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Learning to Set the Hook - Fishing Instruction

How hard is too hard for setting the hook?


I showed up early one night to pick my boys up from an adult education class on bass fishing and I got in on some instruction that amazed me. My boys were learning to set the hook on a fish. I never really thought about the physics involved, and I so I sat and watched my boys learning to set the hook. I learned a lot - perhaps you will as well.

A Demonstration

He happened to have my youngest son at the front of the class holding a bass rod and reel. At the back of the class was another student, a man, holding a piece of ordinary cardboard. The instructor had gently place the point of the hook on the top of the cardboard and then told my son to set the hook. He did what I thought was a pretty good hook set.

Amazingly, the hook barely penetrated the cardboard. The barb of the hook was not even close to being engaged! He had my son set the hook several times, and each time the point of the hook barely penetrated. This, he said, is why lots of people loose fish. He had my attention!

My older son took the rod, having learned a bit from his brother’s efforts, and he began setting hooks into cardboard. He did a little better, but still did not properly hook up to the cardboard.

The Expert Explains

Then the instructor took the rod and began explaining a few things. They were things I inherently knew to be true, but that I had never put together to understand the mechanics of setting a hook.
  • Line stretches. Some line stretches more than others, but stretching is a simple fact. With perhaps the exception of some of the woven Dacron lines or “Spiderwire” type lines, they all stretch.
  • Rod tips bend and give. Again, some give more than others, but they all give. A fast taper rod, one that has a heavy backbone and an extremely flexible tip, is particularly susceptible to poor hook sets if not used properly.
  • Hooks are generally dull. They may seem sharp to you, but unless you have just sharpened them, they are in fact dull.
  • And finally, fish mouths are harder inside than you think. There are a few species that have what we term paper mouths (the seatrout family is an example); but, most fish mouths have a hard, bony interior. They have to! Fish eat other fish, and the fins from eaten fish will stick and poke the inside of the mouth of the eating fish. Their mouths are built to deflect and fend off those fin sticks. Think about it: a fishhook is no different than an eaten fish’s fins inside an eating fish’s mouth. (Someone remind PETA of that when they claim that fish feel pain!)

The Physics Lesson

  • Given the line stretch (the longer the line between rod tip and hook, the more the stretch), the relative bending capacity of the rod to absorb the shock of a hook set, and the type of hook, there are an almost infinite number of variables that can be applied to determine the pressure required to bury the barb of a hook in the fish’s mouth.
  • Unless you are fishing with extremely light tackle and line for very small fish, there is no such thing as setting the hook too hard.
  • The drag on the reel (assuming it is properly set), and the ability of the rod to absorb the shock prevents the line from breaking.
  • You can not set the hook too hard in most cases!

Another Demonstration

  • The instructor went to the front of the room and was able to totally penetrate the cardboard with his hook set.
  • He really came back hard with the rod with a quick set.
  • Slow hook sets simply do not work, and most people are afraid to really set a hook.
  • That was his simple story, proven to all of us in that room.

The Resutls

  • To this day, my boys know how to set a hook and their bite-to-catch ratio is probably higher than mine.
  • I know that with today’s circle hooks, a hook set is almost unnecessary. But not everyone fishes with circle hooks.
  • I also know that someone will read this and end up breaking a rod because the reel drag was set wrong.

Bottom Line

I will tell you this, however. I have never been able to break a properly set up rod or line while setting a hook, regardless of how hard I tried. My opinion is that in most cases, you can’t set the hook hard enough! There is no too hard!
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