Our Outdoors: Stay Sharp

By Nick Simonson

Through the magnification of the reading glasses which middle age now requires me to wear at the lure making desk, I caught sight of the hook point on the most recent in a series of streamer patterns I was tying for crappies.  More accurately, it was the blunted end of what should have been a hook point. Taking the fly dressed with brightly-hued bucktail out of the vise, I held up my thumb for the scratch test, a confirmatory process where the business end of any lure leaves a slight white trail on the surface of my thumbnail, signaling that the hook is sharp enough to get the job done when a fish bites. The hook slid across the surface of my thumbnail like an egg sliding out of a Teflon pan on a 2 a.m. infomercial. 

There was no resistance whatsoever and no white line of scratched keratin, and that was a bad sign. I hadn’t noticed any rounding or blunting with the dozen or so flies that came before this one, but I nervously began pulling each one out of the foam sheet affixed to my desk.  Running the same test, they caught and dragged slightly across my thumbnail, leaving white streaks and reassuring me that the final fly in the line was an outlier, its point likely blunted in transit, or perhaps just a one-off from production.  In a process normally reserved for a fly, jig or lure just before they’re used, I flipped out the hook hone from my multitool and set to work. 

Dragging the tip of the streamer down the rough side of the file, I could feel it catch and skip over the ridges as I pulled.  After three or four scrapes across, I flipped the file over and repeated the process on the fine side before dropping a quickly sharpening hook point into the finishing groove for a few final, and much smoother slides along the tool.  By the end of the process, the slightly rounded tip had become a shiny angled needle, and I raised my thumb like an old-time engineer surveying a construction site and put the honed point back to my thumbnail.  This time, it stuck cleanly and left its small wake of white along the surface, a reassuring sign that the fly was ready, and likely more so than its contemporaries, for the upcoming fishing season.

In a pastime where one bite can make a day and one fish can make for a lifetime of legend, the small things like sharp hooks, well-tied knots, and the drag set tight for that instinctive spring hookset add up to meet that big moment with a confidence greater than the sum of its parts.  Never knowing when that bite might come amidst the hundreds, if not thousands, of other fish in a season, taking the extra twenty seconds or so to run a file along any hook – even those that appear to be super sharp already – assures a lure is ready to do its part in connecting with a fish.  It seems sort of silly not to go through the motion, even when just angling for the fun of it, and in that moment under the glow of the desk lamp, magnified by the addition of my plus-75 lenses, I wondered just how many bites I had missed in the past due to trying to extend the life of a blunted hook, or one that, unbeknownst to me, wasn’t as sharp as it could be.

Setting the fly into the foam along side the other patterns that were accumulating and waiting for their assignment to a springtime fly box, I looked over the streaks of silver left from the hook against the gray of the file before flipping it back into the handle of the multitool and folding it up in its black mesh sheath.  Confident the lure at issue was set to go for whatever water it might end up at, I selected another hook and looked the point over.  Dragging it across my thumbnail, and leaving a streak of white, I locked it into the vise and set to work on another sharp hook and a pattern I was certain would not only grab the attention of the spring crappies it was designed to draw in, but also catch them outright…in our outdoors.

To the Point. Whether on the water or at the vise, like with this Clouser minnow tied up for spring crappie fishing, checking the sharpness of hooks on any lure with a hook file is a small step that can pay big dividends. Simonson Photo.

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