Hook lengths

Hook lengths have been a bit of a concern for me in my new found drive to learn about all things coarse fishing. I am maybe just being hyper critical, but my game angling background taught me that the final connection between main line and hook was often the difference between success and abject failure. Choice of hook, thickness/colour/ length of line and knots used all had to be correct if I was to fool a fish and hang on to it when fly fishing. I imagine the same is true of the final few inches when chasing roach.

spools of line for making hook lengths

Not being a competition angler I don’t require a vast armoury of gear so a few pre-tied rigs does me fine for a day on the canal bank. I have seen anglers with those plastic hook length boxes which are then filled with rows of perfectly tied hook lengths of exactly the same dimensions. I greatly admire the guys who populate those boxes and keep them topped up. I am not that accurate when tying my hook lengths and don’t trust bought ones so instead I acquired a couple of foam lined rig wallets and use them for my hook lengths. That works well enough for me and it means I can store a few hair rigs in there too. Not being a carp angler per say the world of hair rigs, bolt rigs, helicopter rigs or ronnies don’t really concern me too often. My interest in hair rigs simply extends as far as bigger baits for tench or using a pop up in weedy conditions.

I think I have mentioned in a previous post how much I detest snelling tiny spade end hooks. For someone who makes small trout flies it seems a bit weird that I struggle with a simple knot on a size 20. In the end I decided to cut my losses and invest in a hook tyer. These can be purchased for a very small amount. A simple little gadget, this has greatly speeded up my creation of hook lengths. The particular one I bought is a ‘Matchman tyer’ but there are lots of different ones made by other manufacturers out there. The added bonus of using the tyer is that you can easily use the tag end loop to make a hair rig.

In an effort to try and regulate my stock of hook lengths for use here in Ireland I settled on the following standard set ups made up in my (roughly) 4 and 6 inch lengths:

hook sizeline breaking strain

I realise this is a crude and unsophisticated arrangement but hear me out. Irish coarse fishing consists of relatively straight forward methods. Yes, a competition angler would need to be able to make many small adjustments to maximise their catch but a pleasure angler like me will do just fine with the above range of hook lengths. The smallest sizes are used for single maggot, usually for fishing on a canal. I use size 14 and 16 hooks for two/three maggots, a section of worm or sweetcorn and the bigger hooks are for larger worm baits or bread flake. For bigger fish like tench or carp I make up special rigs on eight pound line. These I keep in another rig wallet but given the rare occasions I might fish for carp it sees little action. If, for some reason I feel the need for a hook length which is different from my ‘standard’ ones I make them up with eyed hooks when fishing. I carry some packets of eyed hooks in my waistcoat pocket for this purpose.

One of my rig wallets

As for attaching the hook length to the main line I use two methods. For the lighter lines I tie a simple surgeon’s loop on the hook length and make a loop-to-loop connection. On heavier lines I sometimes use a tiny swivel. I guess there is a reason why swivels are not used by most coarse anglers but they make perfect sense to me. The tiniest ones add only a small amount of weight.

When fishing, I change hook lengths fairly regularly, usually to change hook size or if I suspect it has been abraded on the bottom. I cut the old hook length off and put it into a box I carry just for this purpose. The same happens if I change my whole rig, I snip it off and put it in the box to be dealt with later. When I get home (or more usually the next day) I go through the contents of the box and chop up all the line into tiny sections for disposal. I salvage all the useful hooks, shot, floats etc. and put them back into their respective tackle boxes. The whole point is not to be messing about on the bank and to get the baited hook in front of the fish as much as possible.

After a day’s fishing

Expert coarse fishers are no doubt appalled at my lack of sophistication here but look, we all had to start somewhere. I have tried to apply a degree of logical thinking into organising my hook lengths and it seems to be working for me so far. A potential fly in the ointment is my growing interest in method feeders. Would they offer me an advantage when trying for tench? If so, I might need shorter hook lengths. A conundrum for another day…………

One of the reasons it took me so long to take up coarse fishing was my perception that you required a huge amount of tackle. In particular, the sight of anglers with barrows loaded to the gunnels with bivvys, beds, chairs, multi-sectioned poles, fancy cooking and lighting gear, bite alarms and myriad of other hi-tech accessories left me cold. Hell, the complex seats sprouting all manner of trays, umbrellas, pole roller systems et al made me feel totally inadequate. It was only when I broke down what I absolutely needed that the shopping list became manageable. Even still, I am slowly buying little bits which, while not essential, are making my angling more enjoyable. These are not ‘big ticket’ items. For the fishing that I do a €500 seat with all the bells and whistles would be overkill. I admit I am considering an umbrella but it will only be a very basic model. The reason for taking my time in deciding whether to buy a brolly is the fact wet weather here in Ireland often coincides with high winds. The jury is still out…..

It is the smaller items which I have bought which are bringing the greatest rewards. The hook tyer mentioned above is typical of the kind of thing I am talking about. I also got a multi-purpose needle which is great for attaching bait on to hair rigs for example. A nice woolly hat with a built in rechargeable LED light is another, great for setting up or packing up in the dark. Artificial maggots were a welcome discovery. They float and don’t easily fall off the hook so they are ideal for tipping natural baits, preventing them from falling off and at the same time lifting them above the debris on the bottom. None of these thing cost much money but they all added to the experiences of a day with float and leger.

Everything in its place (well some things anyway)

If I had some money (I don’t so this is purely a day dream) I know what I would invest in – a boat! ‘You have a boat you bloody fool’ I hear you say. Correct, but my 19 foot fibreglass boat is intended for lough fishing and is a devil to tow/launch/retrieve. No, what I would buy is an inflatable dory and an electric engine. Easy to transport and inflate, a 2.3m or 2.5m dory would be ideal for accessing rarely fished parts of loughs. Here in some parts of Ireland we have whole systems of loughs which are full of fish but you cannot access them from the shore. A small inflatable would provide me with a huge range of opportunities. And I just love messing about in boats. So the answer to the question ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’ would surely elicit an unusual reply from me.

I am rabbiting on a bit now. I wanted to talk about hook lengths and here I am going on about inflatable boats! I guess that is a reflection of my mind now, with no fishing my thoughts are wandering down all sorts of avenues. Mind yourselves out there and I will write again when I am less scattered.


10 thoughts on “Hook lengths

  1. A few things:

    It is more than probable game, sea and coarse fishing can all learn from each other, so there’s really no need to be so apologetic. I doubt as someone who arrived in Ireland from Scotland you’ve very much interest in cricket, but cricket coaches have spent time with baseball coaches. Whilst cricket hasn’t learnt much about batting from baseball (there are no stumps to protect in baseball) the collaboration has been one of the factors in the step change in fielding. So yes, cross fertilisation (if that isn’t too poncy an expression) between the various branches makes sense.

    Swivels – good reminder and it is funny how I let things drift as I used to use a mini swivels on a regular basis than is currently the case. I think swivels are used a fair bit by us coarse guys. (I often don’t mention them in my tackle summary but I can rectify this).

    I quite like the standardised line strength/hook approach – very Great Western Railwayesque!

    Anyway stay safe – in the UK we are in the position that we can fish subject to staying local and social distancing, but I’m somewhat cautious. I may venture out this afternoon and see what it is like in the Big Bad World.



  2. Hi Clive, Your are right, Us anglers of any code swap and poach ideas all the time. For me, learning coarse fishing at this late stage of the game is proving to be both humbling and delightful in fairly equal doses. It is a refreshing change from the full on sport of salmon fishing on the big Irish loughs where we use heavy gear, big lures and brave the roughest conditions. I love the delicate and technical approach when float fishing.

    Life here is quite edgy what with the fastest rate of infection and increasing numbers of fatalities due to Covid. The lockdown is being strictly enforced and for once it seems to be taking effect. I am working over in Westport on a short term contract so at least I am allowed to drive the 10 miles there and back each day and see a bit of life outside of the house. There is no fishing though and it could be the summer before I am allowed out with the rods again.

    Mind yourself and keep in touch.



  3. I know one fishing knit – the one with the seven turns and back through the loop – don’t even know its name! So, with my one knit I can tie a hook to a hook length and (via a tiny swivel), tie the hook length to the mainline. The additional weight is negligible under the float and also ensures I don’t lose anything but the hook if I get snagged 🤟

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Friend showed it to me. I was curious why 7 turns. He doesn’t know but swears 7 is the best number of turns – hasn’t failed me – yet 🤟😁 The spades are a lot more popular here in France – don’t know why. I was used to tying eyed hooks back home but the same knot works beautifully (as you say) on the spades. Little tricky with the size 18s/20s but getting used to it. Looking forward to a long summer by the river 🎣


    1. The half-blood knot started out as just 4 turns then people began to try more turns and six or seven became the norm.
      I bought a knot tyer to help me snell the smaller hooks and I swear by it now. Getting older is no fun!


  5. Finding that the trick to hand tying is to keep the mainline taut when wrapping – always keen to improve on the little details but I imagine one of those knot t 😁


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