Expert Fishing Advice for Saltwater Anglers

Saltwater Hooks

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How do I know what hook to use when saltwater fishing?

Picking the right hook is driven by the size and shape of the bait that you will be using, and correspondingly, the size and shape of the target fish you wish to catch.   If you are fishing for one specific species and size of fish, this makes hook selection fairly simple.  We need the hook that is appropriate to ensure that our chosen bait swims naturally and true. If the hook is too large it will look unnatural and discourage bites and if it is too small, a striking fish could miss the hook altogether and steal the bait.

Fishing hooks have three main attributes that effect how well the bait swims and how well the hook sets:

  1. Size of the Hook
  2. Style and Shape of the Hook
  3. Hook Material

Hook Size

As mentioned, choosing the right-size hook plays a critical role in whether your bait swims naturally and whether the hook sets true. Again, use your bait size as your guide. If the hook is too large it will look and swim unnaturally - discouraging bites. And if the hook is too small a striking fish could miss the hook altogether and simply steal the bait.

Hooks sizes are determined by the distance between the shank and the point - also known as the gap or gape. 

Anatomy of the Hook

Eye: Line is tied directly to the eye to hold the hook in place.
Shank: The relatively straight portion of the hook, which extends from the eye to the first bend. The length of the shank helps determine physical weight and the distance from the eye to the hook's point. This distance helps determine the length of bait that can be used with a certain hook.
Gape or Gap: Narrow gaps are best suited for live baiting, when hiding the hook is important. A wide gap excels when used with thick-bodied baits where penetration through the baits body and into the fish is required.
Point: This is the business end of the hook. In recent years manufacturers have been in a race to develop the "newest and best" point. Whether chisel, trocar, needle, knife-edge or rolled--they must be sharp to land the big ones.
Barb: Assuming the hook's point penetrates the fish's mouth, the barb precludes the hook from backing out.

For ocean anglers, hook size will range from the No. 32, which is very small, up to the 19/0 size hook, which is the largest - used for very large fish or sharks in offshore ocean fishing.  

Keep in mind there is no standard in hook sizes. This means that a 3/0 in one brand can actually vary slightly in size from a different manufacturer.  The difference in size will be small, but they will not be identical.

Captains Tip: You can still catch larger fish on smaller hooks, but you can't catch smaller fish on large hooks.  If you are targeting a variety of fish species and sizes, it's good to use a variety of bait sizes and a variety of hook sizes. 


Hook Styles and Shapes

Hook styles and shapes are designed with a target species and style of fishing in mind. In the same way as hook size, you should choose a style and shape of hook that matches the saltwater fishing bait you’re going to be using and the size of the fish you hope to catch.

The most popular hooks for saltwater fishing include the J-hook, the live bait hook, and the circle hook; each has its own specialized application. Also worth noting are the Aberdeen, Octopus, Offset Shank, O'Shaugnessy, Egg, Siwash and Weedless hooks.

J-Hooks

J-hooks are the most common hook that we see among people ocean fishing. J-hooks come in different styles for different types of saltwater angling, and for different saltwater fish. For example, summer flounder anglers prefer Kahle J-hooks because flat fish have a mouth that closes horizontally. The J-hook can either be a bait holder with a few barbs on the shank or a standard smooth shank.  Bait fishermen usually use long-shank saltwater J-hooks that are easy to remove from the fish’s mouth. They cause minimal damage and allow the bait fish to swim naturally.  Alternatively, if the bait is going to be pierced more than once, the barbed J-hook will be more suitable.

Circle Hooks

Like the name implies, circle hooks have a shape that resembles a circle due to the point of the hook turning toward the shank. Anglers who are using live bait tend to use circle hooks since the shape prevent the hook from sticking in the fish’s gut. Anglers love circle hooks because when the fish takes the bait and swims away, your line pulls that circle hook out of the stomach and up so that it
catches in the fish’s jaw. Circle hooks are also perfect for catch-and-release fishing since they reduce the number of fish who die once released back into the water. Circle hooks are almost foolproof. In some fisheries, law requires using circle hooks. When fishing with natural baits, circle hooks just make sense.

Captains Tip: When using a circle hook, instead of jerking the rod to set the hook, simply apply steady pressure until the hook finds its way into the fish’s mouth.

Live Bait Hooks

Live bait hooks have a shorter shank than most hooks.  It is smooth and is designed to go through the nose, under the collar, and just beneath the dorsal of a live baitfish. These hooks are designed for the bait to swim naturally and provoke hungry game fish. As always, match the size of your live bait hook with the size of bait that you are using.


Hook Material

Most manufacturers now produce their hooks from premium high-carbon or vanadium steel. Some manufacturers add a black-nickel finish to increase sharpness and encourage corrosion. In fact, some manufacturers advocate that stainless steel and other noncorrosive surface finishes be banned because they inhibit rusting - and therefore unnecessary injury to fish, when the line breaks off. The majority saltwater fishing hooks are still made of either stainless or high-carbon steel. As noted, stainless steel hooks are corrosion-resistant (so they don't dissolve in the fish) but they are more brittle, and will break off. High carbon steel hooks will rust but are more forgiving of bends and twists, with less breaking. Consider these significant pro's and con's when purchasing hooks.  Here are the Gottemondood hook preferences.


Hook Maintenance

In order to sustain your hooks, they will require regular care and maintenance. You should always rinse your saltwater hooks with fresh water and coat them with light oil between uses to help extend their useful life. And you will regularly need to sharpen your fishing hooks w a fishhook-sharpening tool.  Here's the one we recommend.

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Matt Spector


Over the last 25 years, Captain Matt Spector has established himself as an expert fisherman and Captain. He's taught thousands how to be safer, smarter, more efficient anglers! There's simply nothing more satisfying than sharing a lesson, recommendation or tip that helps another angler be able to yell...GottemonDood!

Captain Matt


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