Of all the little things that go into fly fishing a strong sharp hook is among the most important. Our sport is a culmination of little things; fly selection, mending, casting, etc. Like the terrible “link in the chain” analogy, if you’re missing any one of them then you’re in trouble. Losing a fish for a reason as controllable as hook quality is mentally painful to the point of producing self imposed psychotic outbreaks. There are too many variables we can't control when fishing to risk the few we can.
That said, I’m a college kid, and cutting corners is kind of what we’re known for. Not to mention funds are slim to non existent. A pack of a hundred hooks for five dollars is a difficult bargain to turn down, and not entirely a waste of time and resources. Cheap hooks have their place.
Aside from price what could cheap hooks possibly bring to the table aside from frustration and inevitable disappointment? Excellent question. Oddly enough, the very characteristic that makes cheap hooks so seemingly unusable is their greatest quality, in the right circumstances.
That characteristic quite obviously being their propensity to bend easily. Why would that be a redeeming quality in anyway? Again, excellent question.
Allow me to paint a simple picture. A stream slices through a fairly steep canyon. Perhaps it's in the Rockies or Appalachians, it doesn’t really matter. The creek is a shallow, fairly narrow, pocket water affair with the occasional plunge pool. The foliage surrounding it is dense, perhaps comprised of thick pine trees or lanky rhododendron. In some places the limbs form a sort of tunnel that blocks out the sun creating a tasty bit of dry fly water. The trout are similar to the water, small but beautiful; big on this stream would be a thick fourteen inches.
A little headwaters creek like that is the perfect place to break out some big flies tied on cheap hooks. If you don’t fish cheap hooks because you’re afraid to lose big fish then that simply doesn’t matter when the “big” fish is still small enough that they won’t bend them. Chances are most of those trout are going to be in that eight to ten inch category, fun no doubt, but not tackle busters.
Not only that, having hooks that bend will help around thick brush that ruins casting lanes and hook sets. The ability to retrieve flies caught on either aerial or subsurface branches is a huge plus. Losing flies in and around the combination of overhanging branches and underwater root wads is not difficult at all. In the course of a day on any thick headwater it would be nothing to break off a dozen flies, especially on light tippet with strong hooks.
Cheap hooks aren’t always practical. In fact the majority of the time I wouldn't let them near my fly box, but on certain waters it pays to hedge your bets a little. Think realistically about the kind of fishing you’ll be doing. Breaking from the norm can not only save some money, but prevent the occasional headache too.
Don’t forget they're in your fly box though, otherwise your next tailwater trip could end disastrously. I can say that with the utmost certainty based in no small part on personal experience.