Materials-Part 2

The Hooks

We Tyers are lucky to be living when we do. There any number of hooks available to us today that would have Tyers of a hundred years ago dripping with envy. Our hooks come from literally all points of the globe. We also live in a technologically rich time when the science of metallurgy and technical know-how to make modern hooks is at it's peak.

Now, don't get me wrong, the early hooks given the resources the hook makers, had were marvels of their day too. Some were even artworks in their own rights.

The Salmon hook was really refined in England more than any other country. Yes, there were influences from other countries such as Scotland, Ireland and, others but, England had some of the premier hook makers up to this day. Partridge of Redditch was one of the leaders in the Salmon hook business for many years and, they brought us many shapes and size hooks that just weren't available from other makers.

Blind Eye Hooks
Top to bottom, Lucas, Antique T E Pryce-Tannatt, Partridge Bartleet CS10/3, Partridge Adlington & Hutchinson, Heritage, Partridge XL Bartleet HE2

The O Mustad & Son hook company of Norway has also been in the hook business for over 150 years. Theirs is the single largest hook making operation in the world. A couple years ago, Mustad purchased the Partridge Hook Company and have moved the hook making operation to Asia and other parts of the world. Many loyal users of Partridge hooks were not happy with this development. Change is often a difficult thing to endure. I must say the hooks made during the transitional period were somewhat disappointing to this Tyer.

I can say that the current hooks from Partridge I have seen are as good or better than the old ones ever were. Their finishes which I found to be poor during the "dark days" are now excellent and, the hooks are sharp. I hope they continue to bring us the shapes and sizes of hooks for a long time to come.

Eyed Hooks
Top to Bottom, Partridge CS14/1B, Partridge Bartleet CS10/1, Mustad 80500BL, Mustad 36890.

There are other hooks coming out of Asia under different names such as Tiemco, Daiichi and, others. Daiichi has some fine Alex Jackson Salmon hooks that are a very handsome shape.

Heritage hooks are still produced in a shop in England and are very nice for their blind eye display hooks. They also are good for fishing of course. If you are tying display flies and want an antique look to the flies, Heritage hooks are great. Castle Arms imports these into the USA so, they are available.

This brings me to a fellow by the name of Ron Reinhold who has a hook making shop in Williamsburg MI. I've not been fortunate to have visited his place but, it must be fantastic. His hooks are made from scratch, on machines he designed and built. The hooks are hardened with precision so, they are good for display or fishing (if you have deep pockets). He makes just about every antique hook shape that was made, faithfully following every curve and feature. He produces a couple grades of hooks, great and, even better (my words)! Ron will even custom make hooks for the customer! Of course, all this great service and, attention to detail comes with a price. His hooks vary in price from rejects (Still beautiful hooks!) for $5 each to $11 each for his traditional style hooks and, up to $25 for exhibition grade hooks which are flawless examples of hand made hooks.

To indicate how proud Ron is of his work, he signs and dates the hooks (actually, the bag they come in). His display hooks are placed in a nice wrapper like hooks of old.

The picture of Ron's hooks don't and, can't show the details of them due to the limitations of this media but, when you are holding his hooks, the true beauty is abundantly clear. His hooks have "soul." By that, I mean, they have been crafted by someone who knows what he is doing and, why he does it. It's like a fly tied by a Tyer who understands his/her materials, the insects, the behavior of the fly in action and, why the fish will take it. Do you get the impression that I am fond of Ron's handiwork?

Ron Reinhold Hooks

Daiichi Salmon Hooks

Daiichi Hooks from top, #2055 Alec Jackson Spey Fly Hook, gold finish, #2091 Alec Jackson Blind Eye, #2161, #2271 Dee/Streamer, #2131 Bob Veverka's "Classic Salmon Hook," #2151, #2141.

Earlier I mentioned the beautiful Alec Jackson hooks that Daiichi makes. They make many more Salmon/Steelhead hooks too. Most of the designs are thoroughly contemporary in design and quality. They also have a few other hooks suited to Salmon/Steelhead flies that I have not listed. As is the case with just about every Asian hook brand, Daiichi quality is high. I have used their hooks for many years and have never been disappointed with their products.

If you happen to get terminally bitten by the display fly bug, you may be one of those few Tyers that even go to the extremes of making your own hooks! Some, myself included, take existing hooks and reconfigure them to their personal needs. Some of the challenges encountered are the re-hardening of the hooks assuming you have heated them to soften the metal. The other is to put a good durable finish on them that won't chip.

If you take an existing eyed hook and just heat the area of the eye to soften it for converting it to a blind eye hook, you can probably get by using it for fishing if you wanted to although, if you don't reharden the now soft end of the hook, it will bend easily. If you soften the whole hook as I often do, it is extremely difficult to re-harden it without hard or soft spots so, these are better left for framing.

Some Tyers will start their hook making from raw high carbon wire. This means they will have to make a "knife" for cutting the barb, forming the point taper the blind eye and, bend the hook.

There is a chapter about hook making by Eugene Sunday in Tying the Classic Salmon Fly in which he describes reconfiguring hooks. There is also an article in the Summer 1998 issue of Fly Tyer written by John Betts. John takes the hook making from the wire state and gives good info and photos on the subject.

Even if you have followed the instructions from one or both of these authors, you still have the problem of finishing the hooks you have just created. I could not get either of their finish systems to work for me. That's not to be taken as a knock on their ways of dealing with finishing their hooks and, I am sure they have it refined to a point that works great for them. But, like many things in Tying, others techniques may not work for someone else.

The system I find that works for me is as follows. Yes, I realize it may not work for everyone but, after reading my way and those of Eugene and John, you will have three perspectives from which to develop one that's your own.

I take the softened hook and straighten it with some very large smooth face pliers I have only found at Sears in the tool section. Sorry, don't know what they are called. One pair is about a foot long so it gives you tremendous leverage for straightening the hook. In fact, you can even flatten a small wire with them! Rotate the wire while squeezing to remove the bends. This will take a little practice but, straightening the wire this way as opposed to using a hammer and anvil will result in unmarred wire which will require much less grinding to smooth out.

At this point, I have a straight hook. I use a very small grinding wheel in one of my dental grinders to shape the hook point and gutter. A variable speed Dremel grinder will work too. For tapering the blind eye, I hold the straight wire in the jaws of the pliers, which have a few serrations that go across the face of the jaws just at the tips. I filed a couple grooves slightly to accommodate the hook. Then, I hold the end of the wire in the pliers in my left hand and, guide it past a 1" or so barrel shaped grinding wheel while I rotate the wire. This produces a perfectly shaped round blind eye. You need not smooth this area. All the other finish work I do to the wire is done lightly with a Scotch pad like grinding wheel. It's a grinding wheel that is made of compressed Scotch pad material. You should be able to find these without too much trouble. Now, I shape the hook. I started out doing it by hand and eye. This will work but, you will not have really consistent results. I have made a couple prototype bending jigs that work great and every hook is like the last one. I haven't had time to make full sets of any of the hook shapes I like but, someday I hope to be able to finish them.

Now, you have a hook ready to be finished. I tried all kinds of different paint and finally found one that works for me. It is High Temp Engine Enamel by Plasti-Coat. The black paint is great, the colors are less than satisfactory sense all of them turn brown when they are baked. I thin the paint at least 1 to1 with Ful-Base 441-20 Fast Reducer by Nason. This is a "hot" commercial thinner that auto paint suppliers will have. I dip the hook while holding the tip of the eye with forceps and hold it far enough over a bunsen burner that it won't catch on fire. Yes, this is dangerous and you need to be very, very careful if you go this way. A hair dryer will work too. The reason I use dental grinders and bunsen burners is that I am a Dental Technician , so I have these tools at my disposal. Anyway, your hook may require two or three quick dipings and dryings to get JUST ENOUGH to cover the metal. If it is too thick, the hook will chip as the vise jaws compress it. As you dip the hook, make sure the area of the barb doesn't fill with paint. You can clean it by touching with a pin or tooth pick to wick the paint from the area.

Now, you need to bake the paint. I made a wire rack to hang the hooks from while they are in the oven. I used " hardware cloth for it but, sometimes, the galvanization will stick to the paint. Not often though so, it is an option. I also made a metal holder that has holes drilled to insert the eye into while it is being baked. This seems a better solution since the eye area can be painted later and most of it will be covered by the dressing anyway. You can bake the hooks up to 400 degrees F. The higher the temp, the less glossy the finish will be. You can get a gloss finish at about 300 degrees but, it will be somewhat soft. The 400 degree temp will give you a very hard surface. In any case, use these hooks with some protection when they are in the jaws of your vise. I use paper like cereal boxes are made of. Put the non-glossy side to the paint and, clamp only hard enough to hold the hook.

At one point, I thought I had found the holy grail of hook making when I discovered some powder coat paint. The problem was, it is nearly impossible to get a very thin coat by hand dipping the hooks. It is hard stuff and is glossy and, has a lot of colors. But, it just wasn't to be.

Ronn Lucas Blind Eye Hooks
Blind Eye Hooks by Ronn Lucas, Sr.

If you are tying flies to fish, the design of the hook will be dictated by the type of fishing conditions you will be using them under. If they are intended for display, the design of the hook can play a major role in the finished look of the fly.

Salmon/Steelhead hooks are typically up, loop eye and, black. To be honest, I have never heard the definitive reasons for this configuration other than, tradition. One thing most Tyers agree on is that they look good and, lacking any reason not to use them, we do. Spey and Dee flies were typically long shank flies where as dry flies require a light wire hook. I will leave the hook choice to you to determine to best meet your particular requirements. Some of the following patterns may be tied on hooks ill suited to your needs so, just tie on the hook of choice.

One other note regarding hooks. The early hooks were made without eyes and a Silk gut loop was tied to the hook. These didn't last long when the flies were in use. We still use this type of hook for most display flies though. Some Tyers do use flies with gut loops for fishing mostly I suppose to give them a connection to the traditional ways. There is nothing wrong with the traditional ways but, I encourage Tyers to experiment and, break the rules to suit their needs and preferences.

Happy Trails! ~ Ronn Lucas, Sr.

Next time, the Feathers.

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