Hooks for Whole Fish and Strip Baits

One only has to walk into the various fishing-tackle shops and see the huge array of bait-fishing hooks to be reminded we have plenty of choice!

It’s a sight that can be somewhat overwhelming for relatively new fishers, but it needn’t be, especially if we get rid of all those styles that aren’t circles/recurves.

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After all, J-type hooks can be easily swallowed by our quarry (with some positive acknowledgement to those anglers using very big hooks to make the problem less likely, especially to undersize fish) and they then often catch hold in the guts or gills. This makes survival less likely for any fish subsequently released or which manage to break free. Contrast that with circle hooks, which are super effective and cause much less injury to hooked fish as they nearly always hook in the front of the mouth. That’s why I firmly believe they are the way of the future.

While there are almost as many bait-fishing rigs as there are different hook types, let’s concentrate on the recommended hooks for our three most popular: the ledger/dropper rig; the sliding-sinker rig; and the stray-lining rig. 

The dropper rig

Whenever I think about the dropper rig, I think of the original Black Magic ‘Snapper Snatcher’, even though other companies came up with some pretty good offerings soon after (most notably Gamakatsu). This rig has been around for many years now and it repeatedly reminds me how incredibly effective this setup can be in deeper waters, even in the hands of complete novices. Let’s look at why it has been so successful, as this gives insights into how to make more effective rigs ourselves.

  1. The dropper-looped baits hanging off the trace backbone are presented up off the bottom, making them very visible to nearby fish. It’s then up to the re-curved hook – the enduring Black Magic KL – and its adornments to further entice the fish into actually biting.
  2. The relatively short, stiff droppers mean the hooks/baits stand out from the rig backbone, making them less likely to twist around the backbone and also ensuring easy access so fish can get their mouth right around the offerings. Nor can they catch on each other, and the lower one is still tied high enough on the backbone so snagging is less likely.
  3. The KL 5/0 hook used is a winner. It is the right size for hooking all sizes of snapper, from legal to trophies, and can even handle the odd bigger surprise that comes along, such as a decent kingfish.
  4. The hook’s re-curve shape means it doesn’t come into play until fish try to move off with the bait (or the rod is steadily lifted by the angler), with the hook typically sliding up and into place around the jaw hinge. (Even the weight of a decent sinker can help set this type of hook, which is why I recommend overweighting the sinker to make this more likely.)

A wide variety of attractants have been incorporated or added to enhance the rig’s effectiveness.These include:

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  1. Strands of Krystalflash-type material are tied to the top of the hook’s shank; they sparkle and waft around when moved or some current is present. The product comes in several different vibrant colours, with certain conditions, locations, fish species and scenarios potentially making one of these options work significantly better than the others. Better still, it incorporates fluorescent and UV-reflective qualities, which are attractive to fish.
  2. A sliding luminous bead is placed on the droppers – a worthwhile addition for those situations when anglers are fishing deep down or low light is present.
  3. Each hook has a ‘fish skin’ wing covering the strands; this adds to the overall look and keeps the fibres tidily contained. 

Such is the success of this rig it’s led to several others that target some of the more popular table-fish species (i.e. gurnard, cod, tarakihi and hapuku) incorporating smaller or bigger hooks tied to heavier or lighter trace material as required.

Making your own dropper rigs

As a general guide, these recurve hook sizes are recommended for the following species, with some consideration given to where they are to be used and the relative size of the species you hope to catch!
• Snapper: 4/0 - 8/0
• Gurnard: 2/0 - 4/0
• Blue cod: 4/0 - 5/0
• Tarakihi: 1/0 - 3/0
• Hapuku/bass/bluenose: 11/0 - 15/0

The last rig, for hapuku/bass etc, is the only one worth discussing further, as it is obviously significantly bigger.

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Typically tied with 200-400lb trace, the large hooks and often aggressive, fearless fish involved mean much bigger baits can be placed on the hooks, but it’s important to do this correctly so hook-ups occur. No-one likes to wind back up 300-400 metres with bare hooks after missing their chances!

Some options include: large squid hooked just once or twice about two inches down the mantle; live or dead mackerel nose hooked through the front of the eyes; fresh (if possible), slim strip baits of barracouta, kahawai or skipjack/albacore, hooked once or twice at one end.

Traditionally, 15/0 hooks have been used for hapuku and bass – and even the generally smaller bluenose – but as the average size of these species has fallen dramatically in recent years, 11/0 is becoming the wiser option.

Whatever the size choice though, recurve hooks serve another role while the big fish are wound up from deep down: as the ‘puka and bass embolise and fill with air, causing them to rise increasingly rapidly as they near the surface, the circle hooks help to keep them on the line, unlike J hooks, which can lose their grip

The three golden rules to using circle hooks

  1. When tying on your circle hooks, ensure the trace material is fed through the front of the hook’s eye to then be looped or snooded on, as the case may be. This makes the most of the hook’s circular design so it’s especially deadly. Many anglers get this wrong when tying up their own rigs (yes, I know the angle looks unlikely to work, but it does!).
  2. Ensure the gap between the hook’s point and the shank is not choked/covered with bait, especially if the bait is relatively tough. The hook’s clever design can only work if the point and barb remain clear of bait (slim strips of bait hooked at one end do a good job, as do squid tentacles or even whole tentacle clumps, depending on the size of the squid).
  3. Do not strike in response to bites as this usually causes the hook to bounce out! Instead, a steady lift of the rod sees the hook slide nicely into place around the jaw hinge.

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