Early fishhooks were crafted from bone or sharp shells, and then, as metals were discovered and designs refined, the modern hook began its evolution into the multitude of offerings available today.
Looking at huge racks and row upon row of fishhooks of all sizes and configurations, even seasoned anglers can be confused when it comes to selecting hooks. With so many fish, so many hooks and so little time, how do you pick the right hook for a specific technique?
Still, the concept is basically the same at both ends of the hook; it’s the metal in the middle that has gone through the most gyrations. All hooks have an eye to tie your line to, a sharp tip to pierce the fish’s mouth and a barb to hold it in place. Although there are a wide variety of innovations in point design, it’s the shank and the bend that have changed the most. Let’s take a look at the business end first.
While it would seem that a sharp point is a sharp point, there are many ways to cut, hone and shape a steel wire. Given a seemingly unlimited imagination and a penchant for innovation, hook manufacturers have developed a number of designs, each with its own positive aspects.
This point is aptly named because of its appearance. A close inspection will reveal that the sides of this point are round and evenly tapered.
The theory behind this design is to reduce the pressure needed to set the hook. The point is rolled in, or aligned in a curve pointing directly toward the eye of the shank, and ultimately the fishing line, which exerts the pressure. This hook is very effective for species that jump or thrash around when brought to the net or gaff because it tends to set deeply.
This point is rounded and forms a curve from the tip to the base of the barb. These hooks are good for soft-mouthed crappie and fish that need to be hooked and fought delicately.
The spear point is another point that is named because of its appearance, with angles that are shaped like a spear. Alignment of the point is in a straight line from the tip to the barb. Proper penetration requires a bit more pressure, and unless you bear down pretty hard you won’t get penetration beyond the barb.
This hook has two flat sides forming a single edge that penetrates well and is easy to sharpen.
The shank is the part of the hook between the eye and the first bend. Shanks come in three basic sizes: short, regular and long. Fly-fishermen prefer short shanks for specific, small-bodied flies, but they’re also used extensively for all sorts of panfish, especially species that are easily spooked. Regular shanks fall into the all-purpose category and make up the largest segment of hooks. These hooks are used for most game fish in a wide variety of presentations. Long-shank hooks are preferred for large predator species, especially those with sharp teeth, but they’re also favored for aggressive feeders that tend to swallow live baits deeply. The advantage of the long shank becomes apparent when you attempt to remove one from the gullet of a hooked fish. The longer shank makes it easier to remove the hook, and this fact makes them ideal for youngsters or any beginning fisherman.
The eye of a hook is the direct link between hook and line, and one that causes consternation for those with failing eyesight. Tying line to smaller sizes of hooks is simplified with magnifying lenses, even for those with young eyes. The selection of hook eyes is varied, with specific designs intended for unique applications. Eyes that are offset are intended to increase penetration by pulling the barb upward on the hookset.
The ringed eye design is the most common type of hook eye, and a good choice for most applications. The configuration is round, and it’s uniform in shape. Ringed eyes are used on the majority of bait and lure hooks.
This type of eye has a nearly oval shape that extends along the shank of the hook aligned with the direction of the bend.
This type of hook is easily identified if you picture the eye of a sewing needle. The most common application for needle-eye hooks is for saltwater fishing, especially for large species. The eye shape makes it ideal for burying the complete hook inside live or dead bait when either trolling or using vertical presentations.
This style of eye is similar to the ringed eye, but more tapered and thinner than the shank of the hook. Dry flies are the most common use for tapered-eye hooks.
Size selection need not be confusing, once you understand that you have to think backward. The smallest hook sizes have the largest numbers such as 25, 30, 32, etc., and the largest hooks are designated with a 0, or progressive sizes of 0 such as 18/0, 19/0 and 20/0. Larger hook sizes are referred to as 20/naught and so on. Currently, 20/0 hooks are the largest, and size 32 is the smallest.
Literally thousands of hook styles are available today, making the selection process confounding for even the experienced angler. The following hook types are the most common available today. Regardless of the hook type, you should match the size of the hook to the bait you are going to use and the size of the species you’re targeting.
Keeping slippery, wiggling live bait on a hook is a challenge, and manufacturers have developed several designs to make it easier. Generally, baitholder hooks have long shafts, and there often are barbs on the shaft to assist in keeping bait securely hooked. Baitholder hooks are also available as snells, pre-tied to line that is looped at the end and ready to be attached with a knot, swivel or snap. When fishing for walleye in the spring, using a live-bait presentation, snells with size 8 or 10 are common, while bass fishermen use 1/0 to 2/0 hooks for shiners or minnows.
This particular hook is for worms of the plastic persuasion, and a mainstay for bass fishermen. Since bass are heavy fighters, worm hooks are built sturdy for deep penetration and durability. This type of hook is used for Texas rigging, a technique in which the point of the hook is embedded in the body of the worm for a weedless presentation. With the hook’s point buried in the body of the worm, you can work it through heavy vegetation where lunkers like to hide. Worm hooks are usually wide-gapped, where the space from the point of the hook to the shank is wider than standard hooks. The advantage of using wide-gapped hooks is so worms of different sizes can be used and the hook can be embedded easily in a natural configuration.
Common sizes for worm hooks are 2/0 to 5/0 and should be matched to the size of the plastic bait to be used and the size of bass you expect to catch.
This hook design is similar to a treble but with only two points. Double hook are great for use in a trailer-hook setup or for thick-bodied soft plastic baits like floating frogs.
Somewhere back in hook history, a clever hook designer decided that three barbed prongs were three times better than one. He was certainly right. The three legs of a treble hook are forged together to form the eye. Multiple hook points provide superior hooking and holding power and are most often used on lures such as crankbaits or bucktail jigs used for muskie or pike. Crankbaits for bass or walleye usually employ treble hooks sized 1 to 2/0, but sizes vary with the size of the lure. Anglers targeting catfish often use treble hooks for their improved bait- and fish-holding ability.
This style of hook resembles a basic hook, but it is very hard, which aids in penetrating the tough mouths of big fish. It’s fairly short, with a straight eye alignment, a round bend and a very long point. It was designed for saltwater baitfishing and commercial use. The Siwash hook does a great job hooking and holding jumping species like steelhead and salmon. It’s also a good hook for replacing hooks on spoons and other single-hook lures such as buzzbaits or spinnerbaits.
Aberdeen hooks are made of light wire with a slightly squared round bend. This style of hook is extra wide between the point and shank, which makes it ideal for baiting with minnows, and the light wire eliminates excessive damage when puncturing the bait. Their specially tempered wire will flex before breaking, making them ideal for fishing brushy areas that hold panfish or crappie.
With a wider gap, this unique design places the hook farther back in a fish’s mouth to greatly reduce hooksets that tear out through the lip. The bend is offset with an up-eye, and the point is aligned with the line so the point pulls straight in on the set.
When buying hooks for saltwater, look for long, sharp points, hard wire that will resist bending and corrosion-resistant finishes that will stand up to the abuse of this corrosive environment and the tough fighters that live in these waters.
When fishing heavy cover such as tree limbs, logs, stumps, weeds and rocks, a weedless hook can save you a lot of time, money and frustration. You’ll find several different approaches to making a hook weedless, and they all work fairly well, but remember – they’re weed-less, not 100% weedproof. You’ll still have to work your bait or lure carefully.
When fishing live or dead bait for large species such as catfish, pike or muskie, a circle hook is a good choice. Here’s how this configuration works. Fish often swallow the bait and hook, especially if you take your eyes off the rod tip for more than a few seconds. It takes a little discipline to master the technique and not jerk the bait and hook from a fish’s mouth. The right move for this particular hook is slow and deliberate. When you get a bite using a circle hook, you gently lift the rod tip and begin reeling in line. This allows the hook to slide backward until it penetrates at the angle where the jaw rises up to form the lip.
Jigs are simply hooks that have been molded with lead or other heavy metals, forming various shapes for special applications. Jigs are used for both live bait such as minnows or crawlers in walleye presentations, or for soft plastics when fishing for crappie or bass and other species. When using plastic baits such as twister tails, crawdads or worms, select a jig with a molded collar just behind the jighead. This collar is provided to hold plastic baits more securely, so make sure you force the bait onto the collar.
Hooks come in just about every conceivable metal finish, and painted hooks are now very popular, serving as a visual attractant, or in the case of red hooks, simulating a wounded baitfish. Anglers can’t seem to agree on the effectiveness of colored hooks, but the general consensus is that it can’t hurt, and even if it helps only a little, a little help is a good thing on a slow day.
That’s one of the fun things about fishing – trying new colors, types of baits and presentations – so don’t be hesitant to try new types of hooks. Experience is the best teacher, and if you’re having problems getting a good hookset with one type of hook, trying another could give you a revelation that saves the day. The only really important thing to keep in mind is using a hook that is matched in size to the species you’re targeting. From bream to billfish there are many different sizes of mouths and scrap beneath the scales.