How to Tie Short, Circle-Hook Rigs for Bull Redfish

Three ways to tie this conservation-oriented leader, which helps prevent deep-hooking of adult red drum.

October 2, 2020
Three large redfish on a boat
Often schooling during fall, bull redfish must be released in most coastal regions. Anglers can improve release success by using one of these three short leader circle hook rigs. Capt. Spud Woodward

Thanks to harvest limits and voluntary catch-and-release, anglers have lots of opportunities to catch red drum these days, especially the adults whose tenacious and dogged fight has earned them the well-deserved sobriquet — bull reds.

Tipping the scales at an average of 30 pounds, adult red drum eat voraciously, consuming a variety of fish and crustaceans by quickly swallowing their prey and relying on crushers in their throats to prepare the meal for digestion. This aggressive feeding behavior can lead to deep-hooking and injury when anglers present natural baits on J hooks with weights and long leaders.

However, a veteran North Carolina angler named Owen Lupton discovered a while back that when he positioned the sinker a few inches above the hook redfish hesitate to swallow the rig past the weight. Also, the location of the weight provides leverage, enhancing the function of the inline circle hook.


Inline circle hooks — their points align with their shanks — work better than offset circle hooks, which tend to attach in soft tissues such as the tongue or throat, negating the rig’s ability to reduce deep-hooking.

This kind of short-leader-circle-hook rig usually hooks bull reds in the corner of the jaw or in the lip, causing very little harm to the fish and facilitating a quick release. Some anglers opt to flatten the hook’s barb for easier removal. However, in areas with strong currents or turbulent water movement, bait retention on a barbless hook can be an issue.

Fishing tools and supplies
You’ll need crimps, swivels, snaps, beads, mono leader and a crimping tool (not all items are shown) to rig these leaders. Chris Woodward

Here’s the list of materials needed to build three variations of this terminal rig:


· Mid-wire, non-stainless, inline circle hooks with a gap between the point and shank of at least a half inch. Examples: Eagle Claw L7228BPG, Size 8/0, Gamakatsu Big Eye Circle Hook, Size 8/0, and Owner SSW Circle Hook, Size 8/0.

  • 80-pound- and 150-pound-test monofilament
  • Double-barrel sleeves for 80-pound-test mono and .080-inside-diameter (size 4) single-barrel sleeves
  • Plastic beads to fit 80-pound and 150-pound mono
  • Three-way swivels, 70-pound test
  • Duo-lock snaps, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length
  • Barrel swivels, 80-pound test
  • Sinker slides
  • No-roll or egg sinkers, 3 to 6 ounces
  • Crimping tool
Basic short-leader rig
The basic short-leader rig involves a piece of 80-pound leader, a sinker, plastic beads, crimps, a swivel and a circle hook. Chris Woodward

Basic Rig

Snell a circle hook to a 10-inch length of 80-pound mono. Pass the tag end of the mono through one side of a double-barrel sleeve, a plastic bead, a no-roll or egg sinker, a plastic bead, one side of a second double-barrel sleeve and through the eye of a barrel swivel.

Then, reverse the process and pass the end of the mono through the unused side of the closest double-barrel sleeve, back through the beads and weight, and finish by threading it through the unused side of the double-barrel sleeve closest to the hook. The weight and the beads now lie between the two sleeves.


Position the weight so that it is no more than 6 inches from the hook. Pull the tag end of the mono snug, crimp the sleeves, and cut off the excess monofilament.

Tie the main line to the barrel swivel at the top of the rig. You can modify this basic rig by replacing the no-roll or egg sinker with a sinker slide that comes with a clip to attach a pyramid sinker, making it suitable for surf fishing.

Three-way-swivel rig
The three-way-swivel rig can be used for surf fishing and bottomfishing from a boat or pier. Chris Woodward

Three-Way-Swivel Rig

Snell a circle hook to an 8-inch length of 80-pound-test mono. Use a double-barrel sleeve to connect the leader to one eye of the three-way swivel so there is no more than 4 inches between the hook and the swivel. Crimp the sleeve and remove the excess mono.


Tie the main line to the second eye of the three-way swivel.

Connect a duo-lock snap to the third eye of the three-way swivel, and clip the snap to a pyramid sinker of the desired weight. This version can be used for surf fishing and bottomfishing from a boat or pier.

Heavy-duty rig
When you might encounter even-bigger species when fishing for bull reds, this rig version can improve your chances. Chris Woodward

Heavy-Duty Rig

This variation of the short, circle-hook rig is used by Capt. Greg Hildreth who fishes the Brunswick-Golden Isles area of coastal Georgia and often finds himself tangling with sharks and even tarpon while pursuing adult redfish for his clients. The longer and heavier leader facilitates catching and handling fish weighing triple digits while also reducing deep-hooking of the bull reds.

Snell or tie a circle hook to a 4-foot length of 150-pound-test mono. Pass the end of the mono through a single-barrel sleeve, a plastic bead, a no-roll or egg sinker, a plastic bead, and another single barrel sleeve.

Position the sleeves, beads, and weight so that the distance between weight and hook does not exceed 6 inches. Lightly crimp the sleeve closest to the hook to fix it in place being careful not to damage the mono.

Pull the plastic beads, weight, and top sleeve snug against the crimped bottom sleeve. Lightly crimp the top sleeve.

Finish the tag end of the leader with a double-overhand knot to form a loop. Connect the rig to the main line using a 150-pound-test coast-lock snap swivel. If you want to be able to change weights, replace the no-roll or egg sinker with a sinker slide to attach a pyramid sinker.

Read Next: Fishing for Bull Redfish

In most of the coastal Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, adult redfish cannot be kept. That means that each year, tens of thousands, if not more, bulls are released. It is the responsibility of anglers to do everything they can to ensure these released fish survive.

The short, circle-hook rig is so effective that hundreds have been given to anglers and guides as part of the Fish Smart Red Drum Conservation Project. Help make sure we have plenty of redfish in our future by using this rig and asking your friends to do likewise.


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