The Anglers Haven > Knots and Rigs


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By Bill Boyce

Okay class, get out your tackle boxes, and pull out your assortment of circle hooks. What’s that you say.. you don’t have any circle hooks in your tackle box? What, pray tell, is your reason for not possessing circle hooks in this day and age, when everyone is so concerned about the health of our billfish stocks.…?? Oh..You say “I don’t have any confidence in their ability to hook fish.” Well then I say to you, “how many times have you tried using them to get over this fear, this complex, about the lack of your angling ability to learn a new method or two.” The students mutter a reply, “Well, we never have tried them because they just don’t LOOK like they could hook a fish.” This now perturbed teacher goes to the blackboard, and skillfully sketches a perfect rendition of a Polynesian circle hook. A hook that thru millennium, is the most efficient hooking device know to early man. One student jumps up in glee.. “Now I know what that is.. Dude, it’s the cool thing I have hanging from my neck between my Puka shells..SWEET.”

Yes, the facts of history, when presented, will tell us all about the efficiency of this particular hook design, and when the mechanics of circle hooks are applied, they will work with amazing results. But as with anything else new to an angler’s arsenal, a learning process is needed to achieve maximum success.

In many fisheries, circle hooks are almost a “no brainer”. Unfortunately, the world’s oceans are teeming with millions upon millions of long lines. Set in productive seas the world over, they sit there motionless. Currents move them thru the latitudes waiting patiently for a pelagic fish to eat the bait and become hooked in the corner of mouth by a device that is so efficient, no one need be present. A fish hooked on a long line circle hook remains alive much longer than one with a 10/0 hook in it's stomach. Circle hooks on long lines keep the catch alive longer and much fresher when harvested. Should the fish be an illegal species, often it will have the option of a live release. Now I am CERTAINLY not advocating a long line fishery, but I am adamantly advocating the immediate switch from fish killing “J” hooks to the more fish-friendly circle hook. For one significant reason.. Survivability after a release.

Somebody had to get the ball rolling
It was several years ago when a tournament director in Central America made a bold move. A move that potentially could have resulted in a grave loss of angler participation. She made the annual Presidential Challenge of Central America Series – which at the time was held in Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala – a circle hook only, full release venue. Joan Vernon became the pioneer of catch and release tournaments to come FULL CIRCLE, and now dozens of International tournaments have followed suit, with staggering results. Not only did the catch ratios increase, the quantity of fish released in excellent shape dramatically improved. Within a few tournaments, ALL particpating anglers were full time advocates of circle hooks, and ALL were convinced of the ecological advantage of their use.

Now, years later, hundreds of satellite tagged fish have provided definitive data of what scientists suspected all along. The mortality of released circle hooked fish was a significant fraction of that of released “J” hooked fish. Now is the time to get that message out.. LOUD AND CLEAR… !!!

Anglers want to do the right thing. They join organizations like United Anglers, The Billfish Foundation, and The International Game Fish Association to feel good about doing something for their beloved resource. All these groups play a major role in the increasing awareness of the current condition of pelagic fish stocks – informing their members of the offenders who are having a disastrous impact in the depletion of their favorite stocks. Virtually all these groups stress the importance of catch and release, and all do a remarkable job of keeping our elected officials aware of the voting power of the angling population. That being said, every one of these groups highly support the use of circle hooks by their members. The positive scientific information is not rocket science, nor is it voodoo mumbo jumbo. The fact is, circle hooks greatly reduce mortality and it is time WE ALL learn how to fish with them.

I’m not from Missouri, but you can SHOW ME
The most important thing you need to learn about circle hook mechanics, is that it is imperative the fish is GOING AWAY from you when you set the hook. Unlike a “J” hook, you WILL NOT set the hook by jerking on the rod with the force to turn the fish’s neck on the strike. As much fun as this is, the macho feel of “setting steel” to an animal that you just fooled with your offering is not the way a circle hook does what it is designed to do. Instead, you must be use a bit more finesse. You will actually have to feel what the fish has done with your bait upon eating it, before you take action for the hook up. When a fish has taken your bait, pay attention to its exit strategy. When it swims away from you, THEN AND ONLY THEN, come tight for the hook set.. NO JERKING .. !!!
 You will become a quick study as to how each fish species actually feeds in it's world – how it picks up a bait, and what it does with it after it has captured it. Fishing circle hooks will make you become more attentive to the behavior of your target species, at the same time making you an angler more aware. These are positive attributes. It is not a bad thing to learn more about your favorite fish. Let me hear the class say, “Yes teacher.”

Can we get "fishy" here?
Each species has it's own particular feeding behaviors, and some lend themselves well to high circle hook-up ratios by their very nature. Take for instance, tunas. These fish are typically vertical feeders, meaning that they come from below, make a quick turn as they eat their prey immediately returning to the depths. Tunas are the easiest fish to hook on circle hooks, because why… ??? What have you learned so far…??? They are GOING AWAY FROM YOU ON THE STRIKE. You merely point the rod tip in their direction… let a second or two worth of line peel from your reel… lock it in gear… and let the line come tight until the fish pulls drag. The rounded bend design at the tip of a circle hook, doesn’t allow it to snag a gill arch or become engorged in the gut. Instead, as it exits the mouth, it efficiently finds the corner of the fish’s mouth and immediately punctures thru the soft tissue connecting the maxilla bone to the jaws. Presto, you're in battle mode. The fish isn’t hurt by having a hook lodged in its throat as with a “J” hook, and the circle hooks bend will not allow the hook to back out. A fish securely hooked on a circle hook is rarely lost during the fight.

A billfish, on the other hand, requires a bit more finesse. When billfish typically grab a bait, they often take a second or two to manipulate it to a position where it will go “head first” down the hatch. They don’t have teeth to hold onto or sever their prey and their gill rakers are not particularly modified to hold a prey at bay as effectively as say, a grouper or a snapper. Therefore, billfish tend to eat a bait whole once it is ready to be inhaled. How a billfish takes your bait will determine when then optimum time to “come tight” arrives. For instance, if your fish eats a long rigger bait, he may toy with it in a semi vertical position as he flips it around to swallow it. The slack you give him at this time, will allow him to do this quickly, maybe 3 to 5 seconds. When you feel the fish pulling line quickly from your spool, it is a sure sign he is now taking it in the opposite direction and you should get the reel in gear. Once in gear, AIM YOUR ROD TIP DOWN AT THE FISH, and quickly reel any slack left in the line. When everything comes tight... let the fish pull line against your pre-set drag to set the hook in the corner of its mouth. When the drag is pulling, then you can SLOWLY raise the rod tip, and do what you do to land it. On circle hooks, you may notice the fish tend to jump more, stay at the surface more. Primarily because they are not feeling the sting of a deeply imbedded “J” hook in their throat. The fish are often more spirited, and rarely IF EVER, will they regurgitate their stomach in attempts to rid themselves of a hook.

The ultimate billfish bite, producing super successful hook up ratios on circle hooks, is when a billfish is “bait and switched” off a short teaser. These fish tend to immediately turn away from the boat.Their aggressive strike and the short leash of line between your rod tip and the fish going away allow the hook to immediately find the corner of the mouth. Very little line stretch occurs on such a short tether – the result? Good, solid hook ups.

Dorado are more difficult to hook on a circle hook due to their narrow mouths, but grouper, bass, yellowtail, halibut and snapper all lend themselves to high hook up ratios.

Immediate Satisfaction
When you land a fish on a circle hook, you will immediately see the fish is not harmed, and can be successfully released without doubts about it's ability to survive. As a professional photographer, I need to capture marketable images to make a living. The spirited jumps of a billfish WITHOUT its stomach protruded or blood coming from a “J” hook in the gills allows me to capture more appealing and dramatic shots. My personal observations as a fisheries biologist on circle hook usage is very matter of fact. If you advocate successful billfish release, and if you TRULY care about these magnificent fish and their right to live on to be the awesome open ocean predators they are… THEN DON’T BE A JERK.. !!! Give up the “J” hook power trip, and go find some finesse in your sport. Fish with circle hooks and “walk the walk” instead of just “talking the talk.”

Class dismissed.






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