As a catch and release fisherman I am always concerned about the welfare of the fish I release. So it is with a great deal of interest that I fished this last trip using circle hooks. These hooks have been around for a long time, but only recently have they been used to improve catch and release survival. They originally were designed for tuna and longliner fishing as hooks that would set themselves on unattended lines.
Numerous articles are being written about these hooks, and with good reason. They work! As strange as it may seem, given the turned in point on the hook, they rally do work. Even when the fish swallows the bait, the hook comes out of the throat without penetrating. As the fish swims away, the hook is pulled to the corner of the mouth where it does penetrate. The circle structure makes it very hard fro the hook to be thrown once a fish is hooked. All the way around, these hooks are proving to be good for both the fish and the fisherman.
On this last trip offshore fishing wrecks for grouper, I proved to myself the worth of these hooks. Grouper are notorious for swallowing the bait. With their huge mouth cavity, they simply inhale the bait right down their throat. I fished exclusively with 5/0 and 6/0 circle hooks, while my partner fished with his regular terminal tackle sans the circle hook. As we caught fish, a number of undersized grouper had to be released. In every case, the fish my partner caught had swallowed the bait and were gut hooked. Out of about 30 fish that I caught, all but one was hooked in the side of the mouth. The one that was not, should have been, but I had set my rod out to cut some bait, and the fish almost digested the bait by the time I got around to setting the hook. Luckily it was a keeper!
My partner switched to circle hooks after missing a number of fish and loosing some that pulled the hook before reaching the boat. We were pleasantly surprised to find these hooks so valuable, both as a conservation tool and as a tool to increase the hookup to catch ratio!
Numbers of bait companies are now offering offshore pre-rigged trolling baits with circle hooks. Initial information is proving that circle hooks are providing more hook ups and fewer lost billfish. And live bait fishermen are seeing far fewer gut hooked fish.
Look for circle hooks next time you need tackle. They are being made now by most hook manufacturers in hook sizes for even small fish.