Boundary Waters, MN


When I started tying flies in the 70s, I thought I could save money. I was wrong. Over the next 60 years, I have spent thousands of dollars on materials to tie flies.  It would have been much cheaper to have purchased every fly I use in that period. Of course, I would have missed all the fun of tying the flies.  I learned a lot, and I do think my flies last longer than the store-bought flies.

Unless you use some very exotic materials, hooks are probably the most expensive part of a fly. A walk down the aisle of your favorite fly shop or an evening browsing a fly company catalog will reveal many different hook manufactures and styles. Do we really need that many different hooks?  In the fly recipe, did the tier choose that particular hook for a reason, or did he use one he had on hand?


There are many terms used to describe a hook.

Probably the most familiar is size. The hook’s size is determined by the gape, the distance between the point of the hook and the shank. Hooks are measured in even numbers, with the higher number representing a smaller hook.  There are some odd-numbered size hooks.  Large hooks are described as 1/0 ( one aught).  The larger the number, the larger the hook.

The style of the bend can also be used to describe a hook.  The most common styles are perfect, sproat, and limerick. The style of the bend is probably not very important.  A fish attracted to a well-tied fly will probably not refuse it because it’s tied on a hook with the wrong style bend.

The hook’s eye can be described as TU, turned up, TD, turned down, or straight.  One may have an advantage over the other.  A TU eye will not interfere with the hooking ability of small hooks. In contrast, a straight eye will enable better sitting of the hook.

The shank can be described by the length or weight of the wire used to form the hook. Extra-long hooks are described as XL.  Extra short hooks are XS.  A number in front of the designation is a multiplier.  For example, a hook described as 2 XL is as long as a hook two sizes larger. A hook made from wire heavier than standard is described as stout or heavy.  The use of light wire is defined by the word fine in the description.  Multipliers are also used in these descriptions.

See also  Paraloop Flies


Most hooks these days are manufactured by a few companies in Japan or China.  One company may even produce identical products with different labels for different retailers. They may differ in the finish.  Some may be chemically sharpened, but they are basically the same hook. But, they may not be the same price!

What Hook Should I Use?

If you are tying a particular pattern and have the style and size hook recommended, use it. If you don’t have the right style and size, here are some general guidelines.

For a wet fly, use a standard hook in the correct size with extra heavy wire, XH. The extra weight will help the fly sink. Of course, you could also add weight to help the fly sink. For dry flies, use a standard hook with extra fine wire, XF.  Streamers should be tied on extra long hooks, XL.

Over the years, I have accumulated over 4 shoeboxes full of hooks. If a pattern calls for a specific hook, I probably have it.  But oftentimes, I can’t find it. Currently, I am using Lightning Strike hooks distributed by Wapsi in Mountain home. I have all their styles and sizes organized in hook bins by size and style. They’re easy to find and readily available when tying.  The nice thing about them is that they are inexpensive.  But they are not cheap.  Lightning Strike hooks are quality-made forged of Japanese steel. They are chemically sharpened and bronze finished.

If you want specific suggestions for a substitute for a  specific hook model, look to Hooks for the Fly. A book by William E. Schmidt.  In it, he cross-references charts and descriptions of hooks for all the major manufacturers.

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