I learned the importance of regularly checking my hook points at an early age.
Right after I began fly fishing back in the early 90's, my family and I were on vacation at the Trinity River in Northern California. Being a kid with a brand new fly rod, I was hungry for action no matter what the size or species. I brought a spinning rod along for backup, but that was staying in the car for now.
We were at a heavily-fished access spot, but I had found a whole bunch of salmon and steelhead smolts surface feeding on bugs over a deep run. Nowadays I wouldn't mess with those little sardine-sized runts, but let's be real, that's a little kid's dream! I tied on a common pattern—something like a Royal Coachman or Light Cahill—and set out to hook into some of those brutes.
The rises were happening about 40 or 50 feet out and I had a short sloping gravel bar behind me, so there was some challenge involved with fly delivery. Despite the struggle, I managed to get somewhat dialed and could splat the fly into the strike zone with decent consistency. Those juveniles didn't care if the fly drifted naturally or was skidding across the surface of the water.....they were smacking it! Although I was getting constant eats that were plain as day, I simply could not hook them. Keep in mind this went on for about 15 minutes before I had a stroke of genius to actually check the damn fly to see what was up.
I stripped in line and grabbed the fly to take a look. It took me a half a second to see the problem—the hook point was completely gone, leaving just a blunt end behind! How could this be? I then realized what happened. Remember the gravel bar I mentioned? On a couple of my first few back casts, the fly smacked the rocks behind me. Being such a small, thin hook, that apparently was just enough to bust that hook point clean off.
That moment really made an impression on me, so much so that I still remember it here about 26 years later. The lesson learned there was to check the hook often, especially if any of these happen:
When the Fly Contacts Hard Surfaces- If my fly hits something like rocks, trees, or concrete behind me, I check both the hook point and the tippet immediately. Sometimes even a minor tap can blunt or roll a hook point, not to mention the possible leader scuffs. Dragging or bouncing the fly over rocky, craggy bottom during the retrieve can also dull the hook point over time as well.
After Snagging- When you snag and are lucky enough to get the fly off, do check it. Not only can a hard snag screw up a hook point or even open up a hook bend past where it should be, but there may also be debris on the fly that requires cleaning off. Don't be lazy and recast before inspecting your bug.
Before a Fishing Trip- If you've been neglecting your hooks for some time now and aren't 100% confident in their condition, take a few minutes and check all the hook points before your next fishing trip. This can be especially crucial at the beginning of the fishing season if your fly box has been put away for awhile and you might not be totally clear on what shape the hooks are in.
As the old saying goes, "hook sets are free." However, having a damaged or dull hook will cost you. I like to give each hook a close visual inspection, then I'll simply give it a very gentle poke into my finger to test sharpness. If anything isn't right, I'll give it a few swipes with my hook file or even tie on a new fly altogether. Keep those hooks sharp and in tip top condition and you'll catch more fish. Simple as that!