How to

The Evolution of Hooks

From humble beginnings, the fish hook has evolved into a tool of astonishing complexity and design ingenuity. By SAMI OMARI.

SCANNING the archives of both ancient and modern history uncovers a great deal of insightful information on the origins of catching fish and the implements used over time to catch those fish. Rudimentary drawings, cave markings, hieroglyphs and artefacts often depict a line of some description with an incarnation of the modern day hook tied or bound to the line. While the earliest form of hooks were likely used by prehistoric man some tens of thousands of years back, the earliest known evidence of hooks comes from the Neolithic Age; these were an elementary shaped piece of stone, bone or timber designed to lodge in a fish’s throat and were referred to as a “gorge”. They would be covered with bait and a fish allowed to swallow the lot with the angler hoping that a sharp tug on the line would cause the gorge to lodge in the fish’s throat.

From that basic wedge-like device evolved the curved hook pattern that bears semblance to the hooks we are familiar with today. The evolution of the hook pattern is evidenced through the artefacts left by our predecessors with the earliest known relics being some 7000-9000 years old. These were a basic hook shape bearing no barb or eye and seem to be carefully hand crafted with grooves along the top of shank to hold the twine binding. As fishing knowledge was passed down through the generations, continual refinement saw the addition of a barb to make it more difficult for a fish to escape. The idea for a barb is thought to have been spawned from the barb on a spear with inquisitive hunters continually seeking to improve their catch retention rate, no doubt like many of us do today.

Winding the clock forward sees the dawn of the Bronze Age and the formation of the first copper and bronze hooks sporting the classic J-hook pattern. The malleability of metal allowed the craftsmen to bend or twist an eye into the hook. A stone chisel may have been used to create a bur towards the hook point which would act as the barb.

The Middle Ages saw an advancement in metal working and further advances in hook design with annealing allowing the metal to be softened then formed into more intricate shapes and the hardening processes providing rigidity. From there we arrive at modern times and large scale hook production using a variety of metals, patterns and production techniques to provide the thousands of hook shapes, sizes and finishes available today. 

Anatomy of a hook

A hook features a number of sections that have a specific name and function. Starting from the pointy end you have the “hook point” which leads down to the “barb”; the hook then does a u-turn in the section known as the “bend” of the hook. The long straight section is called the “shank” which ends at the “eye” of the hook where you tie your fishing line onto. The distance between the hook point and the shank is called the “gape” or “gap” while the distance between the hook point and the bottom of the bend is called the “bite” of the hook. See the illustration below for more info. 

Hook production

Large scale manufacturing of hooks commenced in the Scandinavian regions in the 1800s and early 1900s. The most famous of these include leading hook manufacturers Mustad of Norway which commenced operations in the 1870s and French hook manufacturer VMC, which started mass production of hooks in 1910 and this year celebrates a century of fish hook making. 

Hook manufacture initially started out with a single machine or implement used for each stage of hook manufacture, from cutting the wire and forming the barb to anneal (soften) the metal (if required), bending the hook, forming the point and eye then hardening, tempering and finishing. Most manufacturers follow similar processes today with wire from a large coil or drum being fed into a machine and formed into the finished product in one or more stages. Quality control is an important aspect of the manufacturing process with regular random tests on each production line occurring and hooks routinely checked for sharpness, uniformity in length, tensile strength and quality of finish.  

Hooks points & sharpening

There are three basic methods for creating a hook point: forging, cutting and grinding. Forging involves shaping the point using compressive forces to sculpt the tip. No metal is removed in the forging process, which gives the tip greater strength. Cutting the wire at an angle is a quick and relatively simple technique to create a sharp point however a small amount of metal is removed. The resulting cut point is generally sharper than a forged point but not as strong. The final technique involves grinding the tip of the hook to create the point. This creates the sharpest point of the three mechanical sharpening methods but also removes the most amount of metal, which generally results in a weaker point than the prior methods.

One of the more significant advances in modern times was the addition of a chemical sharpening process to further refine the hook point after it has been mechanically sharpened. The hook point is placed in an acid bath (or similar corrosive) which removes some of the metal along the point and the face of the cutting surface. The acid dissolves any raised thin burs and edges along the point, effectively smoothing out the cutting surface and enhancing sharpness.   

Where to next?

Gazing through a crystal ball suggests that, as with most modern day tackle, the trend for hooks will lean toward strength and high performance in a compact package. I see the future of hooks being lighter and stronger with innovative patterns to improve penetration and hook retention. These hooks will have greater corrosion resistance and stronger hook points that can withstand bony fish mouths while retaining a sharp point for extended periods. 

I think fine wire and extra strong will be used in the same sentence on a hook packet before too long.

The increased focus on conservation will see more hook patterns evolve to facilitate a jaw hook-up. A classic example of this innovation filtering through to the recreational sector is the now prolific use of circle hooks for game fishing, which is mandated in many billfish competitions. There will likely be evolution in the circle pattern with hybrid circle patterns emerging to cater for species chased by the masses – this is happening currently but with a low adoption rate.

I see there being a larger assortment of low profile barbed and barbless hooks across the board – both to improve penetration characteristics and minimise damage to fish (and humans!). If you want a barbless hook at the moment you usually have to crush the barb with a pair of pliers.

We’ll see more radical bend designs such as those introduced by VMC with its Barbarian pattern. By moving the pressure on the hook away from the point and closer to shank, leverage on the point is decreased and more force is required to open or straighten the hook. This allows heavy wire hooks to be amazingly strong and ideal in applications such as GT popping; alternatively, you can use a lighter wire in finesse applications while still retaining hook strength which would benefit light hard-bodied lures, for example.

Coatings and materials will evolve – this will be an interesting one because anglers generally want a point and hook to last forever but a conservation tilt suggests hooks should have a finite  life to corrode and allow any free swimming hooked fish to pass the  hook promptly. Some anglers use zinc anode tape to help bridge this gap and slow down point corrosion when using high carbon steels in trolling or game fishing applications.

Understated importance

Whenever most fisher folk browse the internet, walk into a tackle store, or attend a tackle show, the headline acts are almost always the latest and greatest rods, flash new reels or fad inspired lures. Hooks rarely feature in the spotlight however they are amongst the most fundamental of items used by people  the world over. From humble beginnings the fishing hook has made a significant contribution to human civilisation. Interestingly, Forbes magazine has ranked the fishing hook as the 19th most important tool of all time! 

So next time you travel past a tackle store or are surfing the internet,  take a few minutes to explore what interesting and innovative hook patterns, hook points and coatings  are available in the market place. Picking the most appropriate hook for  a particular application will not only uncover a new world of hooks but will undoubtedly improve your success on the water!

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.