Wow! Old as man itself but it can really be overwhelming when you start to choose a hook. Freshwater, saltwater, bait hooks,“J” hook, circle hook or live bait hooks. Hook choice is VERY important! As a general rule I judge the hook size I need to use as a function of the bait size I am using, not the size of the fish I am targeting. The fish I am targeting determines the bait size. I particularly prefer circle hooks- they virtually hook themselves and are very fish friendly in catch and release situations. Experience is the best teacher on hook selection- use the right hook for the right fish and type of fishing you are doing and be prepared have a selection of hooks at hand. One common mistake is using a hook that is to big. Imagine this – if I hook you in the arm with a small quarter size hook are you going to be able to get a way or are you going to follow me anywhere? A sharp point and a strong hook is much more important than the size. Except in the case of top water lures please consider twice before you use a treble hook- there is virtually no opportunity for catch and release using a treble hook and they are banned in many areas. Treble hooks are dangerous to fisherman as well- use them sparingly and only when you plan to kill and eat the fish. One very important rule: Even though a new hook seems sharp out of the package always, always sharpen your hooks before you use them and re-sharpen them often.
Fish hooks come in several types. Knowing a few of the more popular ones and their uses can help you be successful.
Which hook should you use for which fish?
O’SHAUGHNESSY This hook is named for the specific design of the hook. It’s a standard hook, forged with a very strong bend. This hook is relatively thick, very strong, and not likely to bend out of shape. Generally designed for saltwater, it is good for general bottom fishing use. Sizes range from #3 to as large as 19/0.
ABERDEEN These hooks, while primarily used in smaller sizes in freshwater, are also used by saltwater anglers. They are generally made from shaped wire. Unlike the O’Shaughnessy, it can and does bend. It can be bent back into shape several times before it becomes too weak. However, once a fish is hook and the barb has completely penetrated, this hook holds quite well. These hooks are modified with bends in their shanks for use in jig molds.
CIRCLE Perhaps the best innovation in hooks to come along, circle hooks promote healthy catch and release. The design of the hook itself, when used properly, prevents fish from being hooked in the gut. Many anglers have a problem using these hooks because they require no hook set. If you do try to set the hook, it will generally come out of the mouth of the fish. These hooks are designed to move to the corner of the fish’s mouth and set themselves as the fish swims away from you. Anglers feel a bite and simply begin reeling, slowly at first, then faster as the hook gets set.
LIVE BAIT These hooks generally have a shorter shank than other hooks. Whether that is to allow the live bait to swim more freely or to be less apparent to the fish is debatable. My vote is to allow the bait to swim more freely. These hooks come in regular and circle designs. Regular live bait hooks will be swallowed and result in gut hooks most of the time. Circle live bait hooks provide a greater chance for a good release.
KAHLE The curve on these hooks makes them ideal for live bait. Made from the same wire as the Aberdeen hooks, they will bend if hung on the bottom of some structure. However, once a fish is hooked, the design of the hook prevents it from being straightened.
The Guide below provides an overview of the parts of a fishing hook. There are some common parts to all hooks. Those parts include the eye, shank, gap, point and barb. The variations on these characteristics result in dozens of hook styles.
Anatomy of a Hook
The hook eye is the connection point to the fishing line or the body of lures. Ringed eyes are the most common. The metal is bent in a uniform loop and the end sits flush against the shank. Needle, looped and tapered are some other types of hook eyes, but they tend to be used for specific applications, like saltwater or dry flies.
The shank is the length of the hook from the eye to where the bend starts. Shanks come in short, medium or long lengths. Short ones greatly reduce the size of the hook. Medium length shanks are the most common and used in an array of fishing situations. Long shanks can be used for live bait fishing where finesse isn’t critical, or to match a longer profile of an artificial bait.
The gap is the size of the bend in a hook from the shank to its point. An average size gap will do in most situations, but sometimes a wide gap is needed. A wide gap is used for rigging thick-bodied baits to ensure that the hook point will be exposed on the hook set.
This is the tapered end of the hook. As its name suggests, it’s the sharp point that penetrates a fish’s mouth. The shape of the point will vary. Needle, knife edge, spear, or rolled ones are some examples. The most important thing, however, is that you keep your points sharp, so invest in a hook file and use it often. Quality hooks are packaged extremely sharp and will stay sharp longer than cheaper ones.
The barb is designed to hold the hook in place once it penetrates the fish’s mouth. The larger the barb, the more difficult it is for the fish (and likely yourself) to get the hook free. Many catch and release anglers pinch barbs with pliers or file them down for easy hook removal.
Other Basic Hooks
BAIT HOOKS come in a variety of styles. Most feature barbs on the shaft to hold bait in place. Longer shank hooks are good for teaching kids to fish, while shorter shank ones are often used in snells.
TREBLE HOOKS feature three bends and points in one hook. Trebles provide more hooking potential to many artificial baits such as crankbaits, jerkbaits or topwaters. Bait anglers also use trebles. Cut bait for catfish or threading minnows for lake trout are two examples where trebles are regularly used.
SIWASH HOOKS are quite strong and have a long shank and point. These hooks have a straight eye so they sit properly on lures. Siwash hooks are often used on single-hook baits, such as spinnerbaits. I also use them sometimes to replace factory-provided treble hooks on certain baits, especially spoons.
JIG HOOKS are designed to sit in specific jig molds. They feature a bend just below the hook eye, with a 90-degree bend being the most common. Pouring your own jigs can save you money and be a fun winter hobby to gear up for the next season.