Do you know what your hooks are doing right now?

You haven’t seen them in months, but they’re safely stowed and waiting for the start of fishing in a couple of months, right?

In fact they might be quite active while they’re hiding in wait for their next opportunity to visit water. If you didn’t take care of them before storing them, they may already be rusted beyond use.

Salt water is an obvious cause of rust and corrosion, but pure, clean water can do the job, too. If you didn’t rinse and thoroughly dry your gear last fall, the odds are good that you’ll regret it come fishing season this year.

Now is a great time to discover any problems and take care of it before you really need the gear.

Lots of folks think a little bit of rust is OK on a hook, as long as it’s sharp. But in fact, hooks have a nasty tendency to break anywhere they are rusted.

No problem because you’re using plated hooks? Think again. Most makes of hooks are not plated where the barb is cut or at the blunt end where the eye is formed.In addition, the plating can be broken in the process of forming the eye. Wear on the point or your past efforts to sharpen the hook also erode away the plating.

And I’m here to tell you that even a small rust spot is a bad deal on plated hooks.That’s because you can never tell how much rust has been spreading out under the plating. I probably have a higher incidence of hook breakage using plated hooks than any other variety. If I see the smallest rust spot on a plated hook, it goes in the garbage.

What about stainless steel hooks? They’re prone to rusting, too, except they do it more slowly than conventional steel. I’m not so worried about breakage with small rust spots on stainless steel hooks, but there’s another issue.

In my experience stainless steel hooks tend to dull long before they show visible rust. I’ve never used a microscope to examine their points, but I can certainly feel that they’ve dulled. As a matter of course I sharpen all stainless steel hooks each spring, and in fact every single time I clip them onto my line while fishing.

If I’ve scared you enough to dig out your tackle boxes and fly boxes, do you see some hooks that need to be replaced? So what kind of hooks should you use and how do you go about it?

Hooks on lures are general applied two ways — either trapped within a twisted wire loop formed when the lure was made, or with a split ring.

Lures without split rings pose a problem unless you simply use wire cutters to break the eye of the hook. But when you do that you’re left with a closed wire eye on the lure and no obvious way to open it.

The simple answer is “don’t.”

Simply add a split ring and use that to attach the hook of your choice. That’s the only simple solution I know if you prefer treble hooks.

If you’re willing to switch to a single hook, you can clamp on an open eye or Siwash hook with no other changes.

In fact, I prefer to add a split ring, even with Siwash hooks. There is less tendency for the hook to tangle in the lure and in fact I lose fewer fish when I add the split ring.

If your lure was outfitted with a split ring in the first place, take a close look at that little piece of hardware. If it’s showing any sign of rust at all, it’s as likely to break as a rusty hook.

I like stainless steel split rings, but they come in a range of diameters and wire thicknesses. The best rule of thumb is to replace the originals with ones having the same wire thickness, whether or not the diameter is exactly the same. The biggest problems I’ve had with split rings center around them opening if the wire was too thin.

But if you’re switching from a treble hook to a Siwash hook, how do you pick a size? I’ve found a rule of thumb that works so well I actually land more fish using single Siwash hooks than I do with treble hooks. I switch all my treble hooks to Siwash not only because I land more fish, but also because I tend to lose fewer lures on snags.

My rule of thumb is to pay no attention to the hook size of the treble hook. Instead, choose a Siwash hook that has a gape as wide as the whole treble hook, rather than a single gape on the treble hook.

Yeah, the Siwash is going to have a gape approximately twice that of the treble hook as a result, but that’s a good thing. When you hook a fish the wide gape is likely to help the hook reach out and get under a bone, rather than merely grabbing a small flap of flesh.

This principle or fact is especially true for hard-mouthed fish like king salmon or halibut in saltwater, but also for silver salmon in freshwater. You’ll really appreciate the single hook in freshwater, too, when fishing around brushy snags or weeds.

New or old, I sharpen all my hooks when I put them on a lure, and even when I clip them on my line. There’s now way to draw pictures on a keyboard to illustrate this, so I’ll just say that I use a three-sided sharpening method on smaller hooks and a four-sided or “diamond” method on larger hooks.

When doing the three-sided version, I just file the bottom of the point flat, then angle the file to reach in from either side and sharpen the point from each side. The four-sided version requires sharpening the bottom of the point from each side, just as you do with the inside of the point.

Now for the really nasty job.

Open your fly boxes.

Whether you fished in saltwater or not, if you last closed your fly box with wet flies in it, you’re facing rust. And lots of it. Enough, in fact, to discolor the flies themselves.

And if your fly boxes have that handy foam for sticking the flies into place, be sure to pull the flies out for inspection. Unless the flies were completely dry last time you poked them into the foam, they’ll be rusted below the surface of the foam.

The light wire hooks of flies simply don’t put up with rust. If there’s any at all, they’re likely to break.

If the hooks on your flies are the least bit rusty, do yourself a favor and simply throw them away.

Here’s an important insight about fly hooks in general.

The barbs on most of them are huge relative to the size of the hook, but you’re using a soft fly rod to try setting the hook. Oftentimes with lots of slack in your line.

The net result is that fly hooks seldom sink into the fish past the barb. Instead, they stop at the barb, and as a result it’s pretty easy to lose fish if they get the slightest slack in your line.

I actually land lots more fish when I pinch down the barbs on my fly hooks! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But with the barb pinched down the hook sinks in all the way to the bend, and in fact there’s enough roughness in the pinched barb to keep it from backing out easily.

And there’s another benefit to pinched barbs on flies. If you happen to hook yourself or a bystander while learning to fly cast, they’re lots easier to remove if the barb has been pinched flat!

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