Shanks Foundations; The building of a house starts with a good foundation. The same applies to tying flies. The final outcome much depends on the right hook, tube or shank. There needs to be a good balance, a cosmetically pleasing look and good functionality. Too often good fly patterns are tied on inferior hooks or shanks, or on tubes that are of wrong proportions and balance. Inferior hooks lead to lost fish, and unbalanced tubes lead to flies that will not swim well.
In this article I am going to go over the variety of shanks foundations that are available and their specific benefits.
Waddington Shanks – Shanks Foundations
The shank as a platform for tying flies dates back to the days of the early Waddington shanks from England. The long shanks allowed a treble to be attached to the rear loop, providing a strong hook hold while creating a long platform to build a fly on.
The Waddington shank became popular in North America with the use for flies that had a stinger loop/hook attached. The most well known pattern that uses this style is probably the Intruder pattern. The use of shanks allows building of large flies while maintaining a small hook that can be set to the rear of the fly.
In North America the original Waddingtons have been replaced mostly for single wire shanks, from the use of pins to cut off shanks of cheap hooks, and eventually to the manufacturing of single wire shanks for the specific use with stinger style patterns.
A Variety of Shanks – Shanks Foundations
There are a number of considerations when deciding on shanks and the way to attach them to hooks.
The first consideration is whether to use single or double wire shanks. In general I prefer double wire. Since stinger patterns are usually quite big they generally benefit from a bit of extra weight. Since the hook is attached to the rear, many stinger patterns tend to ride with the hook down, especially in slower currents. In order to create a more balanced set-up the double wire provides just a little bit of weight to the front end of the fly, thereby balancing it better.
This is also the reason that an up-eye is nice for these patterns. Up-eyes tend to prevent flies from rolling or spinning.
Stinger hooks are attached via a stinger loop. The loop is tied onto the shank and the hook can be attached to the loop and replaced if needed. There are three common materials that are used for the loop; braid, wire and monofilament.
Braids are probably most commonly used, however, there are a number of disadvantages to the use of braids as a loop material. The most significant issue is that braids tend to soften over time in the water. The result is that the hook hangs below the fly, resulting in missed hook ups. I have witnessed this many times guiding, where the client would get a hard, solid hit that should have hooked up but did not due to the hook hanging below the pattern on the soft braid. Braid also tends to wear over time, weakening it. Failures on braids are not uncommon.
The second material that is used to connect stinger hooks to shanks is wire. The advantage of wire is that it is fairly rigid and keeps the hook in line with the shank. A disadvantage of wire is that it can rust causing it to fail over time and the repetitive bending action at the tie in point weakens the wire over time, causing failure. I have seen many wire loops fail over the years.
The third option is monofilament. In the early days this was a commonly used material, however, the round monofilament tends to twist when strained. After it twists it is very difficult to get it straight again. An alternative to round monofilament is flat monofilament. It keeps the hook nicely in line and does not twist when strained. It is impervious to weather or oxidative deterioration and does not fatigue at the tie in point. I have fished this kind of loop connection for many years and have never had a loop fail; personally I would not fish any other type of loop.
Another type of shank is the articulated shank. Articulated shanks are double wire shanks that can be attached to each other. The advantage is that you can create a fly design that is as long as you want, while the fly remains very mobile. Common use of articulated shanks are fly designs for Northern Pike, Musky or Taimen.
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