Circle hooks as a conservation tool.
A circle hook is one manufactured so that the hook point is turned perpendicularly back toward the shank, forming a generally circular shape, hence the name. Various studies have assessed their efficacy in terms of hooking and landing rates, and their worth as a conservation tool. Prior to circle hooks becoming popular with recreational fishermen in regions such as the USA, they were the reserve of commercial long liners. Coincidentally, the commercial fisheries' penchant for using them is borne of that same desire recreational fishers have to retain fish on the line once hooked. Study after study has revealed that the science of a circle hook means that fish will almost always be hooked in either the jaw or maxillary, or the skin of the mouth, and deep hooking is rare. Secondarily, the incidence of by-catch mortality in commercial fisheries is markedly reduced when circles are predominantly used. Again, this is because by-catch species can be released due to fish usually being hooked in a non-lethal area of the body.
As I mentioned in my previous article, the progression toward the exclusive use of circles by recreational fishers seems logical but for rumours of circles not being as effective as J-hooks when it comes to actually hooking fish. There is no doubt that once a fish is hooked on a circle, it very rarely escapes. The fact that they are good enough for commercial industry should be evidence enough of this claim. But are they as effective during the actual hook up? That, I believe, is the burning question of many of the readers of this magazine. The answer is yes, if the correct technique is employed.
The effective use of circles involves some connoisseur technicalities and they are best illustrated using a step-by-step guide, which is as follows:
1. Hook size relative to the fish species is important. A 6/0 and 7/0 work best for tigerfish and larger catfish. Be careful however, as there is some variability in sizes between manufacturers so my recommendation would be to buy a few packs of varying hook sizes, and actually test them in the field to see which works.
2. Circle hooks rely on slow, but direct, application of pressure. The blunt force induced by a strike when angling with a normal J-Hook will not work with a circle. The important word in the first sentence is 'direct', which means that braided lines complement a circle better than monofilament lines. The reason for this is that there is far more stretch in the latter and often the hook won't set well. If you are averse to using braid, fluorocarbon is another option as it also does not stretch.
3. Pursuant to that word 'direct' again, I prefer using a Snell knot to tie my hook to the trace or leader. I have illustrated how to tie this knot below. The use of this knot allows for direct pressure to be applied through the eye and shank of the hook. Importantly, the hook will always be in the correct position as there is no loop which would normally be the case if you were using conventional wire and crimps.
4. When rigging your bait, it is vital that the hook not be buried in the bait. There must always be daylight between the point of the hook and the shank and often a simple thread through the top of the bait will suffice. Naturally, a smaller bait will aid your hook up rate as it is likely that the fish will have all of the bait in its mouth.
5. Once you have cast your bait, remain vigilant about monitoring its movement. In an ideal world, your line should be extending directly outward from the end of the rod tip. i.e. there should be no angle between the rod tip and the line. If your bait moves to three o'clock, reel in the slack line and move your rod tip to three o'clock as well, thereby "straightening" the line.
6. We've arrived at the most crucial part of the method and there are two options here. You can fish with a free spool and wait for the strike, or you can fish with a set drag. In both scenarios you will be setting the hook early and trajectory of the rod should be approximately 45 degrees. If fishing with a free drag, count two or three seconds into the run, then raise the rod gently, set the drag, and watch your rod load up. Do not strike. Doing so will result in you pulling the hook right out of the fish's mouth. The same applies when fishing with a set drag. Keep the rod at 45 degrees in the right direction and any fish that strikes should hook itself.
7. Once the fish is on, the normal rules of engagement apply. Keep tension in the line at all times and remember that although a jump is great for photos, it is an indication that you are pulling too hard on the fish.
The science does not lie and you will find that most fish you catch on circles will be hooked in the jaw or skin of the mouth. You'll also find that your catch and release efforts will improve drastically and gone will be the days of cutting the trace and releasing a fish with a hook still embedded in its throat. Whoever came up with the notion that hooks dissolve quickly in freshwater, does not deserve to be fishing at all. Every effort should be made to ensure that a fish is released in the same condition it was in prior to ingesting your bait.
Finally, I'd like to encourage fishers to employ a variety of methods in their pursuit of the mighty tigerfish. Bait fishing is a method conducive to relaxation and involving the whole family but it is but one of many techniques that make fishing such a fantastic sport. One cast of a bass swim-bait or surface frog will show you what I mean. Good luck.