For years the ‘standard’ hook sizes used in the pursuit of anadromous fish on swung flies were pretty darned big. 2/0 and 3/0 were ‘king hooks’ and 1/0 and 1 were ‘steelhead hooks’.
In recent years many anglers we respect have been fishing hooks that are quite a bit smaller – 1 and 2 for kings and 2 and 4 for steelhead. A funny thing happened on the way to the smaller hook – we started landing more fish!
Doesn’t it stand to reason that a big hook is going to hook deeper and hold more securely? No, it turns out that that’s not often the case. There are some other reasons to fish smaller hooks too.
Why Smaller Hooks Might Be Better
- You land more fish. Yes, we think landing rates are higher with smaller hooks. Modern hooks like the Owner SSW are extremely strong even in smaller sizes. Smaller hooks tend to bury deeper, particularly in the corner of the jaw. Once that fish has been hooked solidly, smaller hooks with shorter shanks have less leverage to work open a big hole and eventually pop out.
- They look better. Smaller hooks are more proportionate to the flies that we normally fish, especially for steelhead. Do the fish care? We’re not sure, but if you want fish a fly that looks good, shouldn’t those good looks include the hook?
- They’re easier on the target species. Smaller hooks are less likely to hook eyeballs, backs of tongues, gills, etc. Nothing’s more important than that.
- They’re much easier on the non-target species. If you’re fishing for steelhead or kings, chances are you’re going to incidentally hook some trout or dollies along the away. The point above is even more true for smaller resident fish – a giant 3/0 hook can do an awful lot of damage to a beautiful rainbow trout.
Don’t forget to pinch those barbs!