A Forgotten Essential: The Hook Hone

Posted on 30 July 2020

In the fly fishing world, we talk a lot about gear and accessories. This includes all of the little tools and products that are designed to make our life easier. Forceps, nippers, hemostats, zingers, floatant, shot, leader straighteners, threaders, knot tools… the list goes on. Let’s face it there is a lot of stuff out there that you can hang off of your vest or pack. For many of us, there seems to be too much stuff. We get a lot of new anglers that come into the shop that ask what do I really need. We also have a number of experienced anglers looking to pare down their packs and eliminate wasteful items that take up space and make you feel over-encumbered on the water. Most people are going to be sure to have their hemostats and nippers, but there is one item that I consider essential that too many anglers forget or choose to pass on: The hook hone. Having an easily accessible way to sharpen hooks on the water is extremely important, and here’s why.


It’s a no brainer that a sharp hook is going to be better for connecting with trout compared to a dull one. In many cases, if your hook is new and in good shape, you may not need to sharpen it all day long, especially if it’s a dry fly. Streamers, and especially nymphs, are going to be an entirely different story. When nymphing, it’s totally possible to snag a rock on your first cast and have a need to sharpen that hook immediately. From my experience, even high-quality hooks like Umpqua 450 BLs won’t straighten out at the bend very often, but the very tip of the hook point will get a very small micro bend that you may not even notice. The truth is that any hook has this potential, no matter how heavy the wire, or whether it’s chemically sharpened or not. Sometimes, hooks will gradually dull as you snag the bottom here and there throughout the day, but one snag is sometimes all you need to ruin a hook. People who archery hunt would never in a million years consider hunting with dull broadheads, and for the same reason, we shouldn’t be fishing with dull hooks. 

So how do you know when you need to sharpen your hook? The easiest way is to look very closely at the tip of the hook. If it has any sort of color discrepancy, the hook’s finish is likely rubbed off, meaning the hook could be dull. You may also see a distinct kink or bend at the very tip of the hook point. This is the worst sort of issue because the hook isn’t simply dull, but it’s distorted in a way that makes it very difficult to penetrate at all when a fish takes your fly. Another situation that will force me to check whether or not a hook needs to be sharpened is when you miss hookups with multiple fish in a row. Any time I drop more than one fish in a row, I am always going to check my hook’s condition. Many times, the culprit is a dull hook. 

This is a perfect example of a hook that is severely compromised. Rather than throwing this fly away, you could sharpen this hook and solve the issue quite easily.

How to use a Hook Hone

Hook hones are simply just metal files that are designed to be used to sharpen hooks of various sizes. When you suspect a dull hook, simply run your hook over the file, maintaining a consistent angle towards the hook point. Be sure to touch up all of the sides. Hook files tend to have a groove cut into the middle, which makes hitting all of the spots a little easier on smaller flies. Remember that files only cut in one direction, so only apply pressure when you are moving the file in the working direction. Otherwise, you are wasting energy and it can be counter-productive. Once you eliminate any obvious dullness, don’t assume your fly is ready to go. I always do a quick sharpness test on the water by dragging my hook point across my thumbnail. If it catches my nail and begins to dig in, it is plenty sharp. If the hook leaves a scratch but won’t dig in, then I touch it up a bit more. If you are going to use this method, be sure to use caution and go slow to avoid stabbing yourself with the hook. 


I will sharpen most hooks streamside, but there are also times that I may simply stash dull flies in the corner of my box and sharpen them at home. I do this when I have many of the same patterns left, as it saves me actual fishing time. For me, tying on a new fly is far faster than sharpening a dull one. If you are going to be sharpening a fly on the water, make sure you have your hook hone attached to your pack somehow, because it would be quite easy to drop it in the river.


Products

I am a huge fan of the Dr. Slick hook files. They are diamond surfaced and come in two sizes, four and six-inch. They both have two levels of grit on either side, one being finer and one more coarse. This is helpful when dealing with different sized hooks and differing degrees of dullness. They both have the groove cut into them that I mentioned earlier on both sides, making it easier to hit all the spots you need. I would, for the most part, use the four-inch file for nymphs and the six-inch file for streamers. 

Between these two files, you can effectively sharpen any fly in your box.

 

Whether you are a serious angler that goes through many flies and a lot of tying materials that you need to conserve, or you are simply hanging on to your last of a pattern that has been catching fish all day, a hook hone can really save your skin. Sharp hooks catch more fish, and catching more fish is fun.

As always, if you ave any questions or comments please let me know

Thanks for reading!

 

Frank Landis 

TCO Boiling Springs

frank@tcoflyfishing.com

IG: frankflyfishes

 

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9 comments

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  • Jim Sullivan: July 31, 2020

    Just yesterday (7/30), I dug my hook hone out of by box to touch up a fly.
    Just today, I catch up on my digests and there’s this article.
    p.s. Just yesterday, I took that freshly honed fly out to a river and promptly stuck it in a tree. It was very sharp and sticky and it’s not part of the tree, not part of my kit.

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