How To Pick A Hook

By John Saporito

Today’s anglers are the beneficiaries of great strides made in hook manufacturing over the last few decades. Besides being sharper and stronger than they were in generations past, hooks are now available in a wider range of styles than ever before. But with variety comes the need to choose, and many fishermen are unable to comb through the multitudes of hooks to find the one that best suits their needs. If you are one of those anglers who could use a little guidance when it comes to hook selection, this primer will help you sort through the hook hoopla to find the right hook for the job.

The first decision is whether you should be using circle hooks or J-hooks. Circle hooks don’t need the manual hookset that J-hooks require, but they also aren’t very effective on fish that tend to nibble at bait. If you fish for nibblers such as sheepshead, blackfish or bluegills, then circles aren’t for you. There is also the reality that circle hooks tend not to set if the fish sits still after swallowing the bait, so don’t use them unless you are fishing in a current or the fish are in an active mood. J-hooks do a better job on fish that move around less.

Shank length is an underrated but critical factor in hook selection. Fish with cavernous mouths—such as largemouth bass and snook—should never be pursued using short-shank hooks. With hook eye and point being nearly in the same plane, the two parts can interfere with each other on the hookset, making them a poor choice for fish that have a gentle curvature to their mouth. These hooks do well on fish with narrow, beak-like mouths, such as tuna and wahoo, but they should be avoided when targeting anything with a wide mouth. Many of these hooks are marketed simply as “live-bait hooks,” but if your target has a big mouth, your hook should not have a short shank.

Your hook size should match the bait you are using in a way that is conducive to natural presentation. A giant 10/0 hook won’t get many strikes if your bait is a three-inch shrimp; a 2/0 beak or octopus hook is probably a better match. The hook should be big and strong enough to hook and hold your target fish, but not so big that it inhibits the movement of your bait.

Many specialty hooks have features made for specific baits and methods of fishing. Hooks with baitholder barbs are great for holding softer baits such as clams and worms. Hooks with up-turned or down-turned eyes are great if you prefer to snell hooks rather than attach them via a knot above the eye.

Pay attention to the design of the hooks you select, because each style was made with a precise goal in mind. Whatever hook you choose, always make sure it is razor sharp before you begin fishing.

John Saporito is a lifelong fisherman and student of the seas. Visit him online at

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