Bending your own hooks like traditional tenkara fishermen
Well welcome to the year 2020. It's January of the new year.
I have a little agreement that I made with the fish in my neck of the woods. Basically, we have agreed to both take a break from “the game” over the winter for about 3-4 months. This seems to work out for both of us. They always seem to welcome me back when I do start fishing again.
Our early tenkara predecessors in Japan used what was available to them for their fishing gear. This usually meant silk thread, feathers from local foul and hooks made from sewing needles and pins. The silk eyed hooks have always held an allure for me. As I am getting older and my eyesight is losing its sharpness for threading the eye of a hook, the silk eye has other benefits too.
I discovered a quality to the finished flies I made that dips into that world of being functionally artistic. Tying the silk eye onto the hook in gives a little more thickness to the body of the fly that I think also adds weight.
In making the hooks that I did, I tried to make bout a size 12 but sometimes hit on either side of that with a size 10 or a 14. When it came to the shape, I found that the shape of the hook could be easily manipulated, and a variety of shapes could be made with a little practice. Finally, for the weight of the hooks I made I learned a bit about the different kinds of metal used to make pins. The pins come in different thicknesses and the metals used to make them are all over the place. For any kind of consistency, you will have to play around with some different sources.
Choosing the right pins…
I am not sure what sewing pins or needles the villager fishermen of Japan had to choose from but in our modern world we have quite a few. Pins vary in quality, density and weight. You must be a little selective as you play with them. Some will weaken as you heat them and will be brittle. I tried the following:
Straight pins/needles. Straight pins you buy from sewing stores can be hit or miss on quality. You must look at the thickness of the pin and assess the density of the pin. The only way to know if any pin is going to make a good hook is just to bend it. I tried and had a little success with one batch of pins that came with a new shirt. Then again, the next shirt of a different brand had pins that were too weak and came unbent too easily.
Safety pins These offered a good variety of weight as a base material. The final flies I tied with these had a very authentic appeal, reminiscent of what I imagine a village fisherman’s kebari would look like. I found that the 1” and larger pins worked well. The larger the pin, the larger the gauge of the hook weight and thickness.
Just keep your eye out for any kind of pin that would be suitable. I have found “T” shaped pins at an office supply store that were a very sturdy gauge weight. Depending on which pins you find will dictate what the weight and gauge of the fly you are going to tie will be. I like having a variety to help me have some flies that sink faster than others.
1 or 2 sets of pliers: Needle nose pliers work fine but I also found jewelers pliers that have rounded conical tips to be excellent for shaping the hooks. One of each or two of either will be fine. I quickly found that I could also just use my fly-tying vise to hold the pin while I shaped the hook bend.
Wire cutters: My needle nose pliers have a cutter on them, and I used those to cut the hook shaft at the appropriate length. I believe a small set of actual jeweler’s cutters could be better still.
Small metal file. If you don’t use the jeweler’s cutters and instead use the bulkier cutter on the pliers, then you may have a sharp barb left over after cutting the hook to length. The small file will allow you to file off any rough barbs on the tip of the cut.
There you go! That is all there is to making your own hooks. I really enjoy making these and have a feeling that I will be doing a lot of fishing with them in the spring. I enjoy the rustic shapes and the lack of continuity each hook has. The more you work making your own hooks the better you will become at getting them to the size and shape you want.
So now that you have your hooks you will probably be wondering how to tie in a silk loop eye. It is simple enough...
1. Attach thread base to the hook. These initial thread wraps will help bind the silk loop to the hook.
2. I use silk beading thread that you can get from any hobby store. Certainly, there are other materials you could use like Dacron line or even mono filament. Cut off a small 2-3 cm section and fold it in half.
3. Lay this on top of the hook and wrap a few times. Pull the tag end of the silk thread until the loop is the size you want and be sure that it extends past the end of the hook shaft. Once it is where you want it, wrap it with thread down the length of the loop.
4. Cut the tag ends off as needed. Clean up and continue tying your fly.
I hope that you have fun exploring this tradition and stepping back into time a little. Our appreciation for the first tenkara fishermen is honored in little things like this. When we practice these techniques, we begin to appreciate more about the early ways fishermen had to think and spend their spare time. We get a better appreciation of those traditions and build on our own skill sets and confidence. I will continue to wait for the spring and in the meantime keep making these kebari. Still can't wait to get out and surprise the fish.