I grew up in a family of fly tiers. My grandfather tied commercially for 27 years, my father tied for personal use for the better part of a decade, and once they both stopped tying I got lucky and inherited all their materials.
Like any tier, I have my own spin on common patterns, favorite way to tie in a parachute post, and of course, my “secret flies.” What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve found myself becoming pickier with the hooks I use for my flies. Where other tiers look for size 24 saddle hackles, I’m looking at hook gape, wire thickness, shank length, and whether the hook is sold in a straight-eye configuration.
Hackle, dubbing, tail feathers, and wing materials are important choices for the conscientious tier, but often hook choice is overlooked. For example, a cripple blue-winged olive pattern tied on an Umpqua Tiemco TMC 100 hook can, without changing the pattern at all, become a crippled emerger, or “stillborn” as my friend Ryan refers to them, when tied on a TMC 200R. No change in pattern or materials is needed – just a different hook.
It’s amazing, really, how big a different hook choice can make. It plays a role in how my favorite flies look and fish, and today I’ll share with you a few of my favorite hooks that I use for go-to patterns.
Umpqua Tiemco TMC 102Y, sizes 11 – 19
The 102Y series from Tiemco comes in odd-numbered sizes which of course fit between the standard American sizes of a 12, 14, 16, and so on. My favorite 102Y is the 19 – the perfect balance between an 18 and a 20.
The hook is all black, 1x fine, with a wide gape and a down eye. The wide gape helps hook more securely into bigger fish, and this is my go-to hook for Griffith’s gnats. While I’m not sure if the fish care that the hook is all black, I think it looks cool.
Umpqua Tiemco TMC 100, sizes 8 -28
This is arguably one of the most popular dry fly hooks in the United States, and for good reason. The 100 series is a down eye hook that’s 1x fine with a wide gape. The difference between the 100 and 102Y series, aside from sizing, is that the 100 has such a wide range of sizes. While the 102Y is a great hook for specialty ties, the 100 has you covered from decent-sized hoppers to tiny midges.
The down-eye on the 100 is great for bead-head nymphs, parachute dries, and klinkhammer patterns. The down-eye provides a solid stopping point that makes crowding the eye less of a problem, ensuring in a cleaner tie.
Umpqua Tiemco TMC 101, sizes 10-24
The 101 doesn’t cover nearly the size range of the 100, but it provides anglers with something a bit more unique – a straight-eye hook that’s 1x fine with a wide gape.
The straight-eye hook gives you an eye-length’s extra bit of real estate with which you can work, something I’ve found useful on size 20-24 midge patterns. You have to be careful not to crowd the hook eye too much or you’ll be picking thread and head cement out while on the river, but if you keep that in mind while tying you’ll have great results. The 101 is my go-to hook for caddis, mayflies, nymphs, hoppers, and stoneflies. It’s just a solid, do-it-all hook.
Umpqua Tiemco TMC 200R, sizes 4 – 22
The 200R is is a much more versatile hook than tiers realize. While it’s commonly reserved for nymph patterns (I use it in sizes 20 and 22 for midge larva, a surprisingly simple yet effective fly) it can serve well as a dry fly hook, especially for emerger patterns.
The 200R is built from standard wire, but the shank is 3x long, which is why it lends itself so well to midge larva, cranefly nymph, and San Juan worm patterns. This is a personal favorite nymph hook of mine, and even a good ol’ zebra midge seems to work a bit better when tied on this hook.
Umpqua Tiemco TMC 5212, sizes 6 -16
The last hook on the list is another versatile offering from Umpqua. The 5212 features a down eye with 1x fine wire on a 2x long shank. It’s perfect for big stoneflies – both dry and nymph versions – as well as bigger caddis and salmon flies.
The 5212 is my go-to for big dries that use a ton of hair and hackle, and I’ve tied a few streamers on this hook as well.
Hook choice makes a difference in how well your flies perform on the water. But perhaps more importantly, hook choice makes tying certain patterns far easier than using the wrong sized hook.
Spencer is a novelist, outdoors columnist, fly fishing writer, and sports writer from Utah. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.