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Resourceful anglers have incorporated circle hooks into almost every saltwater presentation over the past 25 years. From their modern origins in the longline tuna and Pacific Northwest halibut fisheries to their explosion across all fisheries in the past decade, circle hooks have flooded the market like a new-moon tide on a Savannah salt marsh.
And there’s no slowing down in sight.
Today, adept professionals like Capt. Mike Weinhofer, of Compass Rose Charters in Key West, Florida, utilize circle hooks on a daily basis, whether they’re bridling baits for sailfish, bottomfishing in the Gulf of Mexico, shark fishing on the flats or live-baiting for yellowtail snapper.
“I almost always use in-line circle hooks,” says Weinhofer. “Lots of sailfish tournaments require the use of in-line hooks, and the hookup ratio compared to offset hooks is not much different.”
The key to successful circle-hook fishing with natural bait is picking the proper hook. Circles range in size, gauge and style, with enough variance to intimidate even the most experienced angler. Consider these important aspects of circle hooks before rigging your next bait.
A true circle hook is engineered so the point is at a 90-degree angle or less to the shank of the hook — that single attribute causes predictable hook-sets in the corner of the jaw. But getting the right-size hook might play an even larger role in whether your bait swims naturally or the hook sets true.
Unfortunately, anglers cannot trust that hooks labeled with the same number from different manufacturers are equally sized. Just because Eagle Claw’s Lazer Sharp circles (L2004EL), sizes 4/0 to 7/0, are perfect for anglers fishing with live mullet inshore, or Trokar Lancet circle hooks (TK4), ranging from 5/0 to 7/0, are prime for chunking baits to mahi, that doesn’t mean that Mustad, Gamakatsu or VMC follow the same sizing chart. To put it bluntly, there is no standard for hook sizes — it’s truly up to the manufacturer.
“The difference in sizing between manufacturers can be drawn all the way back to some of the original hook makers,” says Matt Gray, category manager of Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle. “Some manufacturers base the size on gap size, while others base it on the overall length of the hook.”
When live-baiting, match the size of your hook to your baitfish, he says. A hardy baitfish, such as a blue runner or jack, can handle a thicker-gauge hook without killing the bait. With any kind of fishing, make sure your target species is able to ingest the hook and bait, says Gray. In general, anglers should try to use the smallest hook they can get away with.
Weinhofer takes it one step further, matching the size and gauge of his hook to how much drag he intends to put on the fish.