Our Outdoors: Set the Hook


In spring, you never know where fish will strike.  Being ready from cast to reel-up will help produce the best possible hookset (Simonson Photo).

By Nick Simonson

A snap of the wrist, a drop and a sweep, an upward lift with a downward pull; however you set the hook, the energy and excitement that comes from connecting with a fish is half of the fun of angling.  Whether the fish rockets up to the surface or thunders in the depths, that positive connection is what sets the stage for the battle and, at this time of year, is the moment that many open water anglers wait all winter for.  Not all hooksets are created equal, and not getting the best possible one often results in lost fish.  What follows are some tips to improve that all-important initial connection and ultimately land more of whatever you’re angling for in expanding early openwater options or on other trips down the road.

Pay Attention

Whether it’s light biting crappies in spring, or aggressive bass in summer, paying attention to where your line and lure are located throughout a cast is perhaps the most important part of getting a good hookset.  Keep slight-to-full tension in the line at all times to allow for a good feel on lure location and potential takes from fish.  In spring, bites may be very soft from lethargic fish like post-spawn walleyes, and even in summer, they may take a jig on the drop, a time when there is some slack in the line and feeling is reduced.  It’s important to be aware as to not only where the lure is getting hit, but also when strikes seem to be coming in a presentation pattern, such as the classic lift-fall-hold. No matter the hook or lure being employed, staying aware of what’s going on from cast to reel-up will set the stage for a more solid hookset.

With cricle hooks for spring fish like sturgeon, a strong upward sweep will secure the point in the corner of the fish’s mouth.  Remember to keep the tension on! (Simonson Photo)

Hook Specific

Hook options are as varied as the number of species available to fish for, and more oomph will typically be required in a hookset when jigs or lures become more complex.  For a standard jig or a simple fly, a quick snap of the wrist or lift-and-pull on the fly rod will do the trick.  But when plastic bodies, skirts, weed guards and other additions are present, a powerful sweep will be required to make certain that the hook point finds its place.  A prime example of this can be seen on any Saturday morning bass show, where the pros wind up and swing their rods backward with all the power of a sledgehammer.  Often fishing weedless plastics or jigs in deep cover, this force is required to first power the point through the rubber body of a plastic or a weedguard on a bass jig to make a positive connection and then to pull the fish out of cover.  Take soft plastics, obstructed hooks and other lure factors into consideration as you determine the power level it will take to connect with a fish.

Species & Location

Finally, knowing where fish live and a little bit about their anatomy can help improve hook-ups and determine what kind of power level is required on the hookset.  For bass holding in weedy areas, a weedless jig and powerful sweep is required first for connecting through the structure and weedguard, but also their meatier mouths can handle – and often require – a hard hookset for a firm connection.  For softer-jawed fish like crappies in open water, a simple snap is enough, as a hard hookset will most likely rip the offering straight through the soft flesh of the fish nicknamed “papermouth.”  Larger predators like pike and muskies have bony mouths and will require a harder hookset to either penetrate their tougher lips, or find the softer spots in the corners of their jaws.  Knowing your quarry and where it lives will help with lure selection and determine how to help the hook find its place in the moment of truth.

When it comes down to it, constant awareness as to what’s going on and where it’s happening on every cast, along with the type of lure and the target fish are three key elements with a strong bearing on the quality of a hookset and ultimately whether or not a fish ends up in the net.  Particularly as fishing options open up around the region, these tips will help you be ready for that favorite spring sensation of a slight tap, a quick reactive hookset and another fish on…in our outdoors.

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