Monday, June 1, 2015

A Few Soft-Hackle & Wetfly Hooks for Trouting

     In building baits ‘form follows function’ is an abiding principle, though, taking the whole affair into consideration, particularly as regards hook choice, form & function often coalesce to equal importance & affect. We want a hook that’ll stick em & hold em throughout the battle, yet also possessing a shape suggestive & appropriate to the critter we seek to imitate.

Flinty old Yankee that I am, my third criteria in hook choice is price. Don’t usually buy a 10 or 25-pack of expensive hooks if I can find the same configuration in Mustad 100-packs at the same price. Guiding & supplying flies to clients we go through a lot of flies, so I tie on utilitarian hooks & fall short of being able to indulge in dropping the names of expensive Anglo hooks as my standard choices. 

The initiated have their decided favorites & for reasons only they can say.

My own choices, the hooks featured here, result from trials & the unique demands of my home water, the upper Columbia River, where wild redband trout average 19 inches & fight like pissed-off loggers on a Saturday night. They go bananas. And they will show you if your wee hook is any good, or not.

The hook choices listed here are based on the criteria laid down & none of these brands are sponsors (though, really, I would like it if they’d all send me some free hooks for the plug). You’ll notice that none of my choices are barbless, & there are some claw-point barbless hooks on the market that I really like the looks of & I’ve resolved to try some, yet, so far, using barbless hooks on my home water mostly results in long-distance releases. Very long-distance, denying anglers that pleasurable moment admiring a trout properly busted, in the net awaiting parole. Most of my hook choices possess mini barbs that back out doing little harm. When I fish water inhabited by a lot of small fish, or where it is required, I simply crush the barb down – & this saves me from having to buy & keep track of different hooks for duplicating the same patterns.   

Like I said, the initiated will have their preferences. My own, hopefully, might serve as a reference or starting point for those wondering what hooks to use in tying soft-hackle & wet flies for trout.

Daiichi 1150
Those who read SHJ have probably noticed that I use this hook a lot in tying soft-hackle flymphs & spiders. Though it is short-shanked with a wide gape & the overall shape lending itself to simulating the characteristic C-shape of caddis larvae, I don’t classify the 1150 as a ‘caddis’ style hook, exactly. In configuration it is, more precisely, an ‘octopus’ style hook, the same style popular with salmon/steelhead/trout bait fishers, & for good reason. The ‘octopus’ style is a faithful hooker & holder. When fishing precincts where large trout on wee flies is the game, the reliably strong Daiichi 1150 is a good choice for wingless patterns, #12-#18, as the short shank allows me a standard #16 on a #14 hook, affording a larger working end for maximum iron to hold larger, heavier fish. The short shank of a #18 works fine for tying midges down to about #22, while still allowing sensible iron for holding larger trout. The 1150 keels nicely, & the needle-sharp offset hook point makes it a consistent getter when fished on the swing. But for the tiny barb, the configuration is pretty much the same as the new barbless designs sold as ‘soft-hackle’ hooks. I prefer a straight or up-eye, & the slightly upturned nose of the 1150 is as elegant as it is utilitarian.

Mustad 3366-BR
A sproat style all-purpose hook, heavy wire, with a straight eye, short shank & wide hook gape with a deep, fish-holding pocket in the bend. The 3366-BR is a classic configuration for soft-hackle flies & winged wets. This style is a favorite of North Country traditionalists, who claim it tracks like the eyeless hooks of old, considering it preferable to modern down-eye styles for tying Tummel & Clyde style wets & North Country spiders. Its spacious, straight eye is easy to thread in failing light. A straight eye & wide gape ensure the hook keels smartly. In shape, it is identical to the Alec Jackson ‘traditional’ soft-hackle hooks, at about 1/10th the cost. Mustad hooks aren't heat-treated as brittle hard as a lot of the English brands, so the barb can be crimped without fracturing the hook point, & when crimped, the generous barb maintains a good, fish-holding hump. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a standard #12. I tie #12 & #14 on a #10, & #14-#16 on a #12 3366BR If I could have only one hook for tying soft-hackles & winged wets, this would be my choice. Good for nymphs, terrestrials & too. The Mustad 3366-BR is a good-looking, well-tempered, reliable hook at a bargain price.

Mustad R50-94840
The classic sproat, down-eye hook many prefer for soft-hackle & wet flies. Though billed as a dryfly hook, it is heavy-wired (& well-tempered) by modern dryfly standards, the configuration identical to the Tiemco 2487 & Gaelic Supreme Jim Bashline wetfly hooks, at a fraction of the cost. If you like the down-eye style, the Mustad R50-94840 is a good one for the money.

Mustad 3906B
An old style wetfly sproat with a slightly longer hook shank than the Mustad R50-94840. Good for winged wets, stoneflies & patterns requiring a bit more body length. Also good for wee flies meant to be swung in fast water, tied short on the hook shank with a lot of hook extended behind. Some tie North Country spiders on these, the heavier iron fishing them deeper in the water column.

Mustad 94842
This is the graceful, old-timey up-eye sproat style James Leisenring, Pete Hidy & Sylvester Nemes favored for soft-hackle flies. I used to tie on this one a lot before switching to the stronger, shorter shanked, wider-gaped Daiichi 1150 & Mustad 3366-BR, which are more reliable against the hook-bending trout of my home water. Still, this hook makes any fly look good – & hooks as good as it looks. My choice for wee flies fished in the slow clear precincts of discerning, educated trout.

Tiemco 200R
An elegant hook, similar to Spey/salmon hook designs. The dropped, York bend of the 3x long 200R creates a deep keel to keep the fly tracking upright while swinging. I like this one for winged wets & bucktails. I also like the 200R for stonefly, dragon & damselfly imitations, Carey Specials, leeches & buggers. Marabou tailing doesn’t get wrapped as much with the dropped bend out of the way.

Daiichi 1120              
A caddis-style hook. Some like these for tying North Country spiders; though, as a hook for soft-hackle & wet flies, my only practical use for this design is in tying depthcharges meant to sink droppers bearing wee soft-hackles to the lower water column. If any weight is added to the curved shank it keels over & fishes point up, a desired posture in a weighted depthcharge, rending it less apt to snag obstructions on the stream bottom. For this purpose I use #8-#10, heavily weighted on the shank & dressed as a latex worm or nondescript-brown soft-hackle nymph.

And, naturally, SHJ's favorite catfish hook:



  1. Excellent post - do have have strong feelings on way or the other about Dai-Riki hooks?

    1. Neil, no, I try not to harbor strong feelings about anything angling, as I suspect rigidity tends to crimp the game. That said, I've only tried a few Dai-Riki models but was not particularly impressed with those, as the temper seemed poor, the hooks bending easily. The #270, Dai-Riki's answer to the TMC 200R, is smaller gaped (doesn't keel well) & not as elegant as the 200R, & not as well-tempered. But, as I say, I've only tried a few models. What say you?

      Thanks for checking in Neil. I am impressed with Soft Hackles, Tight Lines. I am about to overhaul the 'bookshelf' section, & want to add a list of soft-hackle resources & would certainly like to include your valuable, entertaining site. With your permission.

      Thanks for the wonderful, historic archive of our favorite approach. Great work.


  2. Steve,

    Thank you for your kind words - I'd very much like to be linked on your online bookshelf. I hope you won't mind if I add a link to your page from my homepage, either.

    I appreciate the hook advice. I've always been a Mustad tier for everything. The blog flies are all on a 94840 in 14. I came into some Dai-Rikis cheaply, so I bought them up. I'll stock up on Daiichi and go back toward Mustad!


    1. Neil, I do like the looks of the Dai-Riki #125 'emerger' hook, one I've not tried -- looks like the Mustad 3366. But hard to beat the price of the Mustads, & nobody has a better tempering process than Mustad. And hard to beat the 94840, unless it makes one feel better to pay more.

      And sure, SHJ would be honored to link with your site.