Without the humble hook we’d be unable to initiate and maintain contact with our finned quarry. Mark Kitteridge discusses how to get the best from these humble components.
One of the wonderful things about fishing is it keeps evolving and expanding; never have we had so many interesting, effective and fun ways to catch fish. All have one thing in common though – a sharp hook.
However, many anglers don’t understand just how important hooks are to their fishing success and make poor selection choices when buying them or making up rigs. The following series of articles will deal with the more popular types of fishing and the aspects that determine the size, shape and placement of hooks.
There has been a decided shift from natural baits and berley to lures in recent times, and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, if you can drop a sinker to the bottom, you can do the same with a weighted lure – a kabura-style slow-jig lure especially – and start catching fish. It’s that easy and the advantages are numerous: it’s less expensive than buying several packets of bait and berley (unless barracouta are around!); minimal storage space is required; no refrigeration is necessary; there’s no fuss cutting bait up and carefully attaching it to hooks; and there’s no smelly, slimy mess to clean up afterwards.
Just a few of the many jigs available.
So, what parts do hooks play here, and why?
There is a mind-boggling range of slow-jigs these days, and while they come in all sorts of crazy configurations, there are basically only three members in the family: tai rubber (kaburas/sliders), inchiku and madai.
This style of lure’s key elements are typically a free-sliding, bulbous, weighted head; a separate clump of trailing tentacles; and a pair of small, sharp hooks.
The long, undulating tentacles attract most of the bites, rather than the fancy-looking weighted head (which has other important roles to play), and are at their most seductive when moved slowly on a slender, whippy rod.
The original overall concept involved the use of tiny, super-sharp hooks that were light enough to remain within the lure’s trailing strands. This saw them well positioned to snag any fish showing the slightest interest with minimal pressure. However, here in New Zealand, home of the shellfish-crunching snapper, bulldozing kingfish and often ham-fisted, unforgiving anglers, these tiny hooks frequently failed or pulled free, calling for a compromise in the form of still small but heavier-gauge hooks. Yes, it’s true these hooks sometimes hang below the tentacles, but most of our fish are too big and aggressive to make this a significant issue.
However, these diminutive hooks can only grab a modest amount of fish flesh when bitten, so it still pays to have a rod with a light, whippy tip. Such rods absorb the force of sudden head bumps – especially those made by large snapper – and cushion the forces exerted by big fish accelerating away, making the hooks less likely to pull out, snap or bend. Better still, whippy rods dampen the angler’s movements too, enabling the lures and their tendrils to move around more seductively.
Although madai-type lures don’t have a free-sliding head and their rubber-stranded skirt is attached, not separate, the overall intent is similar to slider/kabura-type lures: get the enticing tentacles down to where the fish can be tricked into biting them, along with the hooks positioned within. Again, most Kiwis opt for brands and models equipped with heavier, stronger hooks that are less likely to let them down when fighting the fish.
These lures tend to be longer and slimmer than their cousins, and are armed with a small squid incorporating a two-hooked assist rig. In this case, the lures themselves are the main attractor, with the attached rising-and-falling squid adding to the attraction and offering an obvious target.
The overall concept sees larger fish on average attracted to this lure (because all sizes of fish can find the other lure types’ wafting tendrils too hard to resist), so making sure it is armed with strong, decent-sized hooks is a worthwhile consideration – just check they are in proportion to the plastic squid. Change to a bigger squid, so larger hooks can be accommodated, and you risk ruining the lure’s overall action, and the bigger hooks are harder to set, too. Again, most of these lures are armed with hooks that are a compromise between achieving perfect deceit in the presentation and having absolute practicality following hook-up.
Inchiku-style lures incorporate plastic squid that require the right size hooks to work properly.
The metal jig family is another large and diverse one, and I’m going to include spinners too, as many jigs can be cast and retrieved.
In the past, many of these lures were armed with rear-mounted treble hooks; these days most come rigged with two-hooked assist rigs attached to the head of the lure. It’s fair to say Kiwi anglers have taken a long time to adjust to top-rigged assist hooks, which hang about a third to halfway down the lure’s length. However, the bite marks on lures indicate this is where most of the predatory fish hit, and as these fish also tend to have big mouths, most correctly rigged metal jigs enjoy good hook-up rates.
In all cases, hook shape, strength and size are important. Ideally the hooks used should have a short shank and be straight, as opposed to having the points and barbs curving out to one side or the other, which can make the lure spin in one direction, twisting the mainline. This aspect is especially important if casting and retrieving or trolling these lures; the faster the speed, the worse the outcome, so stay alert for this potential problem.
The hooks need to be in proportion to the lure: they shouldn’t be so big they become too obvious and/or affect the way the lure moves, but should be strong enough to hold any fish hooked on the appropriate tackle. The latter aspect can vary greatly between the various hook brands, so beware of the cheaper offerings.
Know where to tie the connecting knot. These lures should be attached by the assist rig’s solid ring, not the split-ring or the lure’s wire loop. The ideal knot is a small loop knot, as it allows the assist rig to rise and fall freely, and helps the rig get vacuumed into a fish’s mouth more easily when the lure is bitten. Clinch and Uni knots can cause hook rigs to be held out at ugly angles from the lure.
This hook rig replaced the original and is easy to tie.
Primarily designed to rise and fall erratically like an injured baitfish, these lures are remarkably effective on a wide range of predators. It’s a style that’s really benefitted from having its traditional treble hook replaced with one or two singles, and from having them repositioned to the tip, resulting in far fewer snags.
These lures take the assist-rig-positioning debate to another level, as the assist hooks on these long lures can seem to be dangling very high up, leaving much of the lure apparently uncovered! However, much like the other metal jigs, time and results indicate that this is where they should be, and snags have become fewer as a result, too.
Hook size and strength is particularly important here. You want a hook size that won’t jam firmly around the jig’s slim body. It’s up to you whether it’s smaller or bigger, but in all cases, it must be strong. Pay attention to how the hook is connected to the assist cord. Whipping the hook on can be done well but determining when hard use and teeth damage are about to cause whipping failure can be challenging. I therefore simply knot mine on; yes, it looks rather ugly in comparison, but wear and tear is much more apparent.
April 2021 - Mark Kitteridge
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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