Are you puzzled by how particular hook styles suit specific roles and techniques and why it can be so important to choose particular hook sizes? Mark Kitteridge helps to shed light on this potentially perplexing subject in the seventh and final part of this series.
The double-hooked rig is my favourite, especially when targeting snapper. It is, therefore, appropriate to finish off the series by discussing both the unweighted/lightly weighted and weighted versions of this setup.
While single-hooked rigs work well, long, slim baits are better covered with two fixed (not sliding in this case) hooks – provided you choose the right hooks and construct the rigs correctly.
As those familiar with my articles will know, I’m a fervent advocate of circle hooks. This is mainly because they are more forgiving to any fish destined for release (for whatever reason) or which manage to break off. Due to their clever design, these hooks slip up into the corner of the fish’s mouth when the pressure comes on, where they can be easily removed. Or, should the line get broken, little injury results, and the hook placement allows the fish to keep on feeding almost normally.
I also truly believe circle hooks are more effective! I like how it’s possible to simply engage the reel and slowly lift the loading rod to hook up (especially handy in boats with little rod-striking space), and if that is unsuccessful, there’s often enough bait left on the hooks to attract another bite. Contrast that to the users of J-type hooks: yes, those big ripping strikes in response to bites might feel satisfying when they work, but if not, you’ve wrenched the bait completely out of the fish’s vicinity and/or struck the remaining bait off!
In all cases, keep in mind that not all circle hooks are created equal, especially when it comes to consistent quality. I recommend choosing from well-known brands such as Gamakatsu, Mustad, Owner, Black Magic and Trokar, then looking at the role they must play to determine the suitable size and how much structural strength is required.
Contrary to many other keen anglers (snapper fishers in particular), I use the smallest circle hook size practical for the situation. This is because circle hooks can be swallowed, and, provided there’s not too much offset to the hook point (i.e. they are an inline design), they will slide back out until the fish’s jaw hinge is encountered. This means it’s possible to use quite small hooks to target even big fish, provided they are strong enough for the tackle used and are correctly positioned in the various bait types so hook-ups can occur. Smaller hooks are harder for wary fish to see, snag up less, don’t add much weight to stray-line rigs (so act more naturally), and can catch a wider range of fish sizes and species.
J-type hooks, on the other hand, usually snag the gills or gut first when swallowed, which is why the more responsible users recommend using larger hook sizes so this problem is reduced, especially when the smaller/undersized fish are hungry.
Locked and loaded on a decent snapper caught drifting over some deep foul.
The situation and the tackle used determine the circle hooks’ size and strength/diameter. As I almost never use more than 10kg tackle for snapper (very, very occasionally the combination of gnarly ground and big fish from the rocks encourages a 15kg exception), I rarely fish more than 8/0 hooks; in fact, it’s uncommon for me to use hooks bigger than 6/0.
As already mentioned, provided the hooks will handle the tackle used, the smaller they are, the harder they are to detect and the more naturally they will behave when drifting down or around. However, rig and/or position these circles incorrectly and all this deception will add up to nothing.
It pays to make up your rigs (including a few spares) before heading out fishing. You need to consider the following aspects:
Having chosen two hooks capable of withstanding the pressure your gear can exert (not necessarily the same size, as we will discuss shortly), you should next calculate how far apart they should be for the bait’s length to be effectively covered, also allowing for half-hitching the trace around the bait at its top/tip. Ideally you want the estimation to be pretty accurate, because not only do the hooks need to cover the bait, they should also be reasonably tight to each other when in position. If there is slack trace between them, the fish can feel the pressure coming on and may have time to spit the bait out before the rear hook has time to find purchase.
I suggest uni-knotting the trailing hook so it can still be sewn through the bait if necessary; the lead hook is best snooded or snelled on so the connection is secure and robust.
It can pay to make the two hooks different sizes so the bait’s shape is catered for tidily. For example, I’ll often have a one- or two-sizes-smaller lead hook to suit tapering baits better; these ‘tapered baits’ are typically slim, triangular cut baits or whole baitfish.
The next challenge is to place the hooks in the bait so they are reasonably firmly attached while also ensuring their point and barb remain exposed. Circle hooks choked with bait are less likely to slide into position (although you may get away with it when using soft baits such as pilchards). This may see you ‘scooping’ one or both hooks along the bait’s length, especially when using tough-skinned kahawai and mullet strip/fillet baits (personally though, I tend to cut off the tough skin of kahawai as this can slip down into the hook’s gape and prevent hook ups; fresh kahawai flesh is still surprisingly firm so works well).
As the hooks are not deeply placed, half-hitching the bait’s tip securely becomes particularly important; two or three half hitches spread the casting pressure nicely and withstand more savage bites (make sure they are successive though, or you’ll end up with a knot when the pressure comes on, rather than the half hitches cutting right through the bait as the fish hooks up).
Some notes on leader length and sinker weight: Use the shortest possible leader practical for the circumstances. The heavier and longer the leader, the more obvious the attempted deception and the more likely it will be rejected. I recommend just enough to half-hitch the baits and small stray-line sinkers on securely, with a bit more trace remaining so you can maybe grab and lift your fish on board if necessary. (Note that because inline circle hooks invariably hook up in the mouth, it’s not really necessary to use 80lb trace; I find 50-60lb does the job nicely.)
It always pays to use the lightest sinker possible. As the hook’s gape can be obstructed by larger ball sinkers, use two or three smaller ones instead. The sinker/s can be placed directly on top of the lead hook and held in place on the bait by half-hitches so everything is presented as a nice, neat package.
The two-hook weighted strayline rig, perfect for drift-fishing in deeper water.
While most of the rig information above has snapper in mind, it can easily be adapted to suit kingfish; you’ll probably just need more heavily constructed hooks to handle the pressure associated with the 15-37kg tackle typically used. This is especially pertinent to those who like casting and retrieving piper and saury.
When the water is too deep and/or the current too strong to allow lightly-weighted rigs to get down, increase the leader length to one metre and place the sinker on top of the leader’s swivel instead. This sliding-sinker rig allows fish to move off with your offering with minimal pressure until you engage the reel – wait for the rod to start loading, then steadily lift up.
Fish for dinner again!
October 2021 - Mark Kitteridge
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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