After years of being equally curious and intimidated by the vise, threadin, and whip-finisher...and ultimately paying the price with my wallet at fly shops - I finally decided to get my wits about me and started tying my own flies. I'm about 3 months into this great journey and the results are starting to pay off big time both financially (saving lots of money) and peronsally. There is an undeniable connection between fly fishermen and their quarry - especially when they sip down some of your home brew - but why does the fly fishing community stop itself at de-barbing hooks to be fish friendly?
J-hooks can still be lethal - as evidenced by their ban in bill fisheries - yet I still don't see many fly anglers using circle hooks on their streamers. Additionally - de-barbed circle hooks can still find themselves lodged in fish's backs or friend's ears , so the benefits of using circle hooks are fairly obvious:
A) Care for the Fish: Plain and simple, they're easier on the fish. Plus you don't have to worry about snagging gizzard shad and hook sets are usually in the corner of the mouth.
B) Safer: When in close proximity to other boats or fishing with two anglers in the boat - these flies make it impossible to snag yourself or someone else.
C) Keep your flies: Similar to it being difficult to snag people or undesirable fishes, it takes some serious misfortune for one of these flies to snag on the bottom. After losing 15 or so flies in my first 4 trips to Fletcher's this year with J-hook shad flies, I've only lost 3 (two break-offs on fish) with de-barbed circle hooks.
With all positives said, I can't spin this all one way without telling you that there is one major difference between J-hook flies and those of the circle variety - the hook set. Coming from a saltwater background, I've been using circle hooks for a long time. The way they work is fairly simple: once the fish has the fly/bait/lure in it's mouth, the angler reels/strips tight on the fish. This in turn pulls the hook into the corner of your quarry's mouth for a perfect hookset. The mistake I see most anglers make (myself included) is that they will try to rod set with a circle hook. In short- you will lose every fish that falls for your fly by doing this. Setting with the rod will pull your fly out of the fish's mouth. Instead, STRIP UNTIL YOU COME TIGHT, THEN RAISE THE ROD. It may take a few fish to get this technique down, but once you master it - you'll be exponentially more fish friendly and won't have to worry about giving your friend or neighboring vessel that shad dart earring they always wanted.
So next time you stop in at Urban Angler - pick up some size 4-6 circle hooks and brew up something tasty. They say what goes around, comes around....sounds like a circle to me.
Dig our strange.