We hate to admit it, but no matter how much we invest in rods, reels and other gear, the triumphant act of actually bringing fish to the boat often depends on the least expensive items on our tackle list: If the hooks don't hold, we lose fish. Hooks can't hold if they don't penetrate a fish's mouth, and sharp hooks assure quick, clean penetration. Get the point?
Hooks from major manufacturers offer reliably adequate sharpness right out of the box; however, ordinary use dulls hooks as they bounce off structure or scrape against hard jawbones. Although we need not sharpen hooks with obsessive-compulsive frequency, checking them periodically will indicate when points need touching up.
Sharpening hooks - or any other cutting tool - requires grinding metal from the edges to form a fine point or blade. "Good sharpeners remove material in an even manner, leave a smooth surface and remain durable," says Bob Kufahl, sales and marketing director for Lansky Sharpeners.
A variety of materials ranging from traditional Arkansas whetstone to industrial-grade diamonds serve as abrasive agents in knife and tool sharpeners, but not all work well as hook hones. For example, Kufahl says tungsten carbide is readily available and inexpensive, but it removes metal quickly and leaves a rough edge. Ceramic sharpeners leave a smooth edge on knife blades but may not prove aggressive enough to renew hooks with just a few strokes.
Despite its higher cost, diamond grit has become popular because it offers excellent abrasive qualities along with durability. "Diamond grit comes in many different grades. Sharpeners usually contain monocrystalline diamond, the most consistent and durable. Lansky's sharp-eners employ fine diamond grit, rated at 600, because it's aggressive enough to remove metal from the hook yet leaves a smooth finish," Kufahl says.
Aluminum oxide (also called alumina) finds favor among hook-hone manufacturers for several reasons. "It makes a great abrasive for quickly touching up dull hooks and is as efficient as diamond but less expensive," says Bob Anthon of GATCO. "Cost represents the major factor in choosing aluminum oxide over diamond grit. Some anglers may not want to spend $15 to $30 for a diamond-coated hook sharpener when an aluminum-oxide hone usually costs less than $10."
Like the hooks they sharpen, hones come in many different shapes and sizes. Each type performs best in certain situations.
In the Groove
Adding a groove to a flat hone allows it to serve double duty for hooks and knives, but many dedicated hook sharpeners also feature one or more grooves. "The V-shaped channel orients the hook and applies cutting edges to two sides of the point," says David James, field promotions manager for Rapala. "Just draw a hook through the groove a few times to touch it up quickly and easily. Our hook sharpeners feature three different-sized grooves to accommodate the hook diameters commonly used by inshore anglers. Side-by-side round files on the Rapala Double-Sided Hook Sharpener form a large channel that accepts the increased wire diameters of big-game hooks."
Grooved sharpeners represent a rapid, foolproof remedy for dull hooks; their disadvantage usually goes unnoticed by fishermen who use them. "The channel only sharpens the two outside edges of a hook. This is more than adequate for most inshore anglers because they typically use hooks with relatively small wire diameters. Also, most of their target species have fairly soft mouths. Additional cutting edges could prove detrimental by creating large holes that hook barbs can easily back out of," James says.
Inshore anglers, especially kayak fishermen, who must make the most of limited storage space appreciate the pocket-clip convenience of pen-size hones from Berkley, Eze-Lap and other manufacturers. The narrow width of these tools deftly reaches inside the gap to sharpen small hooks, and some models feature grooves for ease of use.
Ever have trouble holding a small hook firmly enough to apply effective strokes with a hone? The engineers at Berkley solved your problem when they designed the Smart Hook Sharpener. Unscrew one end of the pen-like housing to pull out a diamond-grit hone, and grip hooks (up to size 3/0) in the twist-lock vise built into the other end.
Anglers' Choice based its Toothbrush sharpener on another familiar, compact format that offers easy handling and a proven ability to get to hard-to-reach places. Anglers who really feel cramped for space can piggyback an Orvis Adhesive Hook Sharpener onto any flat metal or plastic surface, such as line clippers.
File When Ready
Sharpening large, thick-wire hooks like those used for marlin requires special hardware. These files - whether steel or diamond grit - have the teeth to remove metal aggressively and recondition points without wasting time.
"While inshore fishermen can sharpen hooks' outer edges with grooved hones, big-game anglers often need to add two inside cutting edges to their hook points to gain maximum cutting advantage when trying to penetrate a tough, bony fish mouth with heavy-wire hooks," James says. "Use a flat file like the Luhr Jensen Hook File to create these inside edges. The Rapala Double-Sided Hook Sharpener is designed to work on large hooks. One side has a channel for consistently sharpening the outside edges, and the flat side is perfect for adding those inside edges."
Battery-operated sharpeners offer ultimate speed and convenience for putting the sting back in your hooks. Berkley says its Pocket Hook Sharpener will hone up to 1,000 hooks (size 6 to 10/0) on a pair of AA batteries.
Rapala's Electric Hook Sharpener/Jig Buster not only sharpens hooks, it helps prevent their becoming dull in the first place. The pointed tip cleans paint out of jig eyes, so you won't feel tempted to employ hooks for that task.
Anybody who needs to sharpen hooks in quantity should consider the Point Maker from Texas Tackle. Designed specifically for this purpose, the bench-top grinding wheel runs on 115-volt AC or 12-volt DC and contains gears that keep it from turning too fast and overheating hooks.
When shopping for a sharpener, remember that one size rarely fits all. "Choose a hone that works for the hooks you most commonly use, and select a design that suits your technical ability," James advises. "Using a great hone incorrectly can do a hook more harm than good. Hones with channels are the easiest to use, flat files the most difficult."