Hook Selection - Whats the Point?

Posted by Spencer Wonder on

“J hooks are better because they hook fish wherever they can stick”. “Circle hooks are better because you don’t have to set the hook”. “Treble hooks are better because you they are more likely to hook the fish”.

Anyone that has spent any amount of time fishing has heard all of these rationalizations for why a certain kind of hook is superior over any other. The problem with this way of thinking is that almost every fishing situation can call for a very different kind of hook, and this makes it very hard to make blanket statements such as “ _____ hook is the best kind of hook”. This article will attempt to boil down the proper hook for various scenarios, from the lens of a landbased angler with a focus on shark fishing in general.

Hook Anatomy:

              Below is a diagram of a typical hook with the major anatomical features labeled. These features as well as several others will be referred to throughout the article. 


“J” Hooks:

              “J” hooks are the typical fish-hook shape that most anglers are first introduced to in the context of the sport. The point of a J hook is typically aimed upwards along the shank of the hook. These hooks are probably one of the most varied patterns available, with many different styles of hook made for countless fisheries and bait styles. These hooks are reliable, and oftentimes come in various materials and finishes that the angler can chose from to tailor the hook to their particular fishing situation.

              One positive of these hooks is their user-friendliness. Thanks to the large gap between the point and the hook shank, these hooks are more forgiving of having their throat “choked” with bait than some other hook patterns. This can allow oversized baits and less particular hooking methods when compared to say circle hooks. Another positive of these style of hooks is their penchant to find home and hold just about anywhere in the quarry’s mouth or in some cases outside of the mouth. This can be a benefit when targeting large or unusually shaped mouthed fishes.

              On the more negative side of things, J hooks require, for the most part, a solid “hook-set” to penetrate the fish and timing of this is crucial. This can take a little time to get used to, and a few “missed” or “weak” sets are common. Another negative comes from the hook’s ease of penetration. Since the J hook’s shape allows it to find home just about anywhere, fish are likely to be hooked places other than the corner of the mouth. This can result in less solid holds and as a consequence J hooks are far more likely to “pull” or fall out of a fish mid fight when heavy drag or prolonged struggles are a factor. This is also a concern in catch and release fishing, like most shark fishing, as gut hooked or soft-tissue hooked fish are far less likely to survive capture and release than those hooked “fairly”. J hooks also do not lend themselves well to the old style of “pump and wind” in part due to their shape, with nothing except for the diminutive barb of the hook holding the point in the fish, any loosening of the tension on the line can serve as an opening for the hook to become dislodged.

              Since J hooks perform better when the angler actively sets the hook, their best application are when the angler is actually holding the rod. Also due to their ability to come tight nearly anywhere on the fishes mouth, fish with extensive dental work or unusual mouths (read as rays, heavily toothed sharks) are good applications for these hooks. Careful consideration needs to be given to these hooks when used for catch and release fishing, and responsible harvest is always better than releasing a bleeding or dying fish.


Circle Hooks:

              Circle Hooks are a more recent development in fishing, but certainly not a new invention by any means. By definition a circle hook has its point aimed more perpendicular than parallel to the shaft of the hook. Circle hooks also often have smaller gaps and throats than traditional J style hooks. While there is plenty of variability in circle hooks, there are generally less options when compared to J style hooks. The idea behind the circle hook is that the design renders the hook-set obsolete. The hook is designed to rotate and catch in the corner of the fish’s mouth all on its own as tension is applied to the line. This self-setting nature makes these hooks particularly valuable in “bait and wait” scenarios where the fish often runs against the drag of the reel before the angler even knows there is a bite.

              Circle hooks almost always connect with the hard tissue of the fish’s jaw, a very solid place to hold when compared to the surrounding areas. There is also little angler input required to ensure a proper set of the hook, which usually means that once hooked, the fish is highly unlikely to come unhooked, even if the angler is forced to or accidentally slacks up on the line or uses heavy drag as needed for most shark fishing applications.

              On the negative side of things, circle hooks can be temperamental for anglers not used to their specific limitations. In most cases, circle hooks have to be able to rotate freely to find home in the fish, and this requires that the bait be hooked in a way that allows the hook to separate from the bait when bit. This usually means skin or lip hooking baits, and oftentimes a bridle is the best solution to the issue. When in doubt, leave as much hook gap exposed as possible.

Another negative of the circle hook isn’t the hook’s fault at all, but rather a myth spread by early adopters of the hook style. Oftentimes it is said that one does not need to “set” a circle hook, and this is true, but for whatever reason anglers interpret this as though a hook-set on the behalf of the angler is detrimental to the functioning of the hook, and this is simply not true. In fact, most circle hooks do benefit from a gentle “driving home” of the hook point with either the rod or the reel on the part of the fisherman. This ensures the barb of the hook penetrates and adds to the solidity of the connection.

              In most applications that involve sharks, circle hooks are a fantastic choice. Wait and bait fishing benefits enormously from a self setting hook, and usually once the line peels off the reel the fish is already hooked solidly. Since most times the circle hook will be in the corner of the fishes mouth, release times can be shortened dramatically as the angler will always know here the hook is located. This also protects the leader material from the sharp teeth of the fish and to a degree allows for safer releases than if the hook was deep in the fish and the angler was forced to “reach in” for removal.

Treble Hooks and Other Multi-Pointed Hooks:

              Treble hooks are three-pointed hooks that are commonly found on lures and artificial baits. The reasoning behind this is that the three-pronged approach is more likely to result in hooked fish than a single point that may be turned away during the use of the lure or at the time of the fishes strike. There are also applications in bait fishing, such as trailer or stinger hooks where a treble hook is commonly used.

              The main negative of the treble hook is the small gabs and minimal holding power allowed by its design. It seems counter-intuitive, but because there are three points on a single hook shank, each gap is smaller for the relative size of the hook as a whole. This leads to inherently weak holding power and low penetration. Careful consideration needs to be given when using these hooks as heavy drags and prolonged fight times are sure to result in un-hooked fish and heartbreak. Another downside is the enchant for treble hooks to hook fish on the outside of the mouth or in soft areas around the head. This usually results in a dead fish or worse, a lost fish.

              On the positive side, most strikes when using treble hooks will result in connections. If one is willing to overlook the potential downsides and cares little for the health of the fish upon capture (ie. High value food fish) then these hooks do indeed have a place. As a trailer hook they perform well, often turning what would have been a short strike into a hook-up.

              Most applications where a multi-pointed hook is applicable a single J hook can be substituted for a more solid connection, with an ever so slight reduction in hook-up rate. In fact, this is so much the case that we usually shy away from treble hook for bait fishing and instead rely on them solely on artificial baits and sparingly even in that arena.


              In summary, there is no “perfect” hook for every situation, but instead there are applications where certain hooks can provide the angler with the best chance of landing the fish! At any rate, be sure to consider hook selection, and when in “trout”, remember this article!  (Fish pun!)