No matter what you fish for, the fish hook is the most important piece of tackle. After all, the fish neither knows nor cares what kind of fancy rod and reel you use; consider that a majority of fisherman around the globe use fishing line wrapped around an empty soda bottle. Certainly that line and leader bear some importance, but the hook is the only point of contact between fish and angler. Read on and learn how to take some of the confusion out of selecting the right hook for any application.
First, decide the size of fish you’re after. Larger fish need larger hooks, smaller fish need smaller hooks. Some fish are more suspicious, so a smaller hook is needed to avoid spooking them. What bait you’ll be using and how that bait will be rigged also weigh heavily on the choice of hook. Different baits require differing hook designs: longer shanks, angled eyes, offset or straight, etc.
Additionally, you will probably be overwhelmed by the number and variety of hook applications and sizes. Jig hooks, treble hooks, spinnerbait hooks, circle hooks, weedless Sproat hooks, trailers, live-bait hooks, hooks for worms, swimbaits, salmon eggs, drop shot and myriad others can make selection intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the tackle shop. The main companies that make hooks for both commercial and recreational use include Mustad, Gamakatsu, Owner, VMC, Eagle Claw and Tru-Turn.
Lures have their own wide array of hook requirements. For example, if you fish topwater plugs, they probably come with treble hooks (three hook points at right angles to each other on one shaft). I don’t like them. My fingers and clothes always get stuck by them and they inevitably get tangled together, and untangling them is like undoing a bird’s nest made out of needles on a fishing reel. I make a habit of replacing all treble hooks with singles as soon as I bring a new plug home. Of course, their propensity to hook into everything is what makes trebles effective. They do increase the odds of a successful hookup.
Trolling lures inevitably use one or two inline (as opposed to offset) single hooks. Offset hooks — where the point doesn’t line up with the eye and shank — tend to cause trolled baits and lures to spin, which is undesirable. Some states outlaw offset hooks, so be sure to check. You can also find offset-eye hooks that require a Snell knot. These are good for bottom fishing.
You need to match the type of point to the fish you plan to catch. Hooks come with needle points and cutting points. Needles look how they sound, with a smooth surface that ends in a sharp point. Cutting-point hooks have facets with razor sharp edges. Use these for hard or bony-mouthed fish. However, you might lose soft-mouthed fish when a cutting point slices through.
Live baits and light lures need a light hook, so you should consider wire. Heavier gauge hooks work better for larger fish and for when you fish around structure, such as pilings, reefs, rocks and bridge abutments.
Hooks come with either long or short shanks. I prefer short shanks unless I am fishing for sharp-toothed species and don’t want to use a wire leader, which the fish often see and shy away from.
Determining hook sizes has always seemed somewhat confusing. The scale starts in the middle of the size range with a number 1 hook. Go left (smaller) on the scale and the numbers get bigger — 2, 3, 4, etc. — as the hooks get smaller. Go right on the scale (from the middle), and the first hook is a 1/0 (called a one-aught) and the numbers increase as the hooks get larger. Be aware that these sizes are not standardized among the manufacturers, so a 3/0 hook from Mustad may be quite different than a 3/0 from Gamakatsu.
Carry a hook sharpener. Though manufacturers sharpen their hooks either mechanically or chemically, they sometimes need a touchup right out of the package or, more commonly, after they’ve been used (e.g., hit a rock or from catching too many fish). By the way, chemically sharpened hooks may be sharper at the outset, but you can’t really sharpen them.
Some experts think anglers should use durable hooks that won’t corrode. I prefer the opposite. I want hooks that corrode quickly, because I practice catch and release much of the time. A hook that for whatever reason gets left in a fish’s mouth should corrode and disappear quickly rather than lasting for the creature’s lifetime.
Speaking of catch and release, circle hooks work much better for this purpose. Circle hooks are the oldest hook design, stemming from prehistoric humans. When a fish swallows the hook, the design allows it to pull back out without harming the fish, then catch in the corner of the fish’s mouth where it will do the least damage. One other kindness you can perform to help conserve our resource is to bend the barb of the hook down flat against the main body. Doing so allows the hook to be removed more easily. As long as you maintain constant pressure on the line while fighting the fish, you won’t suffer a spit hook.