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Circle Hooks 202

As the targets change, I’m learning how to adapt

I’ve had a wild ride using circle hooks this rockfish season. Allowing the fish’s movements to set the circle hook provided me excellent results baitfishing during the trophy season, if I didn’t count the absence of trophy-sized fish in my boat.

            The fish I did catch — some agonizingly shy of the 35-inch limit — were invariably hooked in the mouth. I released them with no ill effects, if you ignore my disappointment.

            The next seasons proved more problematic. Seeking smaller fish, I began to miss a distressing number of takes. More fish suffered deep hooking, too, though the majority of those were keepers destined for my fish box.

            That’s when I dove back into my research on the technical issues of the circle design.

            First intended for commercial fishing, circle hooks prevent deep hooking and thus keep hooked fish alive and fresh until the commercial boats return to claim the catch.

            At first glance, however, the circle hook looks as if it were designed to prevent hooking fish. Originally I had doubts as to their effectiveness. These doubts were laid to rest on a chance visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

            One of the displays was a collection of the earliest Native American fish hooks. The most ancient among them by many hundreds of years was an Aleut Eskimo example, constructed of carefully shaped pieces of ivory, bound with sinew. Its design, very surprisingly, was a perfect rendition of the circle hook.

            In my times, my knot choice proved to be among my problems. I used a very free-swinging design, giving the baits as much action as possible. This proved a liability with circle hooks, particularly with fish under 24 inches. After some research and not a little bit of on-the-water experimenting, I finally arrived at a good solution for the circle hook to leader connection. It was not anything I expected, but it sure improved my score.

            A snelled-hook knot and stiff leader material proved to be the most efficient combination. The snell knot wraps the leader tightly around the hook shaft multiple times, then goes up through the hook eye. That construction makes the hook and leader an integral unit and provides some critical leverage that helps the hook point turn and find proper purchase in the corner of the fish’s mouth as it swims away from the angler. A web search for snell knots will give you any number of easy-to-tie solutions.

            When live-lining, I’ve also found that hooking the baitfish behind rather than in front of the dorsal fin can result in superior hook-ups and less-deeply hooked fish. Additionally, rear hook placement encourages the baitfish to swim rapidly toward the bottom without any additional weight, putting your bait in the sweet zone more promptly.

            The last option that I’ve found encouraging to a corner-of-the-mouth hook set is leaving the rods in their holders until a firm hook-up is accomplished. An angler’s initial impulse to firmly strike with the rod on feeling a bite is difficult to overcome. If you’re using circle hooks, it invariably results in a lost fish. Patience and allowing the fish to set the hook are essential.