By Nick Simonson
In the era of catch-and-release a number of tools have come to the forefront in ensuring the successful turn back of big fish to be caught again: rubberized nets, mesh cradles, and elongated needle nose pliers help make short work of landing, caring for and releasing fish while limiting damage to the slime coat, gills and gullets of many species. One of the smallest but most effective ways of aiding a fast release with minimal injury, particularly when engaged in bait fishing, is through the use of a circle hook. There are some secrets behind using these tools to ensure a solid connection and a safe release, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Round To It
A circle hook is noticeably rounder than its live-bait toting cousin, the octopus hook, and the business end of the point is bent inward. This design helps the swallowed circle hook slide up through the mouth along either side when pulled back by an angler and ultimately catches the tip of the point in the corner between the fish’s jaws to set the hook there. This design is especially effective for species such as catfish and sturgeon which suck up and move off with food items gleaned from the bottom of a flow.
With that special design comes a special hookset that many of those using circle hook rigs for the first time may not be familiar with and likely accounts for a number of lost fish early on. When a rod jumps in hand from the subtle take from a walleye or crappie or bounces with the hard hit of a bass or pike, many anglers instinctively snap the rod to power the hookpoint in place. That is NOT the hookset for fishing with circle hooks.
Instead, when employing a circle hook, slow is the name of the game when it comes to making a firm connection. Whether a bass takes a stickbait on a wacky rig with a circle hook impaled through the plastic or a catfish gobbles up a piece of cutbait with a larger circle hook in it, simply lifting the rod and reeling down to the pressure of the fish may be enough to put the hook point in place. Sometimes an added slow, upward sweep while reeling will aid in the connection if there’s excess slack. Just don’t hammer back, take it nice and easy.
To keep the hook in place during the battle, make sure the drag is set and adjusted properly throughout the fight to maintain the proper tension to keep the hook in place. Keep up with running fish by cranking in excess line and sustain pressure on the fish, which is easier for those deep-running species and more of a challenge for acrobatic species like bass. While shaking a well-set circle hook is tough, fast moving and jumping fish can get it done with the right maneuvers.
Don’t think of circle hooks as being just for the bottom feeders. Other gamefish can be taken with them by making a few adjustments, particularly for those fish that don’t have bony mouths. While a circle hook probably isn’t as effective on pike and muskies, it might be better for walleyes, especially on those big-fish waters where C&R is a lived mantra. Whether under floats or weighted to the bottom of a river or lake by a chunk of lead, circle hooks can be adapted to a number of presentations and limit the damage done to gullets, gills, eyes and other sensitive stretches of fish anatomy. Work a few of these options into a tacklebox for a variety of species and fish on, knowing the impact will be lessened and the odds are still favorable for landing a monster.
Featured Photo: This lake sturgeon from the Rainy River was caught on a circle hook loaded with nightcrawlers. Note the oversized bend and in-turned hook point that are hallmarks of the circle hook and help get it set properly in a fish’s mouth. Simonson Photo.