Keel hooks

A while back I bought some partly used packets and small boxes of fly hooks from a well know online purveyor of pre-loved goods. The photos accompanying said lot of hooks were none too, clear but for a small layout I thought it was worth the risk as I wanted to top up a few different sizes and not invest in huge amounts of just one or two. By peering at the photos I could make out some standard wet fly hooks in sizes 10 and 12 so I was not going to be far wrong. The package arrived and it contained a good few more hooks than I had anticipated. Over 600 assorted trout hooks would keep me going for a while! I gave the contents of the package a cursory review, taking the ‘normal’ hooks out and adding them to my stock. What was left were the less obvious ones which I put to one side to be dealt with ‘later’. Now ‘later’ has arrived and I am working on different uses for these odd hooks.

The most unusual design of this batch are some keel hooks. I have never worked with keel hooks before and the ones here were in small sizes, 12, 14 and 16. There were about 50 each of the two smaller sizes but only 6 of the size 12’s. It looked to me as if these could all be used for nymphs, the logic being I could fish them hard on the bottom without getting stuck on the rocks and weeds. I’ll be honest, I have no idea if the new flies will work. The profile of the flies are not going to be like any of my usual patterns so the fish may want nothing to do with them, but it would be fun trying out something different.

Oldies like me can recall ABU retailing a range of flies with risky names made on keel style hooks back in the 1980’s. Streamtease, Callgirl and Pin Up are the only names I remember, all of them tied on big, heavily cranked long shank hooks with hair wings and chrome eyes. Whether they worked is not known to me and I certainly never tried them (they were far too expensive for a lad like me).

I also have seen plenty of large salt water flies tied on hefty keel hooks but my ones are tiny in comparison so choice of materials would be critical. The shape of the hooks presented a few challenges. The first consideration would be what to do about weighting the shank. Copper wire simply wound around the shank would get the fly down I suppose but I felt that being more specific in where any weight was applied would be better. I wanted to make the fly swim with the hook point up and not flopping to one side or the other. So instead of winding copper wire around the shank I tried whipping lead wire to the ‘underside’ of the hook shank.

The shank to bend ratio meant these hooks were slightly long shanked, very different to the normal or short shank hooks I tie my nymphs on. This is an important point as the exact sizes of all materials needs to be tweaked so the overall shape of the fly is correct. I think this detail is something new tyers sometimes miss. Then again, it is not easy to know what size of hackle or how many turns of herl to use on different hooks. Experience counts for an awful lot.

The ‘step’ in the shank of these hooks is an obvious spot to tie in a hackle but the more I looked at them the less I liked that idea. It was too far back from the eye for my liking but instead I figured there was enough room there for a thorax. On these very small hooks only tiny amounts of herl or fur would be required but the size and colour difference between both parts of the body could be a useful trigger for the trout.

The smallest hooks are fiddly to work with and you need to have your wits about you when using the little ones. I found the easiest method of weighting the hook was mount the hook in the ‘normal’ way and whipping a strip of lead on to the top of the shank. I then removed the hook from the jaws and turned it upside down. Dressing the fly is slightly more challenging because the hook point gets in the way a bit but otherwise it is technically OK. Proportions, as I mentioned above, are going to be the biggest issue so pay close attention to what you tie in and exactly where it is.

Another feature of the size 12 hooks is the large offset in the bend. I’m not sure if this is to improve hooking or is another design feature to reduce snagging on the bottom (or maybe both). It adds a small further complication when tying on them as the positioning of the hook in the jaws of the vice has to be given close attention. It would be very easy to fatally damage one of these hooks by inserting it too far into the vice and crushing the offset section when tightening. This would probably snap the hook but an even worse scenario is the hook is deformed and weakened so it breaks when fishing. The smaller sizes had no offset in their bends, suggesting different manufacturers.

To speed up the tying process I tied on the lead wire to a batch of these hooks. I could not see me ever using unweighted ones so this simple ruse I hope to save a lot of time in the future. In the past, when I was making a lot of flies, batching some processes made sense. I’d make up salmon flies up to the stage where the bodies were finished then leave them aside. Once I had a 40 or 50 bodies done I’d set up the table to tie in the hackles and wings. I personally found my completed flies were neater and more consistent than those made conventionally.

Patterns are just my normal nymphs for now. Pheasant tails, squirrel fur nymphs, GRHE, Endricks etc, all tweaked to fit on to the keel hooks are my first efforts. If they work I will expand my repertoire and try some more patterns. For now though, let’s just see if the trout will take these keel flies at all. My hope is that they will give me something different to try when my ‘normal’ nymphs are not working.

Here is one example of the finished nymph, a simple squirrel fur pattern which works well from this time of the year onward for me. The weighted hook receives a few fibres of golden olive cock hackle for a tail then the body is roughly dubbed underfur from the tail of a red squirrel ribbed with medium gold wire. A thorax of fiery brown seals fur completes the fly and the whole lot is tied in with tan 8/0 tying silk. Very simple but sometimes that is all you need in my experience.

It’s a shame I don’t have any larger keel hooks, I fancy making up some streamers for brown trout fishing on the rivers on them. I will keep my eyes open in case I see any (not that I do much streamer fishing). Could you use normal hooks to make keel flies? I don’t see why not, just add lead strips to the side of the shank opposite the point and tie in the dressing upside down.

In addition to conventionally tied nymphs I also made some constructed with just copper wire and herl a la sawyers famous patterns. I kept the lead under the dressing so these are heavy flies.

3 thoughts on “Keel hooks

  1. Look for places that sell “bass” fishing tackle. Yes I know you’re location but some places ship abroad


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