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The Hook Brings You Back

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On: Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 5:59PM | By: Lee Clymer

It’s just a little piece of hard wire, most often gold in color, and hurts like the dickens when it lodges in your skin, but it’s the most important piece of fishing hardware there is. It’s the most up-close and fishy personal part of your fishing attire. You can spend thousands on the rest of your equipment, buying the finest rods, reels, lines, and artificial baits, but if the hook isn’t sharp, or if it’s made cheaply, you’ll waste that perfect presentation and hookup. I’ve seen people do everything right except use a good sharp hook. Right down to setting the hook they had nailed it, but the big one got away on a technicality.

Most people have a pretty good idea what size hook they want when they walk into the store, but the idea is not always the right one. Quality is a factor, but size is the first thing most people think about. So what size do you need for the fish you want to land?

Fish hook sizes in the U.S. vary from the very smallest size 32, used primarily for small freshwater fish, all the way to 19/0 (pronounced nineteen aught), used for ocean going vessels, such as large marlin and sharks.

Of course, the size fish is a distinct factor, but the bait size is also something that’s a factor. Artificials are virtually always pre-sized so the hook is seldom a factor. You know what you want to use for the fish you want to catch and so do the manufacturers. The important thing is to keep them sharp and rust free. Just like you wash your reels, rinse those hooks, too! Once rust is in your tackle box, it spreads like wildfire, and it wastes a lot of equipment.

A parallel you can draw on hook size is the size of the mouth of the fish you are targeting and what they eat. Take, for instance, snook or tarpon. They eat other fish, and have a huge mouth with gaping jaws. They can suck up a Tonka truck if it looks like food. The insides of their mouths are hard, and scales and fins don’t bother them much. A trout, on the other hand, has a soft mouth and eats accordingly. Freshwater trout eat soft insects and saltwater trout, with a tougher mouth, will eat crustaceans and smaller fish. Sheepshead have hard mouths to crunch things like small crabs and tube worms, but their mouths are small and have numerous teeth. Getting the hook set is a job in and of itself.

Hard mouths need tougher hooks capable of that big hard set. This is where material selection comes in. Forged hooks don’t bend and are typically larger (starting at #3, such as the O’Shaughnessy type) and go up to the largest #19/0. Saltwater is their bailiwick.

Hooks like the O’Shaughnessy should also be used for those big bottom fish, as well, whether their mouth is soft or not. You don’t want the hook straightening out when you’re wheeling a big grouper off the bottom like a building crane with a girder attached.

Okay, so we have a reasonable idea about large saltwater hooks and large saltwater fish, but what about freshwater? Aberdeen hooks have proven to be extremely reliable, very penetrating, and, although they will bend, you can bend them back two or three times. Like the stiff piece of wire we normally think of when we envision hooks, this is your typical Aberdeen. Once an Aberdeen penetrates, the fight is on, and chances are you’re not going to lose the fish because of the hook. These hooks are also good for smaller saltwater species, and these are the same hooks often used in jigs.

Which now brings us to circle hooks. Controversial in some circles (pun intended), circle hooks are a reasonably new innovation that protects the fish from a gut hook when properly sized and used correctly. The perceived problem with circle hooks is they set themselves. If you jerk the line as you would normally do, it will pull the hook right out of the fish’s mouth. When you feel a tug with these hooks, you simply let the fish swim away as you start reeling slowly. The hook edges to the corner of the fish’s mouth and begins to set, and you reel faster.

They’re sometimes hard to get used to with the inherent hard set gene of some fishermen, especially ones that have developed the gene over decades of fishing. The great thing is we don’t damage the illegal fish and the smaller ones grow up to be big and strong and dinner later on. For those converting a catch-and-filet gene into a catch-and-release gene, this is the way to go. Losing a couple of fish to bad technique helps speed up the genetic evolution.

There are various live-bait hooks out there, and there’s little mystery and a lot of common sense that applies to them. Size the hook so it doesn’t kill the bait, allows the bait to swim freely, and present itself as normal as possible. First impressions with fish are everything. Bait has to be hooked so it also freely sinks into the fish’s mouth. As I said, there’s no great mystery. Match the bait to the fish, and the hook to the bait!

One thing to remember, however, the Kahle hook is not like the Aberdeen hook. Once bent, it doesn’t bend back, so keep that in mind. They are great live-bait hooks though.

If you have any questions about the type of hook to use, ask the person at your bait and tackle store. He has a vested interest in keeping you coming back, and I’ve never met a fisherman that doesn’t like to give tips. At least, you can probably trust the baitmaster, unlike the person protecting his honey hole.

So, go get hooked!


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