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Intruder shanks, wire and hooks
The major difference between almost any fly and an Intruder is the use of a shank and a trailing hook. This is about shanks, wires and stinger hooks.
The first Intruders were simply tied on long shank single hooks that were cut once the fly was done, and a lot of tyers still use that method. The thing is that molesting a whole hook to get what is essentially just a metal shaft with an eye seems a waste. Why bend the wire and make a point and a barb, when it's going to be cut off anyway?
So a lot of manufacturers make shanks for the purpose. These shanks come in almost any length, thickness and weight, from the short and delicate to some industry strength magnum shanks made from thick and heavy wire.
Cheap shanks... not
You would think that shanks would be significantly less expensive than hooks, since the shanks are essentially just bent wire with way less work applied to them and way less demands on the steel.
The ready made shanks are comparable to hooks in price, and will typically run you 50 cent to a dollar a piece.
If you can live with the ring eye, straight wire shank, looking for cheap, large streamer hooks with ring eyes can be an option. Since the point will be cut off, the quality isn't really important here, and the quality of the steel isn't critical either. I have found several packages of cheap, useful hooks in bargain bins, and keeping your eye out for such offers can bring you a long way for little money. But it can be difficult to get a steady supply of these inexpensive hooks.
If you buy ready-made shanks, be prepared to pay, and if you are looking for shanks for articulated flies of the multi-spine type, expect that shank costs for a single fly can be significant since you are using several shanks for each fly.
As a cheapskate alternative you can consider DIY shanks. I will return to them in the end of this article.
The shank shape is typically one of three types:
- a single, straight shank with a looped front eye (B in the illustration).
- a double wire shank with one bent back eye (C in the illustration).
- a double wire shank with a bent back eye in each end (D in the illustration).
The rear eye is rarely used on Intruders, but mainly serves the purpose of giving the vise something to grab, which is why it's also vertical on many shanks, leaving the shank and front eye in a horizontal position once it's mounted in a non-rotating vise. Many shanks also double as shanks for articulated flies, and there the alternating eyes make linking possible.
The classic Waddington shank will work fine for intruders, but when tying Waddington style you actually use the rear eye for attaching the hook. On intruders the hook is attached using a trailing wire, and while the eye can be used to guide the wire, it's not always the case.
Length: The most significant aspect of the shank in relation to the appearance of the finished fly is its length. For intruders a length from about 2 centimeters or just shy of an inch is about the shortest you will see. Really small intruders are rare, and the whole point of the fly style is to get a fairly large fly without using a large hook. You will find so called Mini Intruders, but they are still fairly large flies in the one inch plus range. In the other end of the scale you will find some magnum shanks up towards 3 inches or 75 millimeters.
Material: Most shanks are made from stainless steel, some aren't stainless, but made from softer steel. Other materials can be found, but are rare. Aluminum is an option for really lightweight shanks, but not commonly available.
Weight: The weight of the steel shanks depends mainly on the gauge of the wire used. Wire about 1 millimeter (0.040”) is the most common, and depending on the length and style of the shank, this will give a medium weight shank. Increasing the wire to 1.5 millimeters (0.060”) will significantly increase the weight, in particular on the bent back, dual eye shanks. Weight can be desirable for flies meant to be fished in deep, fast water, but for some types of waters like some slow flowing Scandinavian salmon and sea trout rivers, the heaviest flies will go too deep and snag, so lighter shanks can be practical.
Color: Most shanks are simply left in the color of the material, rendering them gray with a slight shine depending on the finish. Some manufacturers offer black shanks and one brand – Flymen Fishing Company – has shanks in several colors, obtained by anodizing the metal. Due to the way most intruders are tied, the color is usually only visible on the eye of the fly, although a few patterns also leave both part of the shank and the rear eye visible, letting the color shine through.
The following is an alphabetical list of the manufacturers that I have found, with a rundown of some of the different shanks they offer. I have had most of them in my hands, tied on them and photographed them, but as usual there's a few suppliers who haven't reacted to my contact attempts. This has been noted under each.
There's a fairly large number of manufacturers who offer shanks suitable for intruders and while some shanks are produced by the well known hook suppliers, a surprising number of shanks come from smaller manufacturers. Some of these shanks might come from the same sources like it's often the case with hooks, but the many different shanks I have had through my hands, don't indicate such similarities.
Canadian Tube Fly Company has a whole range of shanks, mostly in the heavy end of the scale, and well suited for the larger flies. You will find two series: the Egret Heavy Shanks and the Lite Shanks. As the names imply, the main difference is wire thickness and shank weight, but the shapes are different too with the heavy shanks having a rear eye while the lighter ones are just a double straight wire with a front loop. The largest Heavy Shanks are really massive and suitable for the largest and heaviest flies.
The Heavy Shanks are available in 40, 55 and 70 millimeters and the Lite Shanks come in 25, 35, 40 and 55 millimeters lengths. The wire gauge on the Lite Shanks varies from 0.8 millimeters to 1.2 millimeters, with the short version coming in both 0.8 and 1 millimeter.
Prices vary from 7-8 US$ per 20, making these shanks quite reasonable.
Cascade Crest has a number of shanks, straight as well as offset with perpendicular eyes. The shanks are mainly meant for articulated flies, but the longest models (1” and 1 1/4” or 25 and 32 millimeters) can be used for intruders. The shorter shanks come in 1/2” and 3/4” (13 and 20 millimeters).
The price is 3.50 US$ per 12.
Flymen Fishing Company were some of the first to venture into shanks for articulated and also have a bunch of shanks meant for intruders called Senyo's Articulated Shank for Steelhead and Salmon Flies and Chocklett's Articulated Big Game Shank. These types are both well suited for intruders and both have eyes perpendicular to each other.
The Senyo shanks are available in 20 and 40 millimeters and five colors, while the Chocklett shanks are made in 28, 40 and 80 millimeters and can be had in steel gray only. Flymen also recently introduced the Senyo Micro Shank, a shorter and lighter shank for smaller flies, available in 17 and 23 millimeters length.
The Chocklett shanks are 8 US$ per 20, 16 and 12 respectively while the Senyo shanks are 9 US$ per 20 for all sizes and colors.
Flymen also have spines for articulated flies in lengths of 10, 25, 20 and 25 millimeters or 0.4 inches to 1 inch. These are made to make trailing, articulated bodies on flies tied on hooks. The price is 8 US$ per 24 or 8 US$ for a starter kit with six of each.
Futurefly has a series of nice, lightweight shanks, great for Scandinavian type waters. The shanks are dual eye, double wire with both eyes horizontal, the front one with a slight bend up, salmon hook style.
Lengths are 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 millimeters, and a bag contains 10 shanks and can be bought for about 4.- UK£ or Euros or some 5.50 US$, which puts them in the upper end of the price range.
MFC (Montana Fly Company) has a series of relatively thin wire shanks in a large range of lengths. They are available in 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 millimeters.
The shanks are double wire with two eyes in the same plane, and are some of the least expensive on the market, sold for 2.50 to 3 US$ per package of 10.
MFC did react to my contact attempts, but were unable to provide samples, and I haven't handled their shanks.
OPST (Olympic Peninsula Skagit Tactics) has three very basic shanks in 1, 2 and 3 inches length – 32, 51 and 75 millimeters. These are the most basic shanks available, straight shank, single wire, up eye and fairly thin wire. They are essentially identical except for the length, meaning that you can buy the long ones and trim them to the desired length since the price is the same for all three sizes: 8 US$ per 25 shanks.
You can also find the so called Dumbbell Eye Shanks, which are also single wire, but with a bent back eye and double wire in the front to form a foundation for dumbbell eyes as the name implies. These come in 20, 45 and 60 millimeters or from 3/4” to 2.4”. The price is the same: 8 US$ per 25 shanks.
I wasn't able to create contact with OPST, but Danish supplier Skagit Anglers (also listed below) were kind enough to provide me with samples of some of OPST's products.
Scott Howell has his Steely Shanks, which are bent back shanks with just a front eye. These come in four lengths: 1.5, 1.75, 2 and 2.5 inches or from 25 to 63 millimeters. You can get 12 or 24 packs at 7.- and 13.- US$ respectively.
Scott Howell did not react to my contact attempts, and I haven't handled these shanks.
Skagit Anglers is a Danish supplier, specialized in Skagit related products, and they have a large selection of fly tying materials for Intruders including several styles of shanks.
Their Skagit Shanks Articulated come in 20, 35 and 55 millimeters, of which the short version is probably not suited for Intruders.
The shanks are single wire ring eye shanks, but with a perpendicular bent back rear eye. Prices are very fair with 20 shanks sold at DKK 35.-, 40.- and 55.- respectively, which amounts to about 5.-, 6.- and 7.- US$ per package depending on shank length.
Skagit Anglers can also supply wire (10 colors!) as well as OPST shanks as mentioned above. You can also get inexpensive long shank hooks to be used for Intruders when you cut off the bend and point.
Partridge of Redditch has a couple of shanks on their program: the V2SS Intruder Shank and a classical V1SS Wadington Shanks. The latter are available in 25 and 35 millimeters and the V2SS in 25, 35 and 55 millimeters. All are made from stainless steel, and are fairly lightweight. The V2Ss has eyes perpendicular to each other while the classic Wadington shank has eyes in the same plane.
Partidge's current shanks come in 20-packs and are priced at about 9-10 US$ a pack.
The classic, black japonized, double Waddington shank seems to have been discontinued, but is still found in stock many places. It used to be available in 15, 20, 25, 35, 45 and 55 millimeters with varying wire thicknesses leading to a series with great variation. They were packed 25 in a bag, and can still be found here and there for about 10 US$ per bag. This is the shank you want for a really classic looking Waddington fly, so if that's what you are tying, buy them if you see them.
Umpqua has a Waddington shank, available in 15, 25, 35, 45, and 55 millimeters. It's a classic, stainless steel, up-eye, double wire shank with two eyes in one plane.
You will also find a straight, single wire shank with a ring eye called the Trout Shank. This comes in 20 and 55 millimeters.
The price is about 9-10 US$ per 25 Waddington Shanks and about 7 USD$ for 25 Trout Shanks.
Veniard has a series of Waddington shanks much like the classics from Partridge (if not identical), supplied in 15, 20, 25, 35, 45 and 55 millimeters with wire thicknesses adapted to the shank size.
These shanks are packed 25 at a time, sold at 6.50 UK£ or about 9.25 US$.
Veniard also seems to have had a single wire shank with a very special shape: a short bent back salmon hook style eye in the front and a partly closed ring eye in the back. These shanks are not listed by Veniard, but can sometimes be found from other sources at about 3 UK£ or 4.25 US$ per 10.
Würm from Germany has 40mm shanks with perpendicular eyes. They come in bags with 10 or can be bought with stinger hooks included 10 at a time. The shanks are stainless steel, medium wire with a ring front eye and a bent back rear eye. Würm also offers some special, grooved Tungsten weights that can be tied in along the shanks to make them significantly heavier. This is an alternative to dumbbell eyes, and can be hidden under the body material.
Würm charges about 5 Euros or about 5.50 US$ per bag.
Many cotter pins are almost ready-to-use intruder shanks. Some are on the rough side and some too heavy in the wire, but those that are well made, polished and suitably thin can be used right out of the box. The disadvantage of the cotter pins is the shape of the wire, which is flattened vertically to create a round shape when the two legs are close together. This is fine for the tying, but not as great for the eye, which gets a treacherous inner edge that could potentially cut your tippet. But the best finished pins are nicely rounded and don't pose this risk. You will of course need straight pins (not the wavy ones) and not watchmaker's pins, which have a very special shape, not suited for this purpose.
The pins can be very inexpensive, and can be found online from China at prices as low as a few dollars for 100.
DIY from hair pins
A great source for shanks is hair pins, which unlike the cotter pins mentioned above will require some tampering. Certain types – often referred to as Japanese hair pins – are straight, quite long and made of suitably thick and stiff wire. They already have a u-bend and can be formed and cut to become excellent Intruder shanks. Some are coated with plastic, which isn't a problem as long as you take care not to rip the coating with tools. Simply bending it with your fingers can be a solution to that, but might be difficult (read: painful). Covering your pliers with gaffer tape or something similar can save the coating.
The process is the same as using straight wire below. Just skip to the point where we have a long legged U with the legs parallel and slightly apart – just like a hair pin.
DIY from scratch
You can make your own Intruder shanks from almost any suitable wire. A stainless steel wire in a 1 millimeter or 0.04 inch thickness is close to perfect. The material has to be soft and pliable enough for you to bend and shape it, but stiff enough to withstand the strain put on it in casting, hooking and fighting a fish.
Luckily the strain is mainly on the loops and along the shank, and since the tag end of the looped back eye or eyes is covered by thread and very firmly secured, you don't have to use the thickest and most durable steel wire available.
Something like piano wire could seem a good starting point, but even very thin piano wire is pretty hard to bend in suitable thicknesses. A softer steel wire is a better choice unless you have the proper tools. Wire for spinner making is a good option. It's readily available and inexpensive. The only problem is that it's usually pretty thin, but you can sometimes find it in different thicknesses.
Some DIY anglers use plain steel wire as it can be bought in almost any hardware store. As long as the wire is sufficiently stiff compared to the thickness, it's useful. Too soft a wire might not be a problem with regards to durability and strength, but will leave you with a soft and bendable fly that will become curved or skewed when you cast and fish it. Since the price of wire is usually very low, you can probably afford to experiment. Read about making shanks from straight wire below.
Making a shank
You need to decide on what shape an length you want. The easiest shank to make is a single eye, double wire shank, which I show how to make in two different ways: one method for rotary vises and one for non-rotary ones. The first one is slightly simpler.
If you start from scratch with a straight wire, you will need 2 times the length of the final shank for the simple model and about 2.5 times for the other. The wire usually comes in large coils with a diameter of about 8-12 inches or about 20-25 centimeters. This means that it's curved and needs to be straightened before you make the shank. Make sure the wire is straight from the outset or you will wind up with a bent or curly shank, which is more difficult to straighten once the shank has been made.
Bend the wire so that you get two legs: either in the middle for the simple model or with one leg that is 1 shank length, the other 1.5 shank lengths.
To get a useful eye, use a set of jeweler’s pliers with tapered round jaws and select a suitable place on the jaws to get the right diameter. Bend the wire to form a very long legged U and then a bit more to get the legs to cross. Use a set of flat nosed pliers and your fingers to get the legs back to parallel, leaving a nice, well defined, elongated eye. The legs need to be level with the eye and straight.
Alternatively you can make the same long legged U, leaving the legs parallel and slightly apart, like a hair pin. Grab the wire on each side of the U with a set of fine, flat pliers, keeping it perpendicular to the inside of the jaws. Pliers with a knurled inside make this process easier as they grab better. Leave just a bit of the U outside the pliers and pinch down hard on the legs outside the pliers with your fingers to keep them flat and parallel. Now squeeze the U flat just below the bend. The U will become narrower, but stay open, and the legs will squeeze against each other, kept in place by your fingers. The result might be two legs not quite parallel, but as long as the eye is OK, don't worry. You can bend the legs back in place with your fingers, and once you wrap thread and materials on the legs, they can become perfectly parallel as long as they are straight. It's the eye that's critical.
For the 2.5 times wire, one leg is now longer than the other. Bend it down in a 90 degrees angle to the eye. This gives you something to grab in the vise while tying. You cut off this bit when the fly is done. On the other you simply grab both legs in the rotated vise.
According to taste, you can bend the eye a bit upwards to get a salmon hook like front on your fly.
Make a bunch of these at once, and be consistent, maybe drawing a few measures on a piece of paper to use as a target when bending.
Selecting a connecting wire
If you choose to use a connecting loop to attach the stinger hook, the wire needed to connect it can be chosen from a number of types. You want a wire that first of all will hold. So if you are planning on catching humongous King Salmon, you'd better aim for something really strong. Luckily most suitable wires and lines have a very high breaking strength.
The wire also needs to be suitably stiff. It must keep the hook in position while the fly fishes, but be flexible enough not to break or bend once you have a hookup and a fight begins.
Good choices can be
- coated steel wires as they are used for predator leaders and bite tippets
- fusion type spinning lines (like Fireline)
- fly line backing
- shooting line
- heavy monofilament lines
Some shank manufacturers can deliver wire selected and sold for the purpose, but you can also shop your own. Hobby and hardware stores can as usual deliver at way lower prices than fly shops. Look at jewellery wire or picture hanging wire, which will work as long as thickness and breaking strength is good.
About 0.4-0.5. millimeters or 0.020 inches is a suitable thickness, and wires and lines in that range typically have breaking strengths of at least 15-30 kilos or some 30-60 lbs., which can hold a pretty hefty fish.
Hareline has its Senyo's Intruder Trailer Hook Wire in eight different colors
OPST can supply their Trailing Hook Wire in red and blue.
Partridge can deliver wire in two different thicknesses called Intruder Wire W49.
Skagit Anglers has their SA Intruder Wire in packs with five different colors, but has an amazing selection of 10 different colors of wire, available in 2.5 meter coils at a very fair DKK 22.- or 3.25 US$ per coil.
Selecting a hook
The traditional hook for intruders is a short shank, up eye baitfishing type hook. Other hook types can be used too, and the short shank is the only requirement that's general. If you plan on mounting the hook at the water, you also need to make sure that the eye is sufficiently large to let the doubled wire pass. There's a lot of these hooks on the market and it's usually not difficult to find suitable shapes. Some are marketed as stinger or Intruder hooks, meant to be used for the purpose while some are just called live bait hooks, carp hooks, tarpon hooks or some other label. Even certain tube fly singles can be used. Look for short shank baitfish hooks, drop shot hooks or boilie hooks and you will be heading in the right direction.
The size depends on the intruder and the size of the fish you are targeting, but don't be fooled and think that only large hooks are suitable for larger fish such as salmon and steelhead. Many anglers use surprisingly small hooks even for large fish, and advocate that the smaller hooks get a better grip and will hold even very large fish as long as the wire isn't too weak. One of the advantages of intruders is that the hook is trailing the fly, and usually gets a very good hold.
Hook size in relation to the fly size is a lot smaller than what's usually seen on large flies and a fly that's 2-3 inches or up towards 7-10 centimeters is often seen with a size 6 or 8 hook.
Attaching the hook
Attaching the wire and hook doesn't have to be rocket science. You can attach both elements before tying the fly, or simply tie on the wire loop and thread the hook on when the fly is done. The latter method requires that the loop is large enough to allow the hook to pass. If you want a really short wire, you will need to mount the hook on the wire before tying the wire onto the hook.
In both cases you measure the wire twice as long as the loop plus the straight part of the shank. Some tyers cut it longer and fold it back on itself, some even passing it through the front eye and bending it back for extra security.
The double wire is tied down on the shank as the first material, and this is usually enough to provide a very secure connection. You can add glue or varnish for an almost indestructible connection, even burring the shank with a fine file for extra grip. Tying directly on the shank is usually the best, providing a very close contact between the materials. Covering the shank with thread under the wire can create a softer connection that has a risk of sliding under extreme pressure once the fly gets wet, but this still rarely happens since the pressure of the thread and materials hold the wire extremely firmly.
On shanks without a rear eye you need to make sure that there are no sharp edges that can potentially cut the softer wires such as mono or fusion lines.
You pass the wire through the eye from below on up eye or straight eye hooks and from above on down eye hooks. Slide the hook through the loop and tighten it, letting the loop grip the shank. This gives a firm connection and will guide the hook to sit straight or in a slightly downward angle depending on hook shape and wire stiffness. Some angler mount the hook so that it rides hook point up, as it's commonplace among some salmon anglers.
There is much more about tying and rigging Intruders in the article Intruder introduction.