Tip #1 for Fly Durability
Most fly tiers spend endless hours and money making flies as durable as possible. Ensuring flies can tolerate seemingly endless dunks into the water and be whipped about in the air for hours at a time. If we are lucky, after all that also surviving a few fish being landed. Flies are generally amazingly durable for such fragile materials lashed onto a hook that goes hurling though the air and water. On a recent pike trip to Labrador last July I discovered what the number one tip is to fly durability. It's not how many coats of glue you apply, nor what strength thread you use or being sure to half hitch before every new material is applied. Believe it or not, this tip comes way, way after the fly has had a chance to dry and comes off the vise.
Many tiers make flies more than durable enough to withstand normal use. But what we don't prepare for is clumsy or careless hook releasing. It's crazy the amount of energy put into making flies more durable yet we seem to come at the fly like a 5 year old with pliers when trying to release it from a fish. Maybe it's fish fever that gives most of us this devil-may-care attitude when in the moment of releasing. Or in the instants of tooth fish, afraid of being chomped if you hands linger too long. This actually holds true for any species of fish we try to catch on the fly. I've been guilty of maiming numerous trout dry flies before figuring out its best to aim for the bend only, or get yourself a Katchum Release for cold water species. Of course debarred hooks come out easier, but with bony or hard mouthed fish it still requires some effort.
Below is a photo of two well used flies and an original fresh fly at the top, each of the used flies caught about 25 pike. The only difference between the flies are the tools and methods used to release fish. The examples are bucktail flies that are 6" long. Overall the used flies below are in pretty good shape after seeing 25 pike with razor sharp teeth, but if we take the time to release with fly preservation in mind you can clearly see the fly on the bottom right has a lot more life left to it than the bottom left. I've also had flies shredded after only one fish due to careless removal with pliers that are deeply grooved.
Hook releasing tools are key to making it release easier and quicker for the anger and the fish. Aiding C&R practices while preserving your flies at the same time, win/win! In the toothy fly world you have flies that can cost upwards of $30 or more that you hope to get multiple fish to eat. Best way to protect that investment is with proper hook removing tools.
To the left you see the typical removal tools. Bottom, long nosed pliers that usually slip off the hook and shred flies. The top tool for lack of an official name is a T- Type hook remover. Google it, many manufacture this kind of remover. I'd recommend the 12" over the 6" as it keeps your hands well away from the danger zone and maintains good visibility on the fly your working on without blocking your view.
These T-Type tools find the bend of the hook easily with or without good visibility and grip just the right place in the bend once squeezed making it quick and easy to back the hook out. Sometimes pike and musky don't sit still very well, so having a tool that can be precise and speed up the process makes removing hooks a far less stressful event for both parties.
Do yourself and the fish you catch a favor and get yourself a 12" T-Type hook releasing tool. It will chance your approach to hook removal and allow your flies to live to catch another day. Btw, I have never owned a pair of jaw spreaders. I find them unnecessary if you are patient and give the fish plenty of time to relax in the net. Resting the fish combined with this quick release tool, you won't need to own one either.