If you’re trying to catch fish, there’s one thing you always need, no matter what type of line, lure, or rod you’re using and that’s a hook. You’re absolutely not going to hook a fish without one. It seems that there are hooks designed for nearly every type of fish out there. They can be barbed or naked, have a short gap or a wide one, and feature a short shank or a long one.
So how do you choose which is best? Here are just a few reasons a circle hook will serve you well in almost any situation.
What is a circle hook?
This article isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense if you aren’t familiar with what a circle hook is in the first place. As the name indicates, circle hooks are round and circular. The shank and bend flow into each other and curve so that the point of the hook is directed back toward the top of the shank. They are barbed and have a standard gap, but a wide bend.
Circle hooks are most often used with cut or live bait and not in combination with jigheads or lures. You’ll find that most lures will have single hooks and treble hooks, but rarely if ever will they feature a circle hook. They come in just about any size that you can find a single hook in, from the high aughts to the +4 and beyond.
To choose the right size circle hook, consider the bait you intend to use. If you’re going to use cut or dead bait, the bigger bait necessitates a bigger hook. You need a large enough hook to go through the bait and still leave a little room to set the hook. If you want to use a particular size hook, just adjust the size of the bait accordingly. Usually, a 4/0 to 6/0 size circular hook will work well for cut and dead bait.
If you’re fishing with live bait, the bait needs to be able to move realistically. The lighter the hook, the better the bait will move and the less it will be weighed down by the hook. For shrimp, try a #1 or #2. The same goes for small fish like finger mullets. For bigger bait, like pinfish and croaker, look at a 3/0 or a 4/0.
Setting the hook
When using a circle hook for the first time, or just the first time in a while, you’ll need to get used to the way these hooks “set themselves.” Rather than jerking the line when you get a bite, which will yank a circle hook right out of a fish’s mouth, you need to reel down on the fish. This builds pressure that sets the hook in the fish’s mouth naturally.
Circle hooks are especially ideal for beach fishing, new anglers, and kids because they require far less effort than a standard hook. You don’t even necessarily have to be holding the rod to hook a fish when you use a circle hook. The tension between the line and the fish will set the hook for you. There’s no need to wait for just the right moment to set the hook yourself.
Say you’re out on a boat and are getting ready to gear up for a different fish than what you’ve been after so far. You need to grab a new rod, rig up your tackle, and bait your hooks (Or maybe you just want to set your rod down and go grab a drink). If your first rod has a circle hook on the end, you can just set it in a rod holder. When you come back to it, there might be a fish on the line!
Circle hooks make for practically effortless fishing for those times when you need a rest from the fight. Kids, as we all know, tend to lose interest in new things if they’re not seeing results. Equipping their rod with a circle hook will simplify the process so they are rewarded with a catch that keeps them interested in fishing longer.
Another advantage to circle hooks over their straighter compatriots is where they penetrate the fish when it’s hooked. It’s much harder for a fish to swallow a circle hook, gut-hooking the fish, than it is for a more traditional J-shaped hook. Because of the unique shape of the circle hook, the fish invariably gets hooked through the corner of the mouth. That’s really the best possible outcome for several reasons.
One reason is that, if the fish bites down after it’s hooked, it’s likely to hit the hook’s shank instead of your line. So, if you’re after a toothy fish, there’s less concern that it’s going to bite its way through your leader. Since that’s the case, you can get away with using a lighter line that’s less visible in the water. You also have more time to land the fish because it can’t chew its way through the line and escape. If the fish can bite its way through the metal shank, it almost deserves its freedom!
Whether it’s your personal preference or just the rules in your area, there are times when you’ll want to release most of the fish you catch. The point of releasing the fish isn’t to have a bunch of dead fish floating around the lake. You want the fish to live after you release it. A circle hook, as we’ve already mentioned, is hard to swallow. Since it tends to stay in the mouth, it’s much easier to pull out than your usual J hook.
The less damage you do to the fish, the higher its chances of survival after release. This is why we don’t handle fish with dry hands and why we keep them in the water for as long as possible. A small puncture in the corner of the mouth with a circle hook will do much less damage than a hook you have to dig deep to remove. Because they are less likely to bite through your line, you’ll be able to retrieve your lure with much more success. You won’t have to resort to cutting your line to release the fish. The fish will be much happier not having to swim around with a lure lodged somewhere in its body. It’s a win-win situation.
There are a lot of ways a fish can die once it’s been released. Taking it off the hook is not a guarantee of its survival. But, hook injuries are one of the leading causes of mortality in released fish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission studied different types of hooks concerning the survival rates of released fish. They found that, except for flounder, circle hooks reduced deaths and increased catch rates in all of the studied fish.
Circle Hook Considerations
There isn’t a bit of tackle that doesn’t have at least one hitch and the circle hook is no exception. Some considerations do exist when you’re opting for a circle hook instead of a traditional J. First of all, as we mentioned earlier in this article, it takes a while to conquer the urge to jerk the line to set the hook. For some experienced anglers, the “jerk” is more muscle memory than an intentional act. Fighting this instinct will take some focus and practice.
Since circle hooks have such a wide bend, it might be tempting to fill that space with bait. This isn’t a good idea unless the bait is soft enough for the point to easily slide through. In general, you want to keep the point clear so that it hooks into the lip easily when it sets. If you want to use more bait, simply increase the size of your hook. If your hook allows the bait to slide too much, go the other direction and decrease your hook size.
Circle hooks have an “evil twin” if you will, in the offset circle hook. In the offset version, the point of the hook doesn’t line up with the shank. If you set one of these on a flat surface, it won’t sit completely flat. Offsetting the point from the shank defeats the whole purpose of having a circle hook. A hook also isn’t a proper circle hook if the tip points at the eyelet instead of the shank. Even if the package says it’s a circle hook if it’s not shaped so the tip points at the shank, it’s an impostor.
Circle hooks are a great all-around hook choice. Regardless of the type of fish you’re after, the size line you’re using, or the bait condition, a circle hook won’t let you down. They’ve been shown time and again to be better at hooking a fish and easier to remove before release. A circle hook will bring in bass, trout, salmon, and even shark. So, add a circle hook or two to your tackle box and go have some fun!