|Angler: Jim Shelley
UK PB: 61lb 4oz
Sponsors: Dynamite Baits, Vision and Fruitful Media Ltd
The big man catches more huge carp than anyone else, period.
In my early carp fishing days I tried to sharpen hooks on an oilstone, as well as various other sharpening tools, and got nowhere. The reason was simply that I had the wrong tool for the job, which I wouldn’t find out for many years to come. Sharpening fell by the wayside until I was fishing Wraysbury One in the early days. I remember an altercation with a very good friend in The Percy public house – over numerous pints of Kronenbourg. Bill Dawson was trying to tell Terry Hearn that you could sharpen an ESP Stiff Rigger, improving on a hook straight from the packet, but he was having none of it.
My next encounter with the technique was at Toll Pits with an angler who I thought was a bit of a joke. Anyway, he was sharpening his hooks, not with the file that I now use; he had a fine-grade diamond file. He was talking about sharpening hooks, not so much to make them sharper, but to make them sticky, and he was right. Let me explain.
When you sharpen an object you get a burring along the doctored edge. When your sharpened hook pricks a fish, therefore, which it will do a lot more effectively than a hook straight from the packet, this burring effect helps to keep it in place. Test it for yourself; once you’ve sharpened a hook, gently nick it into the palm of your hand alongside one straight from the packet. Then shake your hand. The sharpened hook will stay put whereas the unsharpened one will fall out.
So why is this relevant? Once a fish has picked up a rig and pricked itself, its usual reaction is to shake its head to try and rid itself of the hook. Angling pressure over the years has seen them learn to ‘deal’ with rigs with frightening ease. Take a look at the Korda Underwater videos to see how adept they can be at this, sometimes tossing the entire setup off the spot. It’s up to us to take things to the next level to stay one step ahead, and a sharpened hook is exactly that. It’s far harder for them to shake out, so more pick-ups are converted into runs. This ‘stickiness’ is what makes sharpening a hook in the way I’ll describe so effective.
Following Toll Pits, which was about nine years ago, I forgot about hook sharpening until I stumbled across it once more via my good friend Steve Allcott. He had a way of making his hooks ridiculously sharp, sharper than I’d ever seen anyone else do it. Even so, I fell into the trap that so many others do when shown an ‘edge’, in that I didn’t try it. Steve kept telling me to get the tool he was using, a fine-grade file, and try it out for myself. This went on for about a year.
Eventually, Steve and I were sat on The Woolpack in Cambridgeshire when he showed me exactly what was going on with the hook sharpening. At that point the penny dropped, I went online as soon as I got home and ordered a couple of files.
I started playing around with hook sharpening and, because I had a good idea of what you can achieve with different sharpening angles from my days working in slaughterhouses, where sharpening various styles of knives was part of the trade, I soon came across a method that I was happy with.
I don’t put myself up as an authority on hook sharpening but, given my past experiences, I do know a thing or two about what it takes to make an object sharp for a specific purpose. Some of the hooks I see sharpened are done so from angles that I’d consider wrong. Yes, sharpening just the tip of a hook at an acute angle can make it pin sharp, but the point quickly widens to a bulbous base. Leaving the majority of the point untouched like this makes the hook easier for the carp to shake out once they’re pricked, as I explained earlier.
I sharpen a hook with a view to making the entire point, until just before the start of the bend, thinner, creating a needle-like point. Not only is this dangerously sharp, but you have the burring effect along its entire length to create the ‘stickiness’.
I’ve been using big hooks recently, the size up from what I’d normally use, and filing the point down to almost half its original thickness. This gives me the strength of a bigger hook but a needle-sharp point that’s closer in diameter to the hook size below. I don’t file any metal from the bend of the hook, starting the sharpening angle just above the bend. Filing the bend will weaken a hook but so far I haven’t had any problems with sharpening affecting the strength of the hook.
I show people how to sharpen hooks on my tuitions and within five minutes I can get them sharpening hooks to a point they didn’t think possible. It’s testament to how simple this technique can be once mastered and enables you to take a hook from a packet and sharpen it in no more than 60 seconds. Better still, you don’t need to use a magnifying glass or eye piece either, even to check the point once it’s done, because you can do this by feel. Once you’ve sharpened a point, touch it against your palm hand at roughly 90 degrees. If you’ve done it right, it will prick the skin like a needle. The next check is to place the point lightly against a fingernail, where it should catch and stay put. If it skips or drags across the nail then you’ve not filed it straight and the point is off to one side. I don’t care what anyone says, the ‘nail test’ is no good for testing a hook’s sharpness, but it will highlight whether the point is bent.
I’m not a huge fan of Teflon-coated hooks because the coating deteriorates in water, especially over acidic lake beds. However, no matter what hook you use, sharpening it will remove any coating that the hook may have, exposing the bare metal beneath. This will rust surprisingly quickly when out in the lake and can even be burnt black by acidic bottoms. A rusty hook is neither sharp nor strong so the bare metal needs protecting. A coating of Vaseline works well, but I use the natural oils in my skin. By the side of either nostril is a gland. Wipe your finger down the side of your nose, across this gland, and you’ll see the oil shining on your finger. Before casting out I, carefully, wipe the hook point, bend first, over this gland to give it a coating.
The type of hook you try to sharpen makes a big difference. One of the best hooks I’ve found for sharpening is a Fox Arma Point SR, but Korda Wide Gapes and Choddy are also good and Kamasan B175s are absolutely perfect for it. What this technique allows you to do is take a great hook pattern but one that you didn’t use because they aren’t sharp enough, such as the B175, and make it deadly sharp. One of the hardest hooks I’ve found to sharpen is an Atomic Chodda, because they are so hard. It can be done, but it’ll take five minutes for me to file off the right amount of metal from the point. That said, they are exceptionally strong.
You will come up against straight points and beaked points, each of which requires a different sharpening technique. A beaked point needs filing on three edges, those being each side and the outside edge. When filing the outside edge, that opposite the barb, you need to follow the curve of the point so that it keeps its profile rather than trying to file it straight. I normally rub the file down each side five times and then three times on the outside edge, check the point and then give it another two on the outside edge if needed. Always stroke the file in the same direction, from bend to point, in one smooth movement.
Straight-pointed hooks are easier because you only need to file the outside edge. I usually pass the file over it five times, check it, and then another two if needed.
I don’t know what metal these files are made from but they rust extremely quickly from the moisture in the air. Once it’s rusted it’s nowhere near as effective. To protect the tool, therefore, give it a coating of oil. I use a few drops of olive oil. It’s then wrapped in a plastic bag for storage in my tackle box.
I’ve been doing this for two and a half years. In no way am I trying to claim that hook sharpening is my edge, or my thing to show to the world. It’s a technique that I’ve picked up from others and tweaked to find a method/style that suits me and works how I want it to. You see something that other anglers are doing that can be worked into your fishing and you start to evolve it to your own end. This is what I’ve done here and it’s how most edges and techniques in carp fishing progress.
Chod rigs are another prime example. It was Terry Hearn, Nigel Sharp and Nick Helleur who tweaked something that Frank Warwick was doing years ago, resulting in the start of the recent ‘chod fashion’ and a technique that worked for them. I then took their way of chod fishing and adapted it to my fishing. It’s never a case of a specific technique or method being the only way something can work, but take something that already works and use it as a starting point.
I’m always asked about how and why I sharpen my hooks. Now you know, and if you can perfect and use my method then it will catch you more carp. However, it’s not the be-all and end-all and, in time, you may be able to take it further still.
Going back 25 years, I learnt to sharpen knives properly as part of becoming a qualified butcher/slaughterman. Anyone who knows anything about knife sharpening will know that once you have the edge that you require the knife needs polishing. This removes the burring, helping the blade glide through whatever you’re cutting. This is not the effect that you want with a hook point. A polished point will dig into a carp’s mouth a little easier, but it’ll be far easier for the fish to shake out.
FOOTNOTE: This is nothing to do with this article, but it’s a point that I feel needs addressing in print. Anyone who’s piercing beads to thread onto their rigs/leaders, such as the back stop for a helicopter setup, please stop. This practice is dangerous from a fish-safety point of view. I’ve had a special carp trailing a rig and 5oz lead because of a presentation set up in this manner and the result for the fish has been disastrous. Please don’t do it anymore.