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June 28, 2010

The Right Redfish Rig

Lupton-rigged circle hooks provide healthy redfish releases

Few saltwater angling spectacles match a feeding frenzy of adult red drum. From the mid-Atlantic to Texas, the combination of copper-clad muscle and bullish attitude brings anglers to their knees, literally and figuratively. I've been on redfish bites where my exhausted guests would cry, "no mas," refusing even to look at another bent rod. Yet for a time in the 1980s, the future of redfish free-for-alls was in jeopardy.

The Battle for Bull Runs
In the late '80s, red drum in the northern Gulf of Mexico came under heavy fire from industrialized fishing operations using spotter planes and football-field-size purse seines. Coated with fiery spices and charred in a cast-iron skillet, the previously unmarketable fish suddenly became a favorite of Cajun/Creole restaurant customers.

It took about 20 years of give-and-take on the part of anglers and government fishery managers to find a balance that ensures the future of the redfish. Today, the burgeoning adult population provides predictable and accessible trophy fishing. To protect what we've gained, anglers have honed tackle and techniques to release reds in the best possible condition.

What's Old Is New Again
About the same time that the rotund New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme was hawking his blackened redfish recipe, anglers rediscovered something once used by our ancestors - the circle hook. In 1987 a local surf caster showed me my first circle hook, a heavy-wire commercial model manufactured by Mustad for tuna longlines. I tried it, I liked it and a couple of thousand bull reds later, it's hard to imagine using anything else.

The circle hook's design allows it to set itself, making it the top choice for multiple-rod redfish spreads. Most times, a circle hook lodges in the corner of the fish's mouth, causing little injury and making removal easy. It's a win-win for everyone.

When selecting a circle hook for bull reds, you quickly discover that, unlike conventional hooks, circle hooks do not have standardized sizes. More important than the manufacturer's number designation is that the width of the gap between the hook's point and shank suits your quarry.

For bull reds, you need a strong hook with a gap of at least a half-inch. Proven models include Eagle Claw L2004, 10/0 or larger; Mustad Demon Perfect, 12/0; Owner SSW Circle, 9/0 or larger; and 10/0 Gamakatsu Big Eye Circle.