or Salmonfly type flies, Hoppers, Damsels, and other long bodied flies. These would come under the specialty hooks mentioned earlier. Long curved shank hooks actually are used for both dry flies and nymphs although their wire is a little thin for my liking for nymphs.
The second x is the wire gauge. Hook manufacturers naturally use larger wire diameter for larger hooks. But this can be modified and is. If a hook is size 12 2x heavy. That means the hook is 2 times the thickness that normally would be used for size 12. These hooks are helpful when going after very large trout or steelhead, or other large game fish, or if one likes to use unusually large tippet. In short if your fish is going to be on the hook for a long time, there is a chance the hook will straighten out, then one might like extra strong hooks.
One other word about wire gauge is dry fly hooks are made of lighter gauge wire, to aid in floatation. Nymph hooks are made of heavier gauge, as they tumble into rocks, sticks etc. and ability to float is not a factor.
A couple of other notes about hooks. Scud hooks are curved and short, for tying of course, scuds, but also caddis pupa, midges, sow bugs, and even egg style patterns. Streamer hooks are extra long, at least 4x and up to 6x, for buggers, muddlers, and the whole rich library of streamer patterns, used for all types of game fish. Saltwater hooks are coated in stainless, so they don't rust in the ocean. And there are a bunch of other specialty hooks for very specific uses.
The controversy of using chemically sharpened hooks or not has been brewing for quite sometime now. If you not familiar with this, you will soon be. Mustad hooks have caught more fish than all other hook manufacturers combined, and they are not chemically sharpened. If you do not know how to hand hone a hook, you should learn. For even if you buy chemically sharpened hooks, they become dull, just as Mustad hooks do, from snags, fish, tree limbs, etc. If you do buy Mustad hooks, before use, run a file a couple of times on them to give them a refined point. The chemically sharpened bunch has now even raised the bar, with an extra fine point, that costs an exorbitant amount to buy. I just wonder when the madness will end, and how all those fish got caught in the previous two hundred years of fly fishing. But the chemically sharpened crowd has many respected fly designers and fisherman that won't use anything else, and some don't even have a financial stake in their success.
So there you have it a hopefully simplified explanation of the fly tying hook world and it nuances. There are many fine hook charts online, that can aid in selecting the right hooks. But it is also nice to know what want one is reading when looking at the hook labels. And to this extent I hope this article has helped.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cameron Larsen is a retired commericial fly tier and fly fishing guide. He now operates The Big Y Fly Company. http://www.bigyflyco.com/flyfishinghome.html He can be reached at email@example.com. This article will appear in the Big Y Fly Fishing E-Zine at Http://www.bigyflyco.com/Bigyflyfishingezine.html