Ultralight Fly Fishing flies tied
on light wire hooks

Trout fishers don't think twice about using the tiniest of light wire hooks. A size-28 light wire hook is even hard for me to see. For some of us aging fly fishers, it may be even harder to thread. Although you might not think that you'd care about it, there are some real advantages to light wire hooks. This article will review some of the advantages that I've noticed while tying flies and fly fishing with light wire hooks. Because of the diminutive size of many patterns, light wire hooks MUST be used.

I tie flies down to at least a size-16. Two of my favorite flies are size-14 foam rubber water spiders or beetles and size-14 suspending nymph patterns. The giant bull Bluegill (below right) was caught on a suspending nymph pattern. I have literally caught thousands of fish on those two patterns over the past years. I fish patterns tied on light wire hooks up to size-6 or even size-4, but most of my flies are tied on size-14 to size-10 hooks.

What can you catch on these light hooks? Just about everything in the waters in the USA. The trick is to have the right rod, line, leader, and tippet working together. Why? The wrong combination of these components and we lose! For example, if you fished a 6-weight with 7 foot leader and 8 pound tippet with a size-14 hook, your odds of pulling that hook out of a fish's mouth are good. There are many reasons: (1) With this arrangement you actually get TOO much power to the hook, and rip it out. (2) With heavier line and stronger tippet there is less stretch, so more power is delivered directly to the hook. (3) The heavier line actually adds to the weight exerted on the hook at hookset. (4) With a heavy rod, there is less cushion for the tippet and hook, usually meaning that if you set the hook hard, you'll pull it out.

Actually I've found that it is not only possible, but actually easier to catch fish -- EVEN LARGE FISH -- on flies tied on light wire hooks. This excerpt from my article Rod tips that protect tippets is a perfect example:

On a trip fishing the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins in northern Colorado with a friend, we stopped to fish a marvelous pool behind his cabin. I missed two 18 inch rainbows by pulling the size-22 brassie that I was fishing as a dropper, out of their mouths. I was fishing with my wonderful Winston 5 piece 2-weight pack rod, a really nice, light rod. I told Jim "I'm going to go to a really light rod and catch these fish." I pulled out my Sage SPL Ought-weight and rigged it. Jim said "you're gonna do what?" He couldn't believe it. On the first cast, I hooked another 18 inch fish, played it, landed it quickly and released it. I caught two more in the next five minutes. I wasn't pulling that tiny fly out of the trout any more. The Ought-weight has the backbone to fight those fish, but cushions the energy spikes that come in setting the hook and fighting fish.

Jim said " let ME see that rod for a minute." After effortlessly catching a couple of fish, he decided to go buy an Ought-weight. The Ought weight CUSHIONED my hook sets better than the 2-weight. All I had to do was raise the rod. Playing the trout I was able to apply more pressure even in medium fast current without pulling that tiny size-22 fly out of the fish's mouth. It was the difference in catching fish and not catching fish.

In this example I switched to a medium action 8 foot Ought-weight rod, a ten foot leader with 4 pound tippet, and 2 pound tippet to the tiny size-22 dropper. There was sufficient power in this system to "set" the light wire hook, but not rip it out. Even though there was sufficient stretch in the system to smooth out the power application so that the tippet didn't break, all I had to do was raise the rod and feel the fish to get hookset, and the tiny hook didn't pull out. At the same time, the Ought-weight had the lower rod strength to give me SMOOTH fish fighting power, without breaking the tippet. With this outfit, I could apply maximum power to the fish and land it quickly even in moderate current.

Remember, I had been pulling the size-22 hooks out with a smooth but medium action 2-weight rod. It just didn't give me the power cushion I needed in that instance.

There are many advantages to fishing flies on light wire hooks. One is the ease in setting the hook. It doesn't take a big hook to catch even large fish like 4 to 9 pound largemouth bass. Most of the 40 bass in that weight range that I caught and released in 2001 were hooked with size-14 to size-10 light wire hooks. Most were caught on 4 pound tippet. All I had to do was raise the rod against their weight, and they were soundly hooked!

Since I release most of the fish I catch, I want hooks that inflict minimum damage to the fish. Light wire, fine diameter hooks cause the minimum damage. Barbless light wire hooks make only a tiny, shallow hole in the fish on hookset and will slide out. They are easiest and quickest for release. Should they get stuck in clothing or an ear, out they come.

I had an experience in 2001 that warrants mentioning. I had the privilege of fishing for juvenile snook and tarpon (tarpon image left) with ultralight fly tackle. One day I fished an 8 ½ foot 3 weight with 12 foot leader ending with a 15 pound fluorocarbon shock tippet. The next day I fished an 8 ½ foot 2-weight! My fly? a size-12 white/silver streamer tied on a light wire hook. Was there a problem setting the hook on those bony mouths? NO! A light strip set stuck those hooks. The smooth rod cushioned the blows on the hookset and ensuing acrobatic fight, and the release came quickly!

All this discussion is to make the POINT that small flies can do a big job for you. Carefully rig your fly tackle from rod to hook and you can maximize your use of these flies to catch many more fish.