The trouble is, they are just so
cheap and tiny that often little thought goes into
their purchase. Let me ask you this question? How many
different hook patterns do you own? Obviously, the
answer will depend on the species you pursue, but in
most cases, the range of hooks I carry is more
extensive than any other item of tackle.

The range of hooks available now is huge, but that
does not necessarily mean that they are of universally
high quality. I have yet to find any range of hooks
which are faultless. Even the most expensive packets
contain the odd rogue, with an ill-formed point or
half closed eye. So my first suggestion is that each
hook should be examined before being tied on. After a
while this will become second nature, but try to make
a conscious effort to check each one.

First, check that there is no rust on the metal. Next,
check that the eye is closed properly and that there
are no sharp edges. Points often become damaged, so
check the sharpness next. I prefer to stick the point
into the soft skin on the tip of a finger, rather than
draw the point across my nail (which may inadvertantly
blunt it). Be careful not to draw blood though as
there are many bacteria which lurk in water. Finally,
check that the barb is cut correctly and is not
damaged. Only then is the hook ready for use.

Although once popular, I never use a sharpening stone
for my coarse fishing hooks. After a couple of fish,
or between trips I just change hooks. Most modern
hooks are coated and trying to touch the points up
with a sharpening stone will remove this coating and
speed up the rusting process. Some hooks do tarnish
incredibly quickly, so it is always wise to keep an
eye on the point and change any hooks which may be
faulty. When fishing gravel bedded rivers and lakes,
hooks points are regularly blunted or turned over. By
always checking your hooks these problems can be
effectively eliminated from the long list of problems
which may ruin your chances.

I tend to use a single knot to attach my hooks when
not using a hair rig. The spade end knot is by far the
strongest knot around as there is no chance of the
line cutting into itself. It is also quite simple to
tie. I am right handed, so reverse everything if you
are left handed. Hold the hook by the bend in your
left hand and the end of the line in your right. Lay
the line along the shank of the hook with at least
10cm overlap. Make a loop in the end of the line, so
that the end is now facing up the shank of the hook.
Taking hold of the end of the line in the right hand
wind it between five and ten times around the hook
shank (use more turns with lighter lines). Now pass the
end of the line through the loop and slowly tighten the
knot. As with all knots, make sure that the line is
well lubricated to stop it becoming damaged. Once the
line is almost snug, make sure that the line is exiting
from the front of the spade and then bed the knot in.
The easiest way to practice this knot is to try tying
pieces of string to a nail. Gradually move down to
smaller hooks as your ability allows. The only problem
with this knot is that it does not take kindly to
unbalanced tackle. Because the knot relies upon the
line sitting tight to the spade, if the line is too
thick it will tend to slip over the spade. Make sure
the tackle is balanced and you will have no problems.
When using eyed hooks I just pass the line through the
eye before tying a spade end knot. Again, make sure
that the line exits from the front of the eye. The
need to match hook size to line diameter is less of a
problem with eyed hooks as the knot has more metal to
stop it coming loose.

You may wonder why the line exits from the front of
the hook. Well, take it from me that with most forms
of fishing this will allow you to hit far more bites
than if the line is exiting from any other direction.
As with hooks, always test your knots to make sure
that they are tied correctly. This will depend upon
your skill and also the line used. Some pre-stretched
lines are a real pain to tie and tend to 'pig tail'
when the loops of the knot are drawn tight. John
Roberts markets a nifty little knot tester which
allows you to pull pretty hard without damaging the
hook.

This weeks column really contains basic information,
but many people do not pay adequate attention to it.
Hook quality and knots should not be a problem for you
as long as you get into good habits. Next week I will
describe some of my favourite hook patterns and why I
think that they work so well.