from Flyfisherman Magazine, 2015
Some new techniques and materials come onto the fly tying scene with a bang, and others just sort of appear slowly over time, becoming more and more commonplace until one day you look at something and say to yourself…”where the heck did that come from and why didn’t I notice it earlier?” Using jig hooks for flies has been around for a long, long time now, but there has certainly been sort of a resurgence in their popularity, particularly among trout anglers, in just the past couple years.
While saltwater tyers have been savvy to jig hooks and their proclivity to ride hook point up and snag free for some time, the trout fishing world has been a little slow on the uptake until recently. With the popularity of competitive fishing and its inundation of new-to-us techniques and fly patterns, has come the use of jig hooks designed specifically for trout flies.
There are a number of manufacturers joining the fray with jig hooks in trout styles available from Tiemco, Umpqua, Hanak, Partridge, Dohiku and Knapek just to name a few. With the hook eye situated on an upright, inline position in relation to the hook shank with angles varying from 60-90 degrees, most of these modern jig hooks are barbless versions with long points to accommodate the hook regulations of international competition. Many of these hooks are finished in a very sexy black nickel finish and all have ridiculously sharp needle points. Given the upright front end of the shank, these hooks also require specifically designed, slotted beads to accommodate this shape. Most commonly available in tungsten versions in gold, black, copper and silver and often with a faceted finish, these beads are now becoming widely available as well.
When I think of competitive fishing and flies tied on jig hooks, there is but one western angler who comes to mind and that is Utah’s own Lance Egan. Lance works for Cabela’s out in Lehi and is a longstanding member and medal winner on Team USA, as well as a Signature Fly Designer for Umpqua Feather Merchants. Aside from his accolades, Lance strikes me as an incredibly humble and sharing guy in a world where he would have more right to brag than nearly anyone he encounters. A self-described fishing junkie, Lance never passes up a chance to learn a new technique or hone his skills on any given piece of water, and his track record in competition speaks to this to no end.
With this in mind, I called Lance up today to get his insights and thoughts on these newfangled jig hooks and he was beyond a wealth of information. I asked Lance what he thought the advantages of jig hooks were and his answer was both well thought out and clearly practiced. Lance explained that one of the most obvious advantages of jig hooks is that they consistently ride hook point up and resist snagging on the bottom, a consideration of large importance for a competitive angler trying to keep his flies both, dredging the bottom of the river and attached to his tippet! Losing flies and rigs costs precious time in competitions so anything that can keep you fishing and not re-rigging is a big advantage. Lance went on though, and further explained that the biggest advantage he sees in using jig hooks for nymph patterns, is that they reliably hook the fish right in the tip of the snout. He mentioned that rather than hooking fish in the bottom jaw or side of the mouth, jig hooks regularly hooked fish in the fleshy part of the mouth right at the top front, giving solid purchase to the barbless hooks and allowing the angler to direct and lead the fish as needed when landing them, “like a bull-ring through the nose”. I can’t say that I would have thought of that particular advantage in my own limited experience with jig patterns, but once Lance brought it up, a string of memories flashed through my aging brain and ya know…he’s right. I would have guessed that the long, barbless hook points of these competition hooks simply penetrated deeper and held better than conventional hooks, but after considering Lance’s view on where the fish gets hooked, I’d have to agree.
Lance ties his jig patterns with a tungsten bead and typically weights them with lead wire as well to keep them tight to the bottom along the drift. His Frenchie and Iron Lotus patterns are both commercially available from Umpqua Feather Merchants so I asked him to expound a bit on their designs. While the Frenchie is tied “in the round” , that is, the same when viewed from any angle and lacking a wingcase or definite topside, his Iron Lotus pattern sports a wingcase tied on the top of the shank. When I questioned him about why he would tie the fly upside down like this, he patiently explained that the fly doesn’t always hang precisely horizontal on the drift but rather at a bit of an angle, and tying the fly with the wingcase on the top of the shank shows it directly to the fish as the fly drifts. I think this guy may have fins.
Egan did go on to expound that the only disadvantage he’s seen using jig hooks was when fishing streamers, specifically in lakes, with a fast retrieve. Dead drifting or slow retrieves seem to allow regular hook ups, but he has noticed a distinct drop off in hook ups when fast stripping the fly. Perhaps there’s something to the upright angle of the hook eye that prohibits the fish from getting pinned on a fast retrieve or perhaps Lance just has bad luck, but I’d bet money Egan will have this puzzle figured out long before the rest of us even find the pieces.