Over the years, I get a lot of e-mails with comments and criticism about things I’ve written or suggestions for things I should write about. In all the years I’ve been writing this column, I don’t think I’ve ever actually responded publically to some of the questions.
There’s some really good ones too. And I ALWAYS respond. But, it occurred to me that if one person is asking something, then there’s probably a number of folks who have the same questions. So, maybe it would be good to sometimes put it all in the column.
A recent e-mail is what got me thinking. It came from “Jerry” from Aptos, CA.
He said, “ In so many fishing magazines and even Western Outdoors, the writers always write as if all the readers are experienced. I’m not a rookie, but I recently got into saltwater fishing and want to learn more. I just made my first trip to Baja and guys were talking about ‘circle hooks.’ What are they and do I need them?”
It’s actually a question I get more often than you think. So, if you know all about circle hooks, this is one time you can just turn the page and go right another section of the paper!
Let’s see…what are circle hooks and what do you do with them?
Circle hooks are distinguished from “J” style hooks that have a long straight shank, by a shank that’s curved. Hence the “circle hook” moniker.
They have been in use for ages by commercial fishermen, but only in say the last 10 or 15 years have they really caught on with sportfishermen. In Baja, they’ve taken a little longer to get a toehold, but their use is growing.
Their popularity can be attributed to the growing interest in catch-and-release fishing. Basically, fish hooked with a circle hook have a much higher incidence of survival when taken in this manner.
Here’s the deal. With a regular “J” style hook, fish get hooked in the lip, the gill, the gut and deep in the throat. Deep enough and it’s a chore to get that hook out without damaging the fish.
Or, the hook outright kills the fish.
Damaged fish, just don’t do well once released. Even the time spent handling the fish and removing the hook is detrimental to it’s survival.
It’s tired. It’s suffocating. It’s losing important protective slime and scales. Put it back in the water and it’s gonna be a floater, no matter how well-intentioned you are as an angler.
Now, with the circle hook, the nifty part is that 99 percent of the time, the hooks slides right into the corner of the mouth when it’s set. It’s not damaging organs. The hook comes out relatively easily and the fish has a much better chance when returned to the water.
Often without even touching the fish, grasping the hook with pliers allows one to shake the fish right back into the water without actually handling the fish. Pretty cool.
The trick is the hook set.
When setting the hook using a circle hook, the trick is “not to set the hook!” One must actually act counter-intuitively. Circle chooks literally set themselves. It’s a great mistake newbies make with the circle hooks. Setting the hook yourself screws it up!
With a traditional hook, the angler “swings” the rod back and “sticks” the fish to set the hook. With a circle hook, the hookset is virtually automatic.
When the fish picks up the bait, the angler merely puts a little pressure on the spool. Then point the tip of the rod at the running fish and flip the brake. The line will come tight. A slight lift of the rod sets the hook! Just like that. You’re on!
There’s no dramatic swing of the rod as in using a conventional hook. And that’s where the experience comes in. The newbie gets nervous or excited and when he or she feels the bait picked up, they set the hook with a big swing of the rod. That’s what their intuition tells them. SET THE HOOK!
What that does is jerk the hook right out of the fish’s mouth. Adios pescado!
Take your time. Calm down. A little patience and you’ll get the fish resulting in more hookups…even if you plan to keep the fish…since the hook up is automatic. Then, if you plan to release the fish, the hook design allows for an easier release. What could be better?
In my experience, many captains I’ve known in Baja were reluctant to use the circle hook or frowned on clients using the hooks. There were two reasons.
One is that the captains and crews themselves didn’t understand the funny looking hook that actually looked like a defective design. I’ve seen them cut them off client’s lines and toss them away with disdain. And tie on a regular hook!
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that clients would miss fish by incorrectly setting the hook. That resulted in less fish. Unhappy clients. Less tip money. An economical reason! Remember, every captain out there is also a businessman too!
But, over the last few years, the popularity of the circle hook has grown. Captains and crews themselves, especially the younger ones, understand the importance of catch-and-release. It’s a matter of preserving their own livelihoods and the resource.
However, more anglers are also becoming more knowledgeable as well. And with that, the stigma of using them appears to be diminishing.
Give them a try next time!