As saltwater anglers must to release more and more fish, circle hooks are becoming an important tool. Originally used in commercial fishing, these uniquely engineered hooks work quite differently than most other hook styles. A circle hook has the tip sharply bent back so there is no point exposed to catch on smooth surfaces.
Unlike traditional hooks, which snag anywhere in the gullet, throat or mouth, circle hooks have to be pulled through a sharp turn to penetrate. The hook most often catches in the corner of the mouth, an area where hooks usually stay embedded during the fight.
Due to the design of the circle hook, the angler must not snatch the rod tip when a bite is felt. Instead, anglers give the fish a moment and perhaps even pay out a few feet of line. Once the fish begins to move away with the bait, steady firm pressure is applied to the line. This allows the hook to pull upward from the gullet and towards the jaw. As the fish moves away, the hook is carried into the corner of the mouth, where its design allows it to catch and penetrate.
Although the chances of an initial hook set may be slightly lower than traditional hooks, the benefits usually outweigh this shortfall. In many cases catch rates actually increase when using circle hooks as most fish are hooked firmly in a firm area of the jaw. This not only helps anglers land more fish, but can have a dramatic impact on lowering fish mortality due injuries from deep hooking.
True circle hooks do not have kirbed (offset) shanks, but tackle vendors offer both non-offset hooks as well as modified models that have some amount of point offset. Hooks are also available in several wire sizes as well as color variations which cover a wide range of saltwater fishing applications.
Circle hooks first became popular for saltwater fishing when tuna fishermen began experimenting with them. Their effectiveness was quickly realized and these odd looking hooks have been embraced by fishermen for their efficiency and low fishing mortality.
Circle hooks are often rigged on fishfinder rigs which are used to catch striped bass, drum, cobia and other species. Flounder fishermen find that circle hooks work well, not only to reduce fish mortality, but to provide reliable hookups.
Circle hooks are also available snelled and for use with traditional top and bottom style leaders. Although circle hooks were originally designed to catch large pelagic species, new models work well for catching a variety of species, even spot, croaker, and other inshore species.
For fishing live baits, circle hooks are sometimes fished with a Carolina rig. The setup employs a single circle hook at the terminal end of a monofilament leader. A egg sinker is often included at or above the top of the leader. Typically a crimp or swivel is connected below the sinker to prevent it from sliding down the leader and reaching the hook.
The resulting rig allows a live bait to swim naturally, while the weight carries the fish to the bottom or down to mid-depths. When a fish takes the bait, the leader provides some slack so that the fish does not detect the weight or main line right away.