Let’s get one thing straight: it is impossible to tie a first class fly of any sort on a sub-standard hook. It is also true that the best tyer who applies virtually identical materials to five different hook styles will produce five different-looking flies. Thus the shape of the hook has an incredibly strong influence on the overall appearance of the finished fly, this in addition to considering the quality and performance of the hook itself.
Over a period of some five decades when I have tied flies, Gamakatsu fly tying hooks have ranked at the top of my materials list since they were first available to the US tyer’s market.
My interpretation of the Gamakatsu hook manufacturing company’s history follows: (Please note that this summary is gleaned from my perusal of information available on the Internet, including from the Gamakatsu website.)
1955: First hooks produced by Gamakatsu – all produced by hand. Gamakatsu was the smallest Japanese hook producer.
• 1963: mechanized wire-tempering technology established.
• 1974: established automated technology to manufacture hooks.
• 1976: Gamakatsu was ranked as the leading Japanese hook producer.
• 1986: Redesign and improved technology in hook production & automation process.
• 1988 – 1992: Gamakatsu expanded production and distribution of their hooks from an Asian focused market to an International market.
My fly tying in the 1960s and 1970s was almost entirely based on the use of Mustad and Eagle Claw hooks. It is worthy of note that my tying in those years was entirely directed to freshwater flies tied for trout and steelhead. The Mustad 94840 and 36890 were standards, along with the Eagle Claw 1197-B, 1197-G, and 1197-N. Somewhere in there, I frankly don’t remember when, I became aware of hooks like TMC and Gamakatsu. My tying of trout flies and freshwater patterns seemed in retrospect focused on TMC hooks. My exposure to Gamakatsu fly tying hooks occurred rather late in my life when I developed an intense interest in fly fishing for Chinook and then when I was introduced to saltwater fly fishing from dory boats launched from the beach at Pacific City, Oregon.
Bluntly, the world of high-quality hooks that one may use for bait, lure, and fly fishing is complex. I’ve gone to the websites of various hook manufacturers and read the technical specifications of hooks and manufacturing processes. All this has achieved is an advanced state of confusion. All of the manufacturers use high-quality wire, advanced hook tempering and point sharpening technologies. I can not read the tech-specs of any of these various manufacturers and determine objectively which hook brand might be superior to others.
On a practical basis, however, I have tied flies with a fair number of different hooks and have developed strong opinions regarding the performance of specific hooks. When I judge the performance of any hook, I consider many factors.
• Hook wire diameter
• Sharpness of the point
• Height of the barb
• Flexibility or stiffness of the wire
• Design of the hook bend, durability of the point
• Durability of the hook finish
• Craftsmanship of the hook eye
• Ability to sharpen the hook
This is where I’ll get to the punch line of this review.
I have found Gamakatsu hooks in general, and fly tying hooks in particular, to be absolutely superior to many of the patterns I tie. I see no value in touting the carbon content of the hook steel, the tempering processes, and the sharpening technologies. Far as I’m concerned, the reader can look those features up and decide whether or not they understand the technicalities. Personally, I do not.
What I do understand is that I’ve tied on and fished Gamakatsu hooks for over two decades. During that period, I have found Gamies ultra dependable, and I have only had one Gamakatsu hook fail (it broke on a fish). During this same period, I’ve had two TMC hooks break on me (one in a fish and one on a log). Over the course of my five decades tying flies I’ve found hook deficiencies were barely more common in Mustad, Eagle Claw, and Daiichi hooks. Overall, the instances of outright hook failures are scant compared to design features. I’ve not ever had complaints about the sharpness of Gamakatsu or TMC hooks. I can not say the same for other hook brands.
This is not to imply that I don’t prefer other fly tying hooks for specific flies. For example, I’ll almost certainly reach for a TMC fly tying hook if I’m about to tie an Elk Hair Caddis, a Stimulator, a Bugger, or a Muddler. My hand might waver when reaching for a hook to tie traditional steelhead wet flies, however, and I may just as often choose a Gamakatsu or a TMC hook interchangeably to tie a Silver Hilton.
When it comes to tying the vast majority of saltwater fly patterns, however, I’ll far more often reach for Gamakatsu fly hooks. Here are some of my most dependable hooks.
• Gamakatsu SL12S
• Gamakatsu SL12S 1X Short
• Gamakatsu SC 15
• Gamakatsu SC15 2H
• Gamakatsu B10S
• Gamakatsu Octopus
• Gamakatsu SC17
Ultimately, I know that personal opinion plays a role in each angler’s choice of the hooks they use to tie and fish. I can tell you without reservation that the hooks I’ve listed above are excellent performers.
I hope this helps up your confidence regarding your hook choices for your specific needs.
Jay Nicholas, November 2017