How To Fish Stillwaters

September 22nd, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Using Hook Hones

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

The average fisherman who considers himself or herself well equipped, carries several tackle boxes full of lures, swivels, sinkers and assorted odds and ends he knows he cannot do without.

The fly fisherman usually has a vest so fully stuffed, he sometimes gives the appearance of a fully loaded pack animal.

While the truly avid angler buys nearly everything the tackle shops offer, there is one thing missing in a great many tackle collections. There is one piece of equipment that improves the catch rate for every angler who chooses to use it, yet many of the fishermen I talk with in the field grin and ask why anyone would bother with it.

What is this magical piece of equipment? What simple tool would help anglers catch fish, yet many decline to use it?

A simple hook hone. least they used to be simple. When I first began carrying something to sharpen my fish hooks, it was a common 3-cornered file. I seldom went fishing without it.

My initial exposure to a hook hone - and the need to keep one's fish hooks razor sharp- occurred on a vacation fishing trip to a remote cental Idaho lake a half century ago. My wife and I were on our first vacation. We spent several days camped next to an elderly gentleman (he was probably younger than I am now) who was to influence my fishing techniques for the balance of my angling career.

It was my elderly friend at Idaho's Bull Trout Lake (I wish I'd kept a record of the old gent's name) who taught me to tie most of the knots that would form the heart of my spin, bait and fly fishing systems.

He taught me the short-cuts on the barrel knot, the clinch knot and the blood knot. He taught me to moisten my knots before I tightened them, and to routinely check them for defects. Even though the famed bull trout of Bull Trout Lake were long gone, and the fish we were fishing for were very small brook trout, he taught me to retie my flies every few fish (I still have trouble remembering this very important lesson).

I can't prove it, but I'm certain the lessons he taught me during the summer of 1953 saved me from losing many of the trophy fish I would later hook.

But the single most important lesson the old fisherman taught me, was to keep my hooks sharp. Store bought hooks, he told me, need to be sharpened before you use them. Especially fly tying hooks. I'd never heard of such a thing.

While there might have been tools especially designed for sharpening fish hooks, most of my early equipment consisted of simple metal files and engine tools used to sharpen points. Times have changed during the ensuing 50 years. I just went through my equipment and counted a dozen different hook hones. Some are metal, some are stone and some contain fine industrial diamonds.

I even have a tungsten carbide sharpening device that has the cutting strength of a diamond. While it is primarily a knife sharpening tool - marketed by Temrex, a division of the Interstate Dental Company and used to keep scalpels and cutting instruments medically sharp- it is now available to be used in the home orkshop or world of the fisherman.

While the instrument isn't particularly effective on small hooks designed for tying flies, it works well on larger bait hooks.

Whatever the angler's choice of hook hone, the key to keeping hooks sharp is to carry and use it. Many fly tyers make it a practice to sharpen their hooks before they tie their flies. While hooks fresh from the manufacturer may seem sharp, close scrutiny under a magnifying glass will usually reveal that most can be greatly improved. Having said that, I will stipulate the hooks we are now buying for tying flies, are much improved over the hooks that were available 20 or 30 years ago.

There are several methods used to sharpend fish hooks. The most common technique is to hone and maintain a cylindrical shape from the barb down to the point. While this works well on smaller hooks, larger fly and bait hooks should be sharpened with the "triangulation" method. By triangulating the point of a fish hook, the angler produces three cutting edges. In penetrating the mouth of a fish, the triangulated hook actually cuts its way through the bone or flesh. A round hook point pushes the flesh or bone aside and in doing so creates resistance.

On a spring channel catfishing trip last year, I spent an afternoon fishing with a pair of anglers from eastern Oregon. In looking over their equipment, I noticed their fish hooks, mostly size 2 through 2/0, were extremely dull.

They had each failed to hook fish after extremely violent strikes. When I asked them why they didn't sharpen their hooks, they looked at me as if I was from some other planet.

When a hook wears out (gets dull), one of the anglers informed me, I just replace it.

A dull hook could be considered a great conservation tool. But it is one tool this writer refuses to employ. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, The Successful Angler's Journal, More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from Marv. You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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