Long-shank fly hooks are ideal for toothy and short-striking fish.
Years ago I decided it was acceptable to sacrifice more than a few streamers when fly fishing for Spanish mackerel. Even with 50- or 60-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon bite tippet, the biggest macks typically make off with the irons. Light wire? In clear water, this only tips off these sharp-eyed speedsters, decreasing strikes. At the extreme, wire can totally turn ’em off. But, a few seasons ago, I turned to long-shank hooks and began catching more macks while losing fewer flies.
By tying a standard minnow or pilchard pattern with the thread head at the bend of the hook rather than conventionally, I landed more fish thanks to that extra inch to inch-and-a-half of bare shank at the fly’s nose. But I believe the key is to paint, or affix, a rather prominent eye right on, or just to the rear of, the thread head. Macks seem to take “head shots” at their prey, and many times I’ve found that my long-shank hooks make purchase just far enough inside a mack’s mouth that the streamer’s head is also inside that serrated maw, with the bare shank between the teeth. In effect, this keeps a mono leader just out of harm’s way. Of course, a number of fish do manage to engulf the whole works, and it’s time to tie on another fly.
Last winter I had a lot of fun with big ladyfish on my home waters of the Indian River Lagoon. I tossed chartreuse-and-white Clouser Minnows tied on 3X-shank hooks and only a couple of those leaping, nearly arm-long ladies chaffed up my light leader. They are notorious short-strikers, and most hookups were just inside the lips and the extra hook shank did the job. I can report good results with my long-shank “mackerel minnows” around docks for small snook, too. I experimented with them one night when the snook were extra wise, only taking flies tied to 15-pound and lighter leader. I landed a handful of fish on an all-white streamer tied on a No. 2 4X shank hook. The long shanks kept my light connection outside the fish’s raspy, sandpaper jaws.
Catch the Short-Strikers
Getting nipped but not connecting with mackerel and pompano? Here you might use a long-shank hook and tie so that the hook bend is at the rear of the material (wing/skirt). You can turn out a Glass Minnow, for example, by tying it conventionally with the thread head immediately behind the hook eye, and the end of the wing will just cover the hook bend. With a standard-length hook, the bend of the hook would protrude at the midpoint of the wing.
About Long-Shank Hooks
Look for a 2X, 3X, 4X long or even higher number. A 1X designation means the hook shank is standard length, which means the shank (between hook eye and top of hook bend) is roughly as long as the hook gap is wide. Popular saltwater tying hooks include the Mustad 34011 (a 2X long hook), the Mustad Signature Series 574555 (a 4X long hook in sizes 6 through 3/0), and the Daiichi X472 (a 3X long popper and streamer hook). Suffice to say there are countless others, and there is no law that you must choose from designated “fly tying” hooks. Many saltwater bait-fishing and bait-rigging hooks have long shanks and can be adapted to fly-tying, too. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Feb. 2009