Sticky-sharp hooks are the key to keeping tricky fish buttoned and in your hands. A sharp hook penetrates lips with less energy and digs deeper than a dull hook, because the surface area of the point is minimized. Even quality hooks need some work after bumping rocks or catching a couple of fish.
Being able to put a proper point back on those hooks can make all the difference when you’re trying to land the fish of a lifetime. Several tools will sharpen hooks. Files, stones, and motorized hones will all do the job, but like any tool, each has its pros and cons. Finer grits are better for touch-ups and small hooks, while coarser grits are better suited for large hooks and hard sharpening.
When filing a new hook point, which is also called hard sharpening, I work from three sides, to form a tapered point, which makes the entry easier. There are two obvious options for sharpening direction: point to barb or barb to point.
I sharpen barb to point because I feel I have better control, but others make all strokes go from the point, to the barb, to keep a burr from forming on the point, which could interfere with your set. Whichever way you choose, make sure your angle and direction are consistent.
Straight out of the package, most chemically sharpened hooks have points that are ready to refine. Use a fine grit tool, like a diamond file, and sharpen from one direction. After a single stroke, check it on your thumbnail (see below) and repeat until it’s perfect. Once I have caught multiple fish, I check it, and resharpen as necessary.
Some hook styles, like drop-shots and circle hooks, and others with very curved or spade-type points don’t lend themselves well to being re-honed. A light touch-up or two with a fine-grit file is usually the most you can achieve before the hook needs to be replaced.
Razor-sharp hooks will dig in deeper, keep fish pinned, and lead to more fish stories with a picture as the punchline.
Electric hook hones are Dremel-type tools that can make sharpening easy, but you need to be careful and take your time. I’ve ruined more than a couple of hooks by not ensuring the rotating bit was in the right position.
Diamond files are available with grits from very coarse to extra fine. This makes them ideal for any hook or process, whether that’s a hard sharpening or just a finishing touch or a polish. Diamond files deliver quality and durability, but are more expensive than many alternatives.
Steel files are a good bet for the price-conscious angler. No matter how fine the grade, steel files will have ridges. They’re a good choice for hard sharpening and working on larger hooks. They’re not great for small hooks, due to their poor maneuverability and tendency to grab. On the plus side, they are relatively long lasting.
Stones can be natural or manufactured, and come in a variety of grits. Natural stones are known for their propensity to dish or groove with repeated passes of a fish hook. This can then affect the quality of the sharpening. Finer stones are perfect for finishing touches or working on small hooks.
The better diamond
John Ward of Diamond Machining Technology (DMT) is an innovator of diamond-sharpening products. He explains that there are two types of diamonds used in sharpening. Monocrystalline diamonds are solid, like ice cubes.
Polycrystalline diamonds are a fragmented compound (think snow cones) that break down rapidly with use. Only monocrystalline diamonds are used in DMT sharpeners to give a better and longer lasting sharpening.
Originally published in the April 2019 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.