Micro fishing hooks are either hooks specifically designed for small fish, like the tanago hooks used in Japan, or fly tying hooks intended for very small flies but useful for very small fish as well.
The tanago hooks are specifically designed for fish that have very tiny mouths. The size of the tanago hooks, but even more the shape of the hooks, makes them much more effective for extremely small fish - particularly when fishing the way they do for tanago - with a small float, a very small weight and an even smaller bait.
I have caught shiners, dace, chubs, fallfish, trout, bass and sunfish on tanago hooks and on midge hooks. The tanago hooks are better if you plan to fish with bait and the midge hooks are better if you plan to fly fish for micros.
I am often asked which hook is the smallest. It can be a bit confusing, since both Owner and Gamakatsu have hooks named "Smallest" (rough translation). In a sense, though the question misses the point. The point is the point (the hook point, that is). People just assume that a fish takes the whole hook into it's mouth, so they want to use a small hook to catch small fish.
The unusual shapes for tanago hooks, though, are because the fish doesn't take the whole hook into its mouth! The only part of the tanago hook that matters is the point. That is the only part of the hook that tanago (which have very small mouths) take. The extreme bend is to keep the hook shank out of the way!
The key, then, is how long is the point. A shorter hook point can be taken by a smaller fish. The Owner Migen has a hook point that is even shorter than the Gamakatsu "Ultimate" - short enough that it really is for the smallest of fish.
Midge hooks were designed for small flies, but they were also designed
for large fish. The gape is small because it is a small hook overall,
but the length of the hook point is too great for the smallest fish. This is particularly true if the hook is hanging vertically, as it would if you are fishing under a float.
In Japan, where people fish for small fish, they use hooks specifically designed for catching small fish. And by small fish, I mean really small fish. There seems to be a general goal to catch a fish that will fit on a 1 yen coin. A 1 yen coin is 20 mm in diameter - about 3/4". The hooks used to catch these small fish have a very different shape than fly hooks. Although the overall length of the tanago hook is longer than the smallest fly hooks, the point of the hook (which is the only part the fish takes into its mouth) is much shorter.
The hooks are shaped so that the point of the hook is taken into the fish's mouth and the hook is set with the slightest tightening of the line. These are bait hooks, and you only need enough bait to cover the point of the hook - either the smallest bit of worm or a tiny bit of dough. When my wife was a girl, she fished for tanago with a single grain of rice for bait. With these hooks even an eighth of a grain would do. (Rice doesn't stay on the hook well, so I would recommend a tiny sliver of worm or a dough bait made specifically for use with tanago hooks.)
I often see comments online stating that Owner Smallest tanago hooks are "size 30." That is comparing apples and oranges. Tanago hooks don't come in sizes like US hooks. Owner "Smallest" is a shape, not a size, and the shape is so different than a size 30 fly hook that it is misleading to refer to them in US hook sizes.
Remember, what is important with regard to tanago hooks is the length of the hook point, not the overall size of the hook. A fish does not need to take the whole hook into its mouth, just the point!
The Gamakatsu Smallest hooks have a much longer point than the Owner Smallest. The Gamakatsu New Half Moon and Owner New Half Moon are similar.
Truly hard core Japanese tanago anglers grind down the points of their hooks with jewelers' tools and microscopes so that the hook points are short enough to fit in the mouth of an extremely small fish.
The Gamakatsu "Ultimate" tanago hook was created to eliminate the need to grind down hooks. The hook point is less than a millimeter long.
The hooks are snelled although they are snelled to thread rather than mono. The snells are about 1.25" long and end in a loop for easier attachment to your line or tippet.
I see these hooks as a specialty item - a niche within a niche. For many fish, even many micros, they are actually a bit too small. If you are just getting started micro fishing, I would suggest the Owner New Half Moon or Smallest hooks instead. These hooks are for the seriously small fish. For even slightly larger fish (certainly the fish that most people catch) the other tanago hooks will hold better.
They are not cheap at about $7.50 per package of 5 hooks (depending on the exchange rate), but then again, microscopes and jeweler's tools aren't cheap either. Besides, if a smaller hook is the only thing that stands in the way of catching a species you've spent hours planning and traveling to catch, a $7.50 pack of hooks may be one of the smallest but most important expenditures for the entire trip.
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