"What’s In a Hook?"
Have you ever stepped into a fishing tackle aisle in a store and found yourself confused or amazed at the variety of hooks available today? Well if you have don’t feel too bad because in reality its hard to really know or be familiar with every hook available out there today. What you need to know is what hooks are useful to the types of fishing we do here in the Keys. So then let’s look at the basics and unravel the mystery.
First we must understand the makings of a typical fishing hook. Hooks are principally classified into sizes. Hook sizes are from 1/0 (smallest) to over 12/0 (largest). When a hook size is stated without the /0 it is smaller than a 1/0 shook. These hooks become smaller as the number increases. These small hooks are used for catching bait and other small fish. Most hooks have an eye where fishing line attaches to and a straight section called the shank leading up to the curved point. At the point there may be a barb intended to keep the hook stuck in the fish’s mouth or wherever it sinks in to. Some hooks have no barbs to aid in quick release without harming the fish. Some fishermen intentionally remove these barbs when barbless hooks aren’t available. The hook point may be rounded or knife edge or even curved inside. Hooks are made of forged steel, stainless steel, nickel, and some other metallic materials. They’re usually colored bronzed (brown), chromed or silver, red, black, or grayish. Differences in eye styles, shank lengths, gap sizes, barbs, point, and color are what we must focus on to determine which hook we need.
Hook eyes can be straight, tapered, or needled. Most hook eyes are straight. Some hook eyes are easier to open to allow joining two hooks for rigging long baits such as ballyhoo. Tapered hooks are useful in aiding a hook embed itself easier in a fish’s mouth especially when fishing with dead or live natural baits. These hooks are also used when snelling is preferred where a special high strength knot is needed. Needled eyes are usually found in large, big game hooks where the eye is drilled in and not formed by bending the hook wire. This prevents the eye from opening under heavy stress as is encountered with very heavy fish. Some hook eyes include a split ring which is useful in live baiting where you want the hook to move freely. For most purposes straight eyed hooks are fine.
Shank length is an important factor in choosing a hook. If you will be live baiting or using any type of natural bait where a fish will have time to observe your offering, a small shank is indicated. Small shanks will allow you to embed the hook into cut bait and will also allow a live bait to swim freely. Short shanks are stealthier and will be less noticeable to fish. When fishing for toothy fish such as mackerel and barracuda, long shank hooks are useful if no wire will be used. A long shank will give you a measure of protection on break offs from these fish. It will also allow you to tie your line directly to a hook without wire thus improving your strike numbers. For larger toothed predators you might want to attach two hooks together or a short shanked hook with a wire leader.
Lighter hooks are generally better for live baiting. Thinner wire hooks weigh less and thus allow a live baitfish to swim freely. By the same token light wire hooks are easier bent by large fish. So ideally a high strength, light wire hook is excellent for live baiting. Heavier hooks with thicker wire can be used for trolling or for larger species.
Gap size is extremely important in selecting your hooks. Gap size should correlate with what type of fish you are targeting. For larger fish you’ll need a larger gap; smaller gaps for smaller fish. If a fish with a big lip bites on your bait but your hook’s gap is smaller than its lip, you’ll lose the fish because the hook will slip out of its mouth. A good rule is to match the hook gap to bait size.
Barbs and hook points are generally similar in most hooks. As stated before barbless hooks are useful in quick release of fish. Hook points should, of course, be sharp. Some hook points are knife-edged to improve penetration into the fish’s mouth. Laser sharp hooks have specially sharpened and extra strong hook points that will not bend or become dull. Hooks can be offset or straight pointed. Offset hooks are slightly bent at the curve where the barb is. This prevents a hook from coming out of a fish’s mouth before embedding itself. For live-baiting and dead-baiting offset hooks are generally better. Straight hooks are better for trolling where streamlining is important. These straight hook points are exposed and trolled baits swim more naturally. Circle hooks have inward points useful in preventing gut hooked fish. These hooks are especially good for bottom fishing where a fish will have the time to inhale the whole bait. When using these hooks you must allow a fish to hook itself and avoid setting it. Some live baiters also use these hooks for fishing catch and release species such as Tarpon and Sailfish. When a fish swallows a circle hook, its inward point will allow the hook to slip out of its stomach and it will only attach itself in the fish’s mouth.
Hook color, though perhaps not as important, is another variable we must consider. Most hooks are silver or chromed. Because they shine when under sunlight, they are more visible. If your bait is silver as a pilchard or ballyhoo, silver hooks are generally fine. Darker colored hooks are less visible under water. They do not reflect light and are perceived as stealthier. Many live baiters used short shanked, brown colored or coffee colored hooks for this reason. There are now red hooks in the market which are supposed to simulate a bleeding baitfish. Many stainless steel hooks are black and thus are not as visible. Stainless steel hooks while stronger and non-rusting, become a problem if lodged into the mouth of fish to be released. Steel hooks will rust out in time and will allow a fish to continue living if released with a hook in its mouth.
So now which hook to use? In general smaller hooks will generate more strikes. Use 1/0 to 3/0 short shanked hooks for whole live baitfish such as pilchards and sardines. For trolled baits used long shank hooks size 4/0 to 6/0. For big bottom fish try circle hooks in sizes 3/0 to 5/0. When using cut bait use small short shank hooks size 1/0 to 3/0. For live baiting use light wire, dark colored short shanked hooks. When using live shrimp it’s generally better to use 1/0 to 2/0 hooks through the horn. When using dead shrimp use long shank hooks and thread the hook through the shrimp.
Treble hooks are special three-pointed hooks useful in live baiting. These hooks will attach themselves a lot easier to a fish’s mouth. When a fish strikes a live bait it may be so quick that it may miss a normal hook’s single point; not so with a treble. They are often found in plugs for these reasons. Some fishermen frown on using trebles because they claim they are less sporting. Well I guess you can see by me boat’s name that I don’t fall into that group.
Hopefully next time you walk into that fishing tackle aisle, you’ll be prepared to make a quick hook selection for you fishing plans.
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