The Art of Hooking Fish

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen anglers make is choosing a hook that doesn’t match the bait and technique. Photo by Kenneth Boone

Is there anything worse in fishing than missing or losing the fish you’ve worked so hard to catch? The hooks that are attached to the bait or line most certainly make a difference. The right hook allows your bait the right action and appears natural to the fish; yet, it’s sharp enough and strong enough to get the job done.

One of the biggest mistakes I have made – and that I see other anglers of all experience levels make – is choosing a hook that doesn’t match the bait and technique for which it is being used.

I learned a portion of the equation while bream fishing from our dock at an early age. During the summers when school was out, I used to fish for bream from my dock every chance I got. I fed the bream old bread to get them gathered around. Then I made small dough balls and put them on a hook to catch the bream.

Since I was fishing for the same population of bream around the dock on a daily basis, they got a little picky. I learned that I had to use the smallest hook possible and make the dough ball just big enough to hide the point of the hook. If I used too big of a dough ball, it would engulf the hook all right, but it was much more difficult to hook a biting fish. I soon figured out that I needed the smallest hook possible to be able to wrap the dough ball completely around the point but was large enough to stick and hold a big bluegill when he inhaled the bait.

As a teenager with a few more fish catches notched in my belt, I was privileged to have the opportunity to be a deckhand for my neighbor Doug Patterson. Doug was one of the best striper guides on the lake at the time. We used live bait (shad) most often to keep his clients catching fish. We first used traditional round-bend hooks that were really good options, as long as the client could set the hook well.

Oftentimes though, we missed fish when we were too late getting to the rod or someone didn’t set the hook well. Other times, the fish took the bait so deep that we were not be able to release it alive. In that case, with a two-fish limit per person, the trip ended much more quickly if we were forced to keep every fish, as opposed to being able to release a few until we caught a bigger one.

Then we tried circle hooks.

The circle hooks worked great for less-experienced anglers who might not be as sharp on the hook sets and the hook normally caught the fish in the corner of the mouth. With the circle hook, we had the option of releasing a fish to be caught another day.

The only downside was that the angler had to allow the fish to hook itself from the steady tension on the rod. Setting the hook resulted in a missed fish nearly every time.

All things considered, the circle hook put more fish in the boat for the clients. So, in that case the circle hook was the best option for live-bait fishing, but we had to consider the size of the shad we were using before choosing the size of the hook to tie on. If we used a hook that was too big, the shad would not swim as well and therefore not attract bites as well. I also thought the stripers could see the larger hook after my experiences with bream and dough balls. So the perfect hook was a size big enough to hook and handle 20-plus-pound stripers but small enough to get the most bites.

More than 30 years later, many of those principles I learned then still apply to the hooks I use today. I’ve learned to appreciate things like the diameter of the hook wire, strength of the wire, sharpness of the point and even the shape of the bend in the hook. Each of these factors plays a role in how effective hooks are on different baits.

When you choose a hook to use with your bait, it’s important to consider the variables at play to make sure you get the bites first; then, maximize hookups; and finally, keep the fish hooked until it’s landed.

Whether using soft plastic baits, like plastic worms or jigs, or hardbaits, like crankbaits, the hook style matters and can make a difference.

The best all-purpose choice for a hook is the traditional round bend. It normally maximizes hook-ups and has good holding power, as long as the diameter of the hook wire is strong enough to hold up to any force angler or fish puts on it.

Most hooks are designated as fine, medium or heavy wire, referring to the thickness of the hook. Light wire hooks weigh less overall and let the bait move more naturally in the water. These are good for smaller baits that are more susceptible to weight.

Heavy wire hooks are great for techniques that involve fishing heavy cover. Whether it’s a straight shank-flipping hook or a jig hook, the heavy wire hooks allow for more pressure when setting the hook and moving fish out of cover. Heavy wire hooks are especially good when dealing with large fish, but keep in mind some of the bait action is lost because of the weight of the heavy hook. Heavy wire hooks also take more force on the hookset, so they’re not a good match for light rods and light line.

Some hooks that have a special bend, called the O’Shaughnessy bend, appear very similar to a round bend hook, yet they incorporate a small notch in the bend that aids in keeping fish hooked up like the wide gap version.

Hook points make a difference as well. Ideally, folks think the sharper the point the better, and there is a lot of truth to that. Today’s chemically sharpened hooks are along the lines of surgical equipment, but a hook point can be so finely sharpened that it lacks strength when it meets anything hard. Contact with rocks, wood or even the tougher parts of a fish’s mouth can roll the point of a super sharp hook, rendering it useless. Sharpness is extremely important, as long as the point is strong enough to be effective after some abuse.

Typically, light line presentations require extremely sharp hooks to get the point through the plastic and to the fish. Since you can’t apply as much pressure on the hookset with a light rod and light line, the hook needs to be extra sharp to compensate.

With heavy cover, it’s important that the point be strong first, and then as sharp as possible. Heavier tackle allows more force on the hookset. That amount of force would be too much for a very sharp but weak hook point. There are several different hook manufacturers, and each has various hook point shapes to achieve the balance of sharpness and strength.

The variables that affect the performance of different hooks in different situations apply to treble hooks just as they do to single hook setups. Most baits and presentations that incorporate trebles do not require excessive force to get the hooks set. Oftentimes, the fish hook themselves as they bite a crankbait that whizzes by or attack a topwater bait on the surface. By applying steady tension following a strike, we can get the treble hooks to set.

One thing to keep in mind is the power of the fish you are targeting. Smaller treble hooks let hard baits dance and move better in the water, yet they may not be up to the task once a big fish latches on.

If you have a selection of lures and hooks in your arsenal already, take a closer look, and you’ll notice the variations in size, sharpness and thickness. Chances are you’ll be able to match the right hooks with the right baits and get your hands on a few more fish.

Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series and PPA tours. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.