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- Hooks are hooks in most people’s mind. They figure they either need a big one or a small one, depending on the fish they are pursuing. Lots of anglers go though life completely missing the importance of using not only the right size hook, but probably most importantly the right type of hook.
- Hook choice depends on several factors. Obviously, the smaller the fish, the smaller the hook required. What most anglers miss is, that line size, fish species, type of bait, and fishing structure play a major role in hook selection.
- Have you ever fished next to someone who seemed to be catching three or four fish to your one? Perhaps your fish kept getting off before you got them to the boat, or your line kept hanging on the bottom while your neighbor never hung even once. It’s not just pure fishing luck that makes the difference. Most of the time it’s the hook choice you make.A thick forged hook is not the right choice. A thin aberdeen wire hook that can penetrate the hard inside of the mouth would be a better choice. A number 1 or 1/0 regular shank aberdeen works very well for these bait stealers.
- Hook size is probably the first thing an angler thinks of when buying hooks. Most are smart enough to know which hook is the right size for the fish they are after. Sizes fro most manufacturers range from the very smallest freshwater trout hook at a number 32, to the very largest gamefish hook at 19/0. There is no world or industry standard method of measuring hooks, but here in the US, the measures go from the smallest size 32 (which is barely large enough to hold between two fingers) and count down. As the number decreases, the size increases all the way down to a number 1 hook. At this point the number changes to a designation of “aughts” or zeroes. A 1/0 (pronounced “one aught”) hook is the next larger size to a number 1. A 2/0 is larger still, and this numbering scheme goes as high as 19/0.
- The size breakdown from smallest to largest looks like this:32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0, 6/0, 7/0, 8/0, 9/0, 10/0, 11/0, 12/0, 13/0, 14/0, 15/0, 16/0, 17/0, 18/0, and 19/0
- All of these hooks come in a short, regular, or long shank version. The shank of the hook is the part between the eye of the hook and the bend.
Hook TypesFish hooks also come in several types. Knowing a few of the more popular ones and their uses can help you be successful:
This hook is named for the specific design of the hook. It’s a standard hook, forged with a very strong bend. This hook is relatively thick, very strong, and not likely to bend out of shape. Generally designed for saltwater, it is good for general bottom fishing use. Sizes range from #3 to as large as 19/0.
These hooks, while primarily used in smaller sizes in freshwater, are also used by saltwater anglers. They are generally made from shaped wire. Unlike the O’Shaughnessy, it can and does bend. It can be bent back into shape several times before it becomes too weak. However, once a fish is hook and the barb has completely penetrated, this hook holds quite well. These hooks are modified with bends in their shanks for use in jig molds.
Perhaps the best innovation in hooks to come along, circle hooks promote healthy catch and release. The design of the hook itself, when used properly, prevents fish from being hooked in the gut. Many anglers have a problem using these hooks because they require no hook set. If you do try to set the hook, it will generally come out of the mouth of the fish. These hooks are designed to move to the corner of the fish’s mouth and set themselves as the fish swims away from you. Anglers feel a bite and simply begin reeling, slowly at first, then faster as the hook gets set.
- LIVE BAIT
These hooks generally have a shorter shank than other hooks. Whether that is to allow the live bait to swim more freely or to be less apparent to the fish is debatable. My vote is to allow the bait to swim more freely. These hooks come in regular and circle designs. Regular live bait hooks will be swallowed and result in gut hooks most of the time. Circle live bait hooks provide a greater chance for a good release.
The curve on these hooks makes them ideal for live bait. Made from the same wire as the Aberdeen hooks, they will bend if hung on the bottom of some structure. However, once a fish is hooked, the design of the hook prevents it from being straightened.
Which hook should you use for which fish?
- You can see that there are choices to be made. Perhaps a more important choice would be which hook should you not use for a particular fish?
- Judge your hook choice by the physical characteristics of the fish. Let’s take the sheepshead, a member of the porgy family, as an example. These fish have a small but extremely hard mouth, and two rows of almost human looking teeth. It is extremely difficult to set the hook inside their mouth.
- Larger fish with a softer mouth would warrant a larger, harder hook. The O’Shaughnessy would be a good choice here. A larger aberdeen wire hook would not stand up to the fight of a larger fish. Seatrout, red drum, black drum, snapper, bluefish, striped bass, and all fish of this general type can be caught with O’Shaughnessys.
- Large-mouthed fish, such as grouper, or any of the larger varieties of fish demand larger hooks. A 1/0 hook would probably not find a place to hook up in a twenty-pound grouper’s mouth.
Do I need a circle hook
- The answer to this question is determined by a couple of factors. First, do you plan to release what you catch? If so, a circle hook is definitely in order. Second, even though you plan to keep fish to eat, do you think that you may catch a large number of undersized fish? If the answer is yes, then, again, a circle hook is in order.
- Circle hooks come in a light wire and a heavy-duty variety. Which circle hook you use depends on the size and type of fish as we already discussed.
Hook and sinker or a jig?
- A standard bottom rig with a leader, swivel and sinker is good for most applications. However, I find that a plain jig head works just as well as the standard rig with some added advantages.
- With a standard rig, a fish can take your bait, and literally swim with it without you feeling them if your leader is too long. With a jig head, you feel every motion and touch of your bait, allowing you to set the hook earlier.
- In bottom areas of rock or other structure, the standard rig has a likelihood of hanging in that bottom structure. A jig head allows you to “feel” the bottom and control the sink rate of your bait. Hang-ups are much easier to free without breaking your line.
- On the other hand, bottom fishing with live bait often demands a standard rig to allow the bait to swim freely. Jig heads usually prevent that live bait from swimming as freely.
What about line?
- Your choice of hook type and size is definitely influenced by your line size. Eight-pound test line can only exert a maximum of eight pounds of pressure on a hook set. That thick heavy-duty hook will have a hard time penetrating the jaw of a fish with that little pressure.
- Heavy line, say fifty or sixty pound test, can easily force that hook home. But a small wire aberdeen hook will likely be bent straight without penetrating the jaw if used with heavy line.
- The answer lies in matching the line size, the type of fish, and the type and size of hook as a package. I like eight-pound line with a 3/8-ounce jig head and 3/0 aberdeen hook for most of my inshore fishing. The eight-pound line is heavy enough and the aberdeen hook is thin enough so that my hook set actually hooks the fish.
Small hook big fish?
- With all this discussion, you’re probably wondering how we catch such big fish on light tackle. The answer is a balance that has to be struck between hook size and anticipated fish size.
- I do catch twenty-pound fish on eight-pound line quite regularly. The line is not the problem. A good drag puts you on a level playing field when fishing with light line.
- The balance is in the hook size. If the hook is too small, it will penetrate easily, but will pull straight even easier causing you to loose a good fish. It the hook is too large or thick, your light line can’t exert enough pressure for the hook to penetrate, hence your fish fights for a second or two and then swims free.
Hooks and bait selection
- Bait, both live and dead, plays a major part in hooking a fish. Imagine a huge chunk of cut bait with a number 1 hook buried in the middle of it. Hooking a fish with that scenario is virtually impossible. Conversely, imagine a 5/0 hook with a single fiddler crab on it. I think you get the picture
- The hook you use needs to be large enough to be able to hold the bait and hook the fish, yet small enough that it doesn’t actually hide the bait!
- Live bait hooks and kahle hooks should be used for “live” bait. Choose the hook size according to the bait size. Don’t get the hook lost in the bait, and don’t kill the bait with a hook that is too large.
- The bottom line to hook selection is threefold. First, use common sense. As simple as that may sound, I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen people make some really bad hook choices. Don't expect to catch a huge fish on a tiny hook!
- Second, use some trial and error and learn from your mistakes. No one became a good fisherman overnight. All of us had to learn either from someone else or by trial and error.
- Finally, to all of you who are new to fishing, try taking these examples and build your learning experiences upon them. Trial and error are often the best teachers in any skill.