If you know anything about carp fishing, you’ll know that serious carp anglers are fanatical about the sharpness of their hooks. It makes sense – if you’re potentially leaving a hook out there for a day or more at a time, you want to make sure it’s going to do its job when you do get a bite. In contrast to sea anglers who expect sharp hooks straight out of the packet, many carp anglers sharpen their (already very sharp by our standards) hooks before they even fish with them. Generally speaking, when sea anglers sharpen their hooks, it’s to put a point back on a hook that has already been fished with.
In general, the adjustments that we sea anglers make to our hooks are relatively small. If the point is dull, we’d just aim to hone it back to satisfactory sharpness. Like many others, I use the nail test to see if the point is keen; many of the species that we fish for have bony mouths so the nail test is suitable for establishing whether the hook is sharp enough to catch in their jaws. Contrast this to carp fishing where a hook sharpened to this standard would not fly with a lot of anglers. Carp have soft, fleshy mouths so the hook can be honed to literally needle-like dimensions for optimum penetration without fear of the point being turned on contact. In the sea, a point sharpened in this way is just asking to be turned over by contact with the bottom or the hard mouth of a fish.
There are currently a variety of products available for sharpening hooks on the carp fishing market. Most of them are based around holding the hook steady in a vice and using files to hone the point. However, the latest product from the well-known Nash brand, the Pinpoint Hook Doctor, eliminates the need for ‘manual’ sharpening of the hook using a file, instead using a rotating abrasive disc to enable finer control of the process. For carp anglers who are very pernickety about their hooks, this could be a big plus – but does this new device work and, if so, what benefit could it offer us sea anglers?
First things first, the Hook Doctor comes in a padded case making it easy to transport and keep undamaged. The device does not seem to have any weatherproofing but then, with carp anglers fishing from the shelter of bivvies, the designers wouldn’t have needed to factor in this element for that market.
In the hand, the Hook Doctor makes a snug palmful with a reassuring weight to it and it’s comfortable to hold while touching up your hooks. Incidentally, Nash also offers the Hook Doctor vice that partners the Hook Doctor sharpener. This tiny, ergonomically shaped tool works really well with all hooks up to the largest size that I tested (8/0). Personally, I didn’t find myself using the vice for the larger hooks, however, preferring to hold the hook in my fingers. For anglers routinely sharpening small patterns, however, this might be a worthwhile purchase as it does offer an extra degree of control when the task gets fiddly. Of course, if you want to, you can just hold larger hooks in a pair of pliers. It’s also really important to wear some sort of eye protection when using this device, a fact that Nash is keen to emphasise in the packaging.
The Hook Doctor is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and Nash reports that the device is capable of up to 10 hours of use from a single charge. A single button controls operation and this toggles both left and right, changing the direction the grinding wheel rotates in. The ability to alter the wheel’s direction comes in handy when you’re sharpening and also makes the product comfortable to use for right and left handers. In use, the Hook Doctor powers up smoothly and is easy to operate.
The Hook Doctor is designed for small carp fishing hooks but I was more interested in whether it worked well on the larger patterns that sea anglers typically use. I initially tested the sharpener on a hook that I regularly use for rough ground fishing: an 8/0 Koike Wide Mouth. With a stone I’ve never achieved that ‘sticky’ sharpness with this pattern but the Hook Doctor managed it with ease. Being able to make fine adjustments and literally seeing how much material I was taking off as I was doing it enabled me to quickly hone the point to wicked sharpness. Although I probably wouldn’t sharpen my hooks to such an extreme degree for my fishing, it was great to see that the tool made achieving needle sharpness a doddle, even on a large heavy-wired pattern.
So the Hook Doctor works well – fine – but what does it have to offer sea anglers? Is this something you’re realistically going to use in your everyday fishing? For me, one of the Hook Doctor’s great strengths lies in the fact that it seems more than capable of being used on the beach or rocks. It’s portable, quick and easy to use and has good battery life. For anglers fishing over shingle, where hooks can become dull within a cast or two, the ability to maintain critical sharpness without having to change hooks every so often could be a big bonus. Specimen hunters fishing for hours on end for that one run would also no doubt welcome a tool that would help them to maximise their chances of their hook finding a hold.
The Hook Doctor is also ideally suited to being used at home too. If you’re anything like me, you might have trouble simply throwing away a hook that has been cut off an old rig. I often give these hooks an extra lease of life by sharpening them up and using them for wrasse fishing. The Hook Doctor makes very short work of this. Another use would be for sharpening new hooks that don’t always come with that sticky sharpness as standard. The Koike Wide Mouths that I mentioned earlier would be a perfect example as these often come out the packet with blunt points.
Ultimately, the deciding factor on whether sea anglers will welcome something like the Hook Doctor into their life is going to be the price. With an RRP of £79.99 (and £19.99 for the vice), it’s not a cheap tool and this is likely to turn a lot of sea anglers off the product. If you’re someone who is a big fan of modern, more expensive Catfish or Octopus hook patterns, however, you might find this investment worthwhile to slow down your hook turnover. For anglers using more technical clip-down rigs, where changing a dull hook might mean that the whole rig needs adjusting, the ability to quickly get that hook back to clinical sharpness could be a big time-saver.
My hook sharpening skills are comparatively primitive but it is something that I routinely do in my fishing and hook sharpness is something that I’m very concerned about, overall. For me, the Hook Doctor does offer a substantial step-up in control over the diamond sharpener that I routinely use and enabled me to get sticky sharp points on hooks that I’ve never been able to hone to that level previously. Time will tell whether the Hook Doctor is up to the task of being part of a sea angler’s armoury. I’ll use it in my fishing throughout the year and report back in time on whether it is man enough for the job.