Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Apr 23, 2012

Tying properly constructed dry flies is slightly more complex than putting a hook in the vise and being able to fashion the feathers and fur to the hook in a proper manner. Sometimes even well tied imitations fail because little or no thought was given to the hook model used, or how the imitation was to be fished, which included knowing the position of the rod tip at the time of the take. Sounds pretty involved, huh. Well it can be for those who want to maximize their effectiveness with dry fly imitations.

In his 1982 book, "What the Trout Said", Datus Proper talks to some degree about what I call the "hooking angle". But because he fails to take into consideration the attitude of the rod tip at the moment of the take and strike, I therefore feel his conclusions are faulty. I have looked through several books dealing with the theory and design of dry fly and fishing practice and few authors have given any time to this important consideration when dealing with dry fly construction.

Datus Proper talks about smaller hooks opening up, and makes an interesting comment on the quality of hooks, which I will now quote:

"One American angler, J. Edson Leonard, was delighted to quote a scientist who had opined that "the development of mankind can be measured by the improvements in his fish-hooks." If this is true, mankind has been on the way downhill since the 1930's."

I find this to be somewhat of a smug statement that makes me think that perhaps he had failed to consider all the available data. Often I hear anglers complaining about hooks, generally size 12 or smaller, that have opened up and the trout was lost, or the fish was landed but the hook had opened up so much that the fly still had to be changed. Now the problem could be poor quality hooks, or selecting a hook with wire that was too light for the fishing conditions faced, but most often this turns out to be a problem of modern technology.

I will use Mr. Proper's remark about hooks going "downhill since the 1930's" as a basis for establishing a relative time period. During this same time period I would like to point out that the advances in terminal tackle (tippets & leaders) has been astounding. The advances in just the past few years have been remarkable. Today we have materials with very small diameters yet very high strength. Using the Orvis Super Strong tippet material as an example and comparing it to various materials used from the 1930's to present day, will give you an understanding of the changes that have taken place in the modern technology of leader material. Then you add the fact that the wrong hook was chosen for the situation in question.

Furthermore, you can throw another consideration into the problem simply by adding the type and style of fly rod being used. Was the rod one of the newer, super-fast, hi-tech fly rods which are wonderful casting tools, or so the makers claim, (but with this faster, stiffer action comes a decided loss in what I call "feel"), or was the rod a softer action graphite, fiberglass or perhaps cane?

You can see that a simple statement may not have such a simple answer, as there are numerous factors to evaluate and consider. Another statement that is often heard is: "I barely felt the fish, must have struck too fast."

Sound familiar? Sure it has happened to us all. After careful study and observation I feel that we may, in fact, be taking the fly away from the trout at the point of the take simply because we have chosen the wrong hook for the type and style of pattern being fished. Several authors have talked to some degree about hook penetration, effective shank length, temper, direction of draw, and the mechanics of stress. The most recent being Darrel Martin in his 1987 book entitled "Fly Tying Methods". In this book he does an excellent job detailing the various aspects of the hook, but even he doesn't spend much time on the style of the hook versus the style of the fly and the fishing method being employed.

Therefore, after considering the style or pattern type selected, along with the tackle employed and the tactics used I will explain my selection of the proper hook to go with these pattern types. I will also cover the attitude of the rod tip at the moment of the take and how I tighten into the trout, along with some tips on fighting and landing the trout. Both of these problems are so closely related that both must be considered before either can be adequately resolved. I will pass on the conclusions I have drawn after giving these problems careful study and consideration. I will make an attempt to cover each area of the problem and clearly define my conclusions. Now I don't claim that what you are about to read is the final word, but I do know that the system I use works for me, as I seldom have hooks open up and my hooking percentage is much improved.

However, I offer this warning. To all theories or "rules" there are exceptions. In other words, regardless of how well a subject is explained and covered there will be situations that arise where the angler will have to adapt the "rules" to master the moment. The first area that I will cover is matching the proper styles to the correct pattern types.

Over the years I have used Mustad hooks and Partridge hooks when I could afford them. But since 1986 I have used Tiemco hooks for all my dry mayfly imitations and have found them to be superior in quality besides having a wide selection of hook models to choose from. For all of my flush floating patterns such as parachutes, thorax, no hackles, Comparaduns, sparkle duns and spinners, I use Tiemco 101 because they allow the pattern to sit in the surface film in the proper manner. They also allow a direct pull on the take, which gives me a better hooking percentage. The Tiemco 101, when used for these pattern types, also allows for a better angle of penetration if the strike is properly made at the correct time in regards to the situation of the moment. By this I mean, when fishing dry flies either upstream or across-stream after making the cast and mending if necessary, I lower the rod tip to within one inch of the surface and place the line under the forefinger of my rod hand.

I then control or take in the slack by pulling the line behind the forefinger. When the trout takes the imitation the first thing I do is tighten into the fish by pulling the line straight. Then and only then, do I gently raise the rod tip. The following illustrations clearly show the angle of the drift, the take, and the direction of the draw after the trout is securely hooked.

Adams, Royal Wulff or the Marinaro Thorax pattern types, I use a Tiemco 100 hook. (By the way, there is a real difference between the accepted thorax pattern of today and the Marinaro thorax.)

Once again I lower the rod tip and tighten into the trout in the same manner as previously described. The following figures clearly show what happens to drift, the angle of penetration on the strike and the direction or angle of the pull after the rod is lifted.


TMC 101

Straight eye, 1X Fine Wire, Wide Gape, Forged, Bronze, Mini-Barb, Shape round, Available in Sizes: 8-26.

Possible Substitutes: TMC 501, Straight Eye, 1X Short, Standard Wire, Straight point, Forged, Bronze, Available in Sizes: 20-24. I use this for some imitations in small sizes like Trico Spinners.

Hook Specifications                           8         10        12        14        16        18        20


Shank Length (mm)                          12        11         9          8          7          6          5

Gape (mm)                                         6         5.5         5         4.5         4         3.5         3

Wire Diameter (mm)                        0.63     0.57     0.51     0.45     0.41     0.38     0.36

Bend Resistance (oz.)                       30        26        22        19        16        14        13


TMC 100
Shape round, Eye ball-turned down, 1X Fine Wire, Wide Gape, Forged, Bronze, Available in Sizes: 8-26
Possible substitutes: For heavy water I use TMC 9300, Shape Round, Eye ball-turned down, 1X Heavy Wire, Wide Gape, Forged, Bronze, Available in Sizes: 8-20.


Hook Specifications                           8         10        12        14        16        18        20

Shank Length (mm)                          11        10         9         7.8       7.5         6          5

Gape (mm)                                         6         5.5         5         4.5         4         3.5         3

Wire Diameter (mm)                        0.63     0.57     0.51     0.45     0.41     0.38     0.36

Bend Resistance (oz.)                       34        26        22        17        14        13        12

There will be certain situations where you will need to bend or adapt the "rules" to meet the situation. For example if I know that I am going to be fishing someplace where the trout usually run large or are noted for strength I would then go to a heavier wire hook like the TMC 9300, imitation size permitting, for either the conventional or flush floating patterns.

Another instance where I might alter the hooks is in the case of flies' size 22 and smaller. Then I generally use TMC 101, as I don't want the eye of the hook to interfere with the gape of the hook.

For patterns that I plan to fish with movement, such as bouncing or skittering, I use Mustad 94842 as Tiemco offers nothing in the proper configuration with a turned up eye. The previous figure clearly shows why the up-eyed hook is the hook of choice for skittering patterns. In preparing this data, I reviewed all of my notes and observations concerning this problem plus reread most of the material written by others and often consulted Dick Stewart's "Hook Book". In doing so I have come to the conclusion that there is no one "perfect" hook style or model for all occasions.

Therefore, we do have a couple of choices. First, we could start our own hook manufacturing endeavor, or we can learn to properly use what is presently available. For centuries most fly hooks didn't have eyes as we know them. Turned down eyed hooks for fly tying first became popular in England between 1870 to 1880 and really weren't established in this country until  the turn of the century. Since the 1930's we have seen an amazing growth in the number of styles and models that we have to choose from. This has opened up new challenges and pattern styles for the fly tyer.

Notes on Rods, Terminal Tackle, and Playing the Trout

The tackle we use and how we use it can also be a major reason why we are opening up hooks. But with proper tackle and learning how to use it we can operate more effectively. First we need to examine what kind of f1y rod we are using, as this can be a major factor. Today everyone seems to be promoting hi-tech, super strong, super-fast rods  that allow you to cast 60 feet of line into a breeze with no problem. Now isn't that just dandy!!!

Unfortunately I seldom, if ever, cast a smaller dry that far. In promoting these new hi-tech casting wonders it seems to me that some have forgotten about some of the basics of fly fishing, like a quiet, careful approach, getting as close to your target as practical, and practicing so you can place your imitation where you want it. Now, I am a reasonable caster who can lay out sixty feet of line without too much difficulty, but why do it? Seldom do I run into angling situations that require that kind of casting and when I do, it is luck more than skill that dictates whether I hook the fish or not. Furthermore, who in their right mind is going to cast a small dry fly sixty feet? Maybe Superman, as you would need super vision to see a small fly at sixty feet under most angling conditions. Because of the construction and design tapers of the new hi-tech rods the angler loses the sensitive "feel" of the fish.

Now don't misunderstand me. I use hi-tech rods and like them. I use these rods when I am fishing rivers like the Yellowstone, Madison or  Big  Hole where I am using larger dries (size 2 to 12), in both wading and floating situations. I still don't try many sixty foot casts, but the hi-tech rods are an excellent choice when fishing the larger rivers and when using bigger flies.

However, when fishing small streams or rivers with good hatches of small flies (size 16 to 24), I prefer to use a much softer rod that allows me to "feel" the fish, and believe it or not you can still make a reasonable cast of twenty to thirty feet and even do so without dislocating your arm and shoulder in the process. I have three rods that I prefer above all others. The first is the Orvis One Weight. I use this rod whenever I can. It allows for delicate presentation and once hooked, I can really "feel" the fish and therefore I can land a trout of 20" faster with this rod than any other rod I own or use.

My second choice in rods is bamboo. Cane rods have a softer action than the modern hi-tech casting marvels and because of the material used in construction offer the angler a subtle "feel" that you are unable to find in the newer rods. I prefer cane rods from seven to eight feet, handling three or four weight lines. My third choice in rods is a soft to medium action graphite, eight to eight and half feet and using three to five weight lines. Several rod companies offer these light line rods. My favorites are Orvis and Thomas and Thomas.

All of the rods I have mentioned have a softer, slower action when compared to the hi-tech models, but they allow the angler to "feel" the fish. If you can "feel" the trout you will be able to judge when you need to let him run and when it's just a false surge. Because of this "feel" you won't apply too much pressure and open up the hook or break him off.

Now that you have the trout hooked with a rod that offers "feel" the next suggestion that I would make is to learn how to manipulate the rod so that you can keep the trout off balance. If you learn how to do this you will find that you are landing the trout much faster. The one thing that is seldom mentioned today is the difference between a casting tool and a fishing tool. If I were fishing big flies or using other methods, I might need a hi-tech wonder rod. But for fishing smaller dry flies I need a softer, full-flex fishing tool and they are not always the same.

Also I strongly recommend using a net. First you will be able to control the trout faster and return him to the water quicker with a net than trying to use your hand. I would like to point out that when using a net make sure it has a soft bag so you don't harm the trout. You also need to use a reel with a good smooth drag system when using small flies and fine tippets, but that's another story.

Another point that I would like to make is that the angler should be fully aware of the strength of the tippets being used. If the tippet is too strong for the hook being used you may then employ too much pressure causing the hook to open up. Try this. Take a length of 4X and tie it to a size 18 hook and apply a straight pull until something gives and then do the same with 5X, 6X, & 7X. This little exercise will go a long way in helping you understand the strength of the tippet and the hooks.


If the angler/tyer chooses the right hook for the pattern style being used and if the proper tackle and methods are employed you will find that you have fewer trout breaking you off or opening up the hooks. Now don't think for a minute that you will ever be able to totally eliminate these occurrences because you won't, as there are too many variables to deal with. Such as fish that get the hook at a bad angle which applies incredible pressure to the bend. But all things being equal these techniques will help you land more fish with fewer problems.

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