Science of circle hooks

Discussion in 'Terminal Tackle Review' started by zappaf19, Jan 30, 2006.

  1. zappaf19

    zappaf19 New Member

    Hooking efficiency is important to anglers and managers, as regulations requiring circle hooks won't be well received if anglers seem to miss or lose more fish than with traditional designs. The overall conclusion from the compilation of the studies was that J-hooks hooked fish more readily than circle hooks, but when hooked, circle hooks were responsible for higher landing rates.

    Hooking efficiency is related to equipment and experience. As experienced users have learned, circle hooks don't work with stiff rods and standard hooksets. Slower action rods allow fish to pull against the rod without ejecting the bait, while the hook slides to the jaw and often into the corner of the mouth. Hooksets snatch the hook out, without giving the hook point a chance to catch and eventually set. This behavior must be learned, however, and habits die hard. Moreover, circle hooks don't work well for fish that nibble at baits without engulfing them, since hook-ups require that the hook be fully within the fish's mouth.

    Hook Size: Though there are general guidelines, it's often impractical to use hooks to match the expected size of fish. Large circle hooks don't hook small fish efficiently, and there's evidence that small circle hooks are more likely to hook larger fish in the gullet. This was evident in a study with sunfish. Larger circle hooks also may cause more eye-hooking of small fish, though they don't hook small fish efficiently. Obviously this is a vast topic, involving the nearly infinite range of fish sizes and the many hook styles and sizes.

    Circle hook types.

    Offset and Non-offset Designs: In describing hooks, "offset" refers to the amount of deviation in the plane of the hook point relative to that of the shank. In studies of sailfish and striped bass, offset circle hooks caused more damage than non-offset ones. But this result has not been consistent. It appears that the degree of offset (15 degrees is considered severe) affects rate of damage and mortality. A recent study on walleyes found no difference in deep-hooking between non-offset and 15 degrees offset circle hooks, however. Jigs were less likely to deep-hook walleyes than octopus or circle hooks (#4 Mustad Demon Circle Fine Wire) fished with leeches and crawlers.

    Hot Topics: Cooke and Suski report that flies tied on circle hooks are a hot item, due perhaps to the conservation bent of many fly fishers. Preliminary results suggest, however, that circle hooks were not as effective at landing trout and bluegill as J-hooks, and removal time was greater. Bleeding and tissue damage were similar between hook types.

    Sucker fishing for muskies in cold water continues to be popular in a few areas. This technique causes high mortality by stomach-hooking, when anglers allow muskies to swallow the hook. There's no data on use of circle hooks yet, but conservation benefits seem likely. Then again, perhaps single hooks of any design might compare unfavorably with the use of tandem treble hooks rigged in quick-strike fashion. One can only guess, based on personal observation.

    Only one unfinished study has addressed circle hooks for ice fishing. As might be expected, trout were hooked deeper on J-hooks than on circle hooks, but mortality figures weren't available. Further benefits or drawbacks of circle hooks for ice fishing remain unproven. Gut-hooking of pike and walleye on tip-ups might be reduced with circle hooks, provided the hooks turn and set under firm hand-pressure on the line. Here again, quick-strike rigs have proven to reduce the incidence of gut-hooking while increasing hook-up percentage.

    Trotlines and limblines fished for catfish are well suited to circle hooks. Opening the gap a bit on full circles has provided better hook-up ratios in some situations, though again, differences among hook types affect results. Open gaps also make it easier to bait hooks. Overall, circles hook and hold fish well and reduce mortality considerably, important as more length- and bag-limit regulations are enacted. But again, personal experiences also suggest that eye damage is common when circles are used on setlines.

    Regulatory Issues: Cooke and Suski report that several jurisdictions require circle-hook use: Canadian white hake fisheries; some Maine groundfish (cod, haddock, etc.); some California coastal salmonid fisheries; and a section of the Delaware River striper fishery. But circle hooks aren't clearly defined, in many cases. There's a need for standardization of terminology and products in the tackle industry. A proposed requirement for circle hooks in all striped bass livebait fisheries was recently defeated due to lack of such standardization.

    Cooke and Suski conclude, "Advances in hook design clearly have the potential to significantly reduce injury and mortality of fish that are to be released. Circle hooks represent the first major effort to alter hook design for conservation purposes. Of particular interest are studies that vary the degree to which the hook forms a circle, the gap between hook point and shank, and the size of hook relative to fish size." We couldn't agree more.

    We also ask the fishing community not to look solely at any one technique or technology -- such as circle hooks -- for all the answers. In the "Inside Angles" column of this issue, Editor In Chief Doug Stange again describes a technique that can greatly reduce mortality of fish deeply hooked with conventional hooks.

    We're in an age when selective harvest is a necessity. The objective is to ensure that we can continue to harvest and eat some fish, while releasing others to sustain good fishing into the future.