Promising Penetration

The Ultimate Guide to Hook Selection

FSF Staff September 21, 2018

Fishing tackle changes as often as the tide, thanks to the advancing technology and innovative new products that drive the evolution of the sport. But even when considering the broad range of modern equipment it takes to contend with unforgiving game fish and emerge victorious after hard-fought battles, there is perhaps no piece of terminal tackle more important than the timeless fish hook.

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The design itself is primitive, with the earliest known fish hook crafted approximately 23,000 years ago. Dated through radiocarbon technology, these ancient hooks were discovered in a cave off the coast of Japan, though hooks from the same time period have also been unearthed in East Timor and Papua New Guinea. And with scientists finding bones of various pelagic species at the same archeological sites, it’s clear our ancestors were successful in their early undertakings and have long looked to the sea for survival.

While today’s anglers can stop at the supermarket if they lack the necessary skills to put dinner on the table, or if catch and release is the name of the game, the wide array of modern hooks available ensures there’s an absolute perfect point for any and every technique anglers might choose to employ.

The variety of game fish inhabiting the waters surrounding the Sunshine State is truly astounding and proper hook selection is often the most critical component to successful sport fishing in any venue. Whether heading miles offshore, dropping to the depths or stalking the shallows, game fish vary in their physical characteristics and feeding habits, therefore it’s important anglers are adequately prepared for the specific application at hand. Rod, reel, line and leader material are all critical considerations, but at the end of the day it’s the hook that secures the strike and facilitates the connection between angler and fish.

One must consider a hook’s every detail from size to thickness to coating and more, as the perfect balance of strength and stealth must be achieved to best the most powerful or finicky predators. Moreover, proper hook selection varies not only from one target species to another, but also between the different methods and applications used to target the same species. It’s best to minimize the confusion of hook selection by first identifying the most effective technique for the given situation, which will likely be dictated by the feeding behavior of your target species. For example, trolling and live baiting for tuna are very different methods that require two noticeably different hooks.

Though there are many different styles and types of hooks on the market, with Gamakatsu alone producing over 3,000 different offerings, all fish hooks feature the same basic anatomy. Understanding the components will help tailor your rigging techniques for specific scenarios and hopefully lead to increased landings after more efficient hooksets.

All hooks are outfitted with an eye, which represents the point of connection for mainline or leader material. Most feature a ringed eye that’s the same wire thickness as the rest of the hook, but there are specialty hooks that feature tapered and needle eyes. Some eyes are even welded shut for finesse presentations where ultra light line could potentially slip through. Though standard hooks feature eyes that are in line with the shank, there are several that turn up or down to facilitate a directional pull and effective penetration of the hook point for a particluar application.

The elongated stretch of metal between the eye and first bend in the hook is the shank. Hooks are available in various shank lengths including short, regular and long. Additionally, you’ll notice most worm hooks also feature an abrupt 90 degree bend in the shank just behind the eye, allowing the hook to remain in line with the eye while providing complete concealment.

A hook’s gap is generally one of the most important considerations in any application and is defined as the distance from the point to the shank. Wide gap worm hooks are popular with large soft plastics, but gap is not the only consideration. The strength and penetrating power of the hook will vary depending on the shape of the bend and length of the throat—the distance from the center of the bend to the hook’s point.

Though a hook’s design dictates its holding power and ability to keep shape under pressure, points must be extremely sharp to penetrate. Here, designs differ greatly in efforts to maximize sharpness without sacrificing durability. Some of the options include straight, conical, curved and knife-edge points designed to optimize the ease of penetration. OWNER Cutting Point hooks feature a T-shaped triple edge blade that slices though cartilage and bone with ease. On the other hand, the Needle Sharp tip from VMC is the result of a unique point-grinding process, chemically sharpened to perfection.

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Photography: Pat Ford

When it comes to the production of the latest hooks, manufacturers mainly utilize stainless, high carbon, or Vanadium steel. While stainless steel hooks often have a tack sharp point out of the package, they can be problematic for fish since they thwart corrosion and can be lodged permanently in the event of a break off. Stainless steel hooks are for the most part only popular with big game anglers, with the longstanding favorite Mustad 7691S forged and constructed of Norwegian stainless for impressive performance with a knife-point edge to penetrate the dense jawbones of big billfish.

The majority of all other hooks on the market are marketed as high carbon or Vanadium steel and provide beneficial attributes that result in hooks with smaller diameters, yet are stronger and harder than hooks used in the past. The process varies from one brand to the next, but the method for manufacturing composite hooks typically involves forging and tempering of wire metal under exacting specifics to achieve the ultimate balance of strength and flexibility for a particular hook design and application. Mustad utilizes an innovative three-stage computer-controlled tempering process with advanced heat treatment that transforms the hook into a fine-grained, ultra strong micro-structure, reported to provide an increase in strength upwards of 30 percent compared to traditional tempering methods.

After a hook has achieved the perfect balance of metal hardness and rigidity, it is plated or coated, since carbon material is highly corrosive if left untreated. Bronze and tin are popular coatings that offer cost effective corrosion resistance, though black nickel is one of the most popular and reliable technical platings across manufacturers.

While understanding the dynamics of hook shape and design can be a challenge in itself, choosing the appropriate hook size can also be difficult considering the inexplicable dissimilarities among manufacturers. Hook sizing follows a somewhat confusing scale, starting with the smallest size 32 hook increasing in size up to 0, at which point hooks ascend in size and numeration from 1/0 up to 20/0. However, there is little consistency regarding hook size from one manufacturer to ano ther, as a 6/0 Gamakatsu could be the exact same size as a 5/0 OWNER.

You’ll likely also notice various X designations on hook packaging, indicating the weight, or gauge, of the wire material. Though all hook brands offer variations of fine, heavy and extra heavy, the same notation doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for every brand. VMC makes it known that a 2X strong indication means the hook has the same wire thickness as the equivalent hook two sizes larger. Therefore, a 1X strong 4/0 VMC has the same gauge as a standard 5/0 VMC.

With the basics of hook anatomy in place, it should be noted that there are three basic categories: J-hook, circle-hook and treble hook, with each capable of being integrated into live bait, lure, trolling and casting presentations throughout various fresh and saltwater fisheries. However, the traditional categories of hook styles are beginning to blur, as overlapping traits exist among the thousands of hooks available to fresh and saltwater anglers.

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Photography: Doughertyphotos.com

Highly popularized due to their conservation properties, circle-hooks are designed with a hook point that is turned perpendicular to the shank, forming a general circle shape earning its namesake. With an inline design, the barb will not penetrate until it turns and catches the corner of the mouth. Furthermore, perfect corner hooksets can be achieved without the traditional, violent upward thrust of the rod tip. Instead, all anglers need to do is come tight to the fish and point the rod tip in the opposite direction.

While the sport fishing community took a while to come around to circle-hooks, they are now commonplace—if not required—throughout the world’s waters. And although their primary purpose is the safety of the game fish we seek, anglers everywhere claim that circle-hooks actually yield higher catch rates in many scenarios. Sure, some stubborn old salts aren’t willing to completely accept them, but today’s top circle-hooks substantially increase a fish’s chance of survival without sacrificing effectiveness. 

Of course, circle-hooks aren’t perfect for every scenario and there is still a significant demand for the traditional J-hook. The O’shaughnessy is the most basic J-hook design that’s recognized the world over. Though it’s been around for many years, this simple hook shape continues to prove its effectiveness across a variety of venues while suiting an incredible range of applications.   

The J-hook is a very broad category, and it pays to know which ones are best for your intended target and application. One of the most popular patterns in all sizes, often featuring a rounded shank and offset bend, octopus hooks are great live bait hooks for saltwater anglers, but also popular with freshwater fishermen with a penchant for dropshot fishing. The defining characteristic of octopus hooks is a point that’s curved toward the direction of the eye, with many octopus hooks also featuring a tapered up eye ideal for snelling. 

Yet another variation of the J-hook, the siwash typically features a shape with a narrower bend and longer shank than O’shaughnessy hooks of similar size. Most all siwash hooks have a wide and deep gap, with an open eye that facilitates the easy replacement of treble hooks on plugs and spoons.

With a look that bears similarities to J-hooks and circle-hooks, the kahle hook has a tip that points to the eye instead of toward the shank of the hook. Here, the distance between the point and the shank is greater than that of a circle-hook. Though kahle hooks aren’t nearly as versatile as basic circle-hooks or J-hooks, they provide distinct advantages when targeting species with unique jaw structures and feeding habits. For example, kahle hooks are most popular with light tackle anglers soaking sand fleas for pompano, but also a proven design for serious flounder fishermen.

Among the selection of specialized hooks used predominantly for artificial enticements, the worm hook is undoubtedly the most popular. What began as a hook that could be perfectly pinned to the always-reliable artificial worms used in widespread freshwater treble hooks comprise an integral part of the venerable stinger rig that continues to be effective in taming toothy predators such as kingfish and wahoo.

With so many choices, the visual familiarity with various hook brands and styles is the only workable gauge for serious fishermen. Though it’s important to do a bit of research before purchasing tackle, there’s simply no substitute for time spent on the water and learning from your successes and failures. With experience you’ll know a hook is right—or wrong—just by the way it feels in your hand. However, only through experimentation with different hooks for specific species and techniques will you be able to fully comprehend how a hook’s size and style ultimately influences your bait or lure’s profile and presentation.

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