Observations from the Water: To Circle or to Jerk

For many types of fishing, Capt. Jim chooses circle hooks to help his clients land more fish and release them in good condition.
For many types of fishing, Capt. Jim chooses circle hooks to help his clients land more fish and release them in good condition.

O ver the past ten years hundreds of new hooks have been produced and introduced into the sport fishing arena to help anglers catch more fish. The manufacturers of each one of these new hooks tries to tout that their hooks are the “world’s strongest, sharpest, or best” in some way or another. In reality, none of them can really claim to help you catch more fish in my opinion. This is because some sort of experience is needed to use any hook to its fullest potential. Basically, there are two types of fishing hooks on the market today. “Circle” hooks that have come into popularity in the sport fishing market in the past decade or so and “J” hooks that have been around since your grandfather was a boy.

Circle hooks are promoted as a positive tool which can help conservation minded anglers practice catch and release with little harm done to the targeted species. This is achieved because of the design of the hook. The “circle” hook will usually only hook a fish in the lip or outer portion of the mouth and thus makes it much less likely to catch on the fishes’ throat or gills. By not engaging the fish in these vital areas, a hooked fish can usually be unhooked, revived and released in good health.
J style hooks on the other hand will dig into a fish wherever the point of the hook makes first contact. This can be in the lip, but in many cases it’s farther down in the fish toward the gills, throat, or tongue areas. Hooking the fish anywhere other than its lip makes it much more difficult for an angler to practice catch and release. This is a result of the J-hook burying into vital areas that are prone to excessive bleeding or other types of damage when the hook penetrates a fish in these areas.

The secret to choosing a hook that will work best for you is to determine the style of fishing that you will be engaging in. I like to break this down into two categories.

“Passive” or “Active.”

“Passive fishing” is where you don’t have continuous contact with your bait. Examples of this include setting your rod in a sand spike at the beach or resting it in a rod holder on your anchored boat while you’re waiting for a bite. Anglers often use the “Passive” fishing method in conjunction with live or dead baits. The rod holder is the key ingredient in hooking the fish most of the time in this type of fishing. The rod holder does not change the position of the rod angle in relationship to the amount of pressure that is exerted against it. When a fish strikes, the rod will first start to bend at the tip, then transition into the mid section, and finally into the butt section of the rod as the fish pulls against the line. This progressive increase in pressure sets the hook in the fish smoothly until the drag starts to slip and the angler realizes that he’s hooked up. Circle hooks work best when this type of increasing pressure is applied to them. The circle hook slides out of the mouth of the striking fish and lodges in the lip areas when the angle of pull on the eye of the hook changes as it first starts to come out of the fishes’ mouth. This change in the angle of pull-from parallel with the inner wall of the mouth, toward the tip of your fishing rod is usually about a 90 degree angle that allows the point on the circle hook to grab the fishes’ lip and bury up for a solid hook set. Anglers that actively set the hook when using a circle hook miss hooking the fish more often than not because they pull the hook past the fishes’ lip too fast and it won’t engage properly. That’s why you always here people say, “Don’t set your hook” when using a circle hook.

“Active fishing” is also used with live or dead baits but is associated more with anglers that are actively casting and retrieving lures while fishing. Anglers that are “Actively” fishing usually feel a fish strike and can immediately set the hook with a sweep of the rod tip. For this type of fishing a J-style hook is preferred most often. An angler’s natural tendency is to set the hook (jerk back against the fish) when a bite is detected and therefore properly burying the J-style hook in the fishes’ mouth prior to it getting too far down the throat where damage is more likely to occur.

So whether you’re an active or passive angler, you can be sure that there is a hook designed with your preferred style of fishing in mind.

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