The sharpest-possible hook is the best hook for catching more carp, right? In theory, maybe, but hook sharpening doesn’t come without drawbacks so, like many things in angling, it’s a trade off between the advantages and disadvantages.
To set the scene it’s fair to say that modern hooks are pretty damn sharp straight from the packet. In the 1980s, Drennan popularised the process of chemically sharpening hooks for mass production and, almost overnight, catch rates went up as anglers realised just how comparatively blunt the previous generation of products had been.
Processes like chemical sharpening have become standard across the industry since then and now just about every carp hook you can buy in a tackle shop will be ‘sharp’. But some are certainly sharper than others, and all of them can be made even sharper by hand.
But let’s not forget the trade off to sharpness – strength and longevity. These are key factors to consider when assessing which pattern, manufacturer and process is right for you.
Using hooks straight out the packet
Plenty of big-name anglers don’t bother with hook sharpening, including Terry Hearn, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a keen eye for sharpness. Even in the current era of highly repeatable manufacturing processes, not every hook in a pack of 10 will be as sharp as each other. So, the first thing you can do to make sure you are fishing with the sharpest tools imaginable is to inspect each hook in detail, way before you consider physically honing it.
How to tell if your hook is sharp enough
A jeweller’s loupe will help magnify imperfections and you can draw the point over your thumbnail to gauge which hooks are sharper than others. You’ll be looking for a point that grips the nail with the minimum of downward pressure. It’s an easily acquired skill, but one that takes a little bit of time to get the feel for. Try it with a brand-new hook and one that’s taken a battering and you should start to appreciate what qualities you are looking for.
This process of assessment will also help you sort out which patterns and brands you prefer. There are some big differences across the board, though most smaller companies will be ordering their hooks from the same sources.
Professionally sharpened hooks
If selecting the cream of the crop from each packet sounds either wasteful or still not quite sharp enough then hand-sharpening comes into play. Expert sharpeners like Jason Hayward take this tricky skill and almost turn it into an art form. They can hone a point far beyond what can be achieved in mass production and – quite simply – those points will prick a fish more easily and convert more pick ups into landed fish. However, there are drawbacks, and you might decide some of them outweigh the benefits. Firstly, professionally sharpened hooks cost more per packet.
What you need to know about sharpening the hook youself
Perhaps you will decided to sidestep that problem and head to the shop and buy a sharpening kit and do it yourself. But this is where you can do more harm than good. Picking up a vice and file and following a YouTube tutorial might make it seem easy, but there is a definite skill to hook sharpening and you will doubtless ruin a few hooks before getting it right, and you may even start fishing with hooks that you think you have improved but have in fact blunted. And that could cost you the fish of your dreams.
Sharper hooks are more fragile and the point can be blunted easier
Supposing you are either happy to buy professionally sharpened hooks or you become skilled in doing it yourself then you also have to overcome the problem of fragility. Sharper hooks have thinner, weaker points that can burr over instantly in a fish’s mouth or on a hard lakebed. The former is a problem most of us can live with because it means you have landed the fish and your ‘penalty’ is having to tie another rig. The latter can make it very difficult to fish certain spots with sharpened hooks. A clean gravel area in a lake containing plenty of other species or a rocky bottom on a churning river are not places where sharpened points will survive very long – and that could mean you have a blunt hook by the time a carp decides to pick up your bait.
How to prevent the sharpned hookpoint from rusting
Sharpening also removes a hook’s protective outer coating, leaving the point susceptible to rusting and weakening. The pH value of waterways varies but on some venues this process can be very quick indeed. A dab with Vaseline or a special pen can hold back the process, but these measures are generally only temporary.
Hand sharpened hooks may not suit busy runs waters
So, like just about everything in fishing, it’s a case of weighing up the situation and making a choice. If you have your hopes pinned on a single target fish on a difficult water, then a sharpened hook could very well be the final piece of a precise jigsaw. But if your angling revolves around busy runs waters, or lakes that also contain big heads of bream and tench, then the constant changing of rigs and fear of ‘in-situ blunting’ might drive you mad and have you reaching for a standard hook with a more durable point.
Perhaps the third way is to look at hooks like Korda’s Kamakura range. These are mass produced hooks sharper than any other on the market, but they are also more expensive than any others and, just like a hand-sharpened hook, have delicate points that are very unlikely to last beyond a single capture.
In short, sharpened hooks can make a difference and undoubtedly produce more bites, but they won’t turn a bad season into an incredible one and you might find them difficult to use everywhere.