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.
Well...at 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
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.