Hooking with small hooks by Jeffrey Clark (written in response to a question regarding hooking fish with midge hooks)
"Jeff wants to remind the reader that these are just his own observations and should be supplemented with your own experiences before drawing conclusions. If you care to, please write him at jeffrey.clark@lexis-nexis.com with your own experiences." I've searched for the Holy Grail of small hook setting (sizes 20 and up) for many frustrating years. I'd never even attempt to fish a surface midge pattern blind. I'd move like a heron, lower my profile and cast closer, where I could see. Maybe add a pinch of strike foam or a #18 dry fly dropper to help spot the fly. Some other hook setting observations I once spent 4 angler days (2 anglers, 2 days) collecting hooking statistics for midge dry fly hooks at Roaring River Trout Park, Missouri. In winter, this place is tailor made for racking up stats on midge hooking effectiveness, lot's of trout (albeit hatchery raised), lots of midges, always plenty of risers and not always a lot of people... especially if it's really cold (the coldest air temp in which I've ever caught a trout on dry fly is +2 F. at Roaring River) . I've since discarded the tally sheets but I know we were at something like 260 VISIBLE takes of our flies for ~30 angler hours. We used up eye, down eye and straight eye; standard length, fine wire hooks. Sizes 20-26. Even with that seemingly huge sample size, by the time you isolated all the variables (hook size, hook eye angle, length of pause or no pause before setting, angle of fish to angler, type of hook setting motion etc.) you'd divvied up the sample such that no statistically significant conclusions could be drawn. In spite of this, I personally concluded the following from these and many other days chasing risers with itty bitty flies * Straight eye hooks are marginally more effective than up eye hooks, both straight and up eyes get stuck significantly more often than down eye hooks. Especially smaller than size #22. * Hook up percentages go south in a hurry as hooks get smaller. If you can consistently do better than 60-70% on #20s, 50-60% on #22s, and 25%-33% on 24s to 26s-- please tell me how you do it. I find it usually pays to use a #20 hook even if prevailing naturals are #24 or smaller. If you only get a third to half as many takes on a sparsely dressed (perhaps dressing only half the hook shank) size 20 impressionistic gnat, you'll probably end up landing just as many or more fish than you will with that #24 perfect imitation they can't resist. *With #20 big eye hook I can go as big as 4X tippet and get just as many takes as on 7X (using downstream presentations, see below). I seldom break off a fish while midging and I can confidently use a firmer hook set. * When the fish is facing you, hooking percentage is at its worst-- as when dropping a downstream slack line cast a couple feet above a riser to get a perfectly drag free float without ever putting line or leader over the fish. Of course, the takes to presentations ratio with this tactic is at its best. The best for fooling is the worst for hooking them. Such is life. * Bigger, wilder fish, are easier to hook up on small hooks than smaller hatchery fish. Probably has something to do with the slower, more deliberate, energy efficient rise forms of successfully adapted trout. You can better time when they've changed direction and closed their mouths than those wildly slashing hatchery dinks. So always try for the biggest rising fish -). * A brief delay of some sort, either by immediately starting a deliberate hook setting motion, or pausing briefly before a "fast twitch" hook set, seems to work better than an immediate fast twitch or a too slow hook set. I like a firm, deliberate hook set, raising or sweeping the rod to the side in a smooth, fast, but not jerky motion. * All of the foregoing is probably just a bunch of hooey and almost nothing you read about fly fishing tactics here or in any book or magazine has an ounce of scientific credibility. The real secret is being in the right place at the right time and having confidence in yourself. Jeff Recovering Midgeaholic