A LOOK AT CIRCLE HOOKS When talking about fishing, the conversation often turns to tackle. From tackle it turns to hooks, and from hooks to a heated debate on the use of and advantages of circle hooks. Circle hooks are nothing new. Saltwater fisherman have been using circles for years for long-lines and other passive fishing methods, but in recent years circle hooks have come into the spotlight as a hotly debated change in fishing. Why all the fuss? There are many advantages to using circles but there a few main reasons that stick out from others. Proponents for circle hooks claim they greatly reduce the mortality rate of hooked fish, increase the number of hook ups, and improve the ferocity with which the fish fights during landing. The design of circle hooks is quite unique wherein the hook point is pointed in toward the shank. Often the curve of the hook itself is more rounded giving the hook a more fat bottomed look. The unique design allows the swallowed hook to slide free of the stomach, throat and gills without catching, greatly reducing the number of gut hooked fish. This design allows the fish to consistently be hooked at the corner of the mouth resulting in a much lower mortality rate. Hooking the corner of the mouth is also said to improve the fight; as fish hooked there fight with more ferocity than those hooked in the stomach or throat. It is because of the potential to improve the conservation of our fisheries by lowering mortality rates that many saltwater tournament series organizers are making circle hooks mandatory when fishing for big game species like billfish, roosterfish, and sharks. So why would anyone dislike such a hook? For one, there are special techniques that are necessary when using circle hooks. The main difference is that circles eliminate the need to set the hook. Because of their design, circles work most efficiently when they are steadily pulled from the fishs mouth, resulting in the hook point catching the lip when it passes the hook gap. Many fishermen lack the control to not set the hook when they feel that first tug, resulting in the hook being pulled from the fishs mouth and a missed hookset. The best technique for circle hooks is to allow the fish to hook itself by allowing it to "load" the rod as it swims away with the bait. When allowed to do so the chance of a good hookset increases dramatically. Then the angler only needs to pick up the rod and start reeling rather than trying to cross their eyes. RIGGING One of the most important things to remember when rigging circle hooks is that for them to work properly the hook gap and hook point cannot be obstructed by the bait. For this same reason special care should be taken to make sure the hook point does not turn back into the bait. It should also be noted that circle hooks work best in live or cut bait applications, rather than in conjunction with lures like those used in bass fishing. This is mostly because when fishing with live bait the targeted fish takes the bait wholly and often refuses to let it go easily, thus making circle hooks popular for species such as catfish, stripers, and saltwater fish. Hook size is also another characteristic to consider. Because the hook is designed to catch the lip at the corner of the mouth, sizes with hook gaps larger than the lip of the targeted fish are recommended. For instance, when fishing for trophy catfish I choose a 8/0 hook size allowing plenty of room for a good hookset. Many anglers ask what their options are for rigging their baits. There are several and each has its own variations, but all are based on the same principle. In addition to the live bait methods shown below, circle hooks can be used with whole dead bait by hooking through the eyes, nose, or lips, or with cut bait by hooking into a tough skinned corner leaving the hook point exposed - among others. Bottom rigged: Hooking the bait in the belly works best when fishing a slip rig on the bottom. It allows the bait swim upright, giving a natural presentation, and keeps the hook point from turning back into the bait. The bait should be hooked halfway between the middle of the fish and its tail. Top rigged: Hooking the bait through the back is your best bet when fishing under a float. The hook should be placed somewhere between the dorsal fin and the tail, being careful to leave plenty of hook point exposed. Bridled: This method for rigging is most commonly used in saltwater applications when trolling behind a boat but could easily be adapted for freshwater species. Notice that this method leaves the hook fully exposed and allows for a very natural presentation of the bait. One method to bridle bait involves tying a rubber band to the bend of the hook, then using a needle, threading the other end through either the nasal holes or eye sockets and reattaching to the hook. CONCLUSION By no means should an angler replace all the hooks they carry with circle designs, however, they can be a definite advantage when used correctly. The biggest secret is a willingness to learn a new technique and patience to allow for a good hookset. Armed with that information, anglers, and catfishermen in particular, can add one more weapon to their arsenal in the pursuit of that fish of a lifetime.