Using circle hooks for catfish can result in more hook-ups and reduce mortality of caught-and-released fish.
By Keith "Catfish" Sutton
If you had checked the end of a catfisherman's line just 20 years ago, you might have found almost any type of hook tied on.
Whiskerfish anglers in years past used a wide variety of styles, everything from Kahle, bait-holder and octopus hooks to Aberdeens, Limericks and trebles.
Today's discerning catfish anglers are more likely to be using a single hook style that has become increasingly popular in recent years: the circle hook. By definition, this is a hook on which the bend, shank and point are all aligned instead of offset, with the hook point turned perpendicularly back toward the shank. This design gives the terminal tackle a round appearance, thus the name "circle hook."
Few anglers were using circle hooks for catfish two decades ago, but that's not because circle hooks are a recent phenomenon. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest were using a similar hook style made from seashells hundreds of years ago, and modern commercial longline fishermen have relied on this style for decades.
Circle hooks didn't catch on with the catfishing fraternity until state fisheries agencies began imposing stricter size and creel limits on catfish, and rod-and-reel anglers — particularly those targeting trophy-class fish — began encouraging fellow fishermen to practice CPR (catch, photograph, release) as a means of conserving heavyweight cats that may take years to reach weights of 50 pounds or more.
As circle hooks for catfishing became more widely available, encouraging more widespread use, whiskerfish fans learned there are two important benefits of using circle hooks that make this style one of the best to use on every fishing trip.
First and foremost, circle hooks can dramatically reduce the mortality that often results when using traditional J-shaped hooks. Catfish frequently swallow the natural baits most anglers use to entice them, and if the fisherman is using a traditional hook style, the catfish tends to get gut-hooked and may eventually die as a result of punctured internal organs.
Circle hooks are designed in such a way that they usually hook the fish in the corner of the mouth. A fish swallows the baited hook and begins to move away. This movement pulls the hook from the throat, decreasing the chance of the fish being hooked in the throat, roof of the mouth or stomach. As the hook shaft begins to exit the mouth, the shape of the hook causes the shaft to rotate, and the barb embeds in the corner of the fish's jaw.
If the angler jerks the line to set the hook, as one does with traditional J-hooks, the hook will pop right out of the fish's mouth. For this reason, it's important not to jerk your rod or line to set the hook when using circles.
Instead, you should wait until the catfish is moving away with the bait, then simply apply slow steady pressure or reel slowly. In this manner, the circle hook sets in the jaw so it can be quickly and easily removed, resulting in less retying and less mess, and facilitating healthy release of catfish that won't be kept to eat.
Anglers who employ circle hooks and use them properly tend to have stellar hook-up ratios, another great benefit of this style. Catfish often are missed when using J-hooks that require hard hook-sets. But even novices can enjoy repeated hook-ups when circles are used, a fact well-known among fishing guides who often work with clients having little previous catfishing experience.
Emulating guide techniques is a good way to use circle hooks. The baited rig is cast out, then the rod is placed in a solidly affixed rod holder.
The angler waits until a biting catfish puts a distinct bend in the pole before he starts reeling.
The rod should be left in the holder while the angler turns the reel handle very fast. Only when the fish is firmly hooked is the rod removed from the holder while reeling continues.
As you become more accustomed to using circle hooks, your fishing combo can be hand-held and used in the same manner. Either way — in a rod holder or in your hand — the result will be more fish safely and solidly hooked in a manner that allows healthy release when that is the objective.
If you've never tried circle hooks, it may take some practice to get used to them. But soon you'll discover the circle hook's many benefits and will probably never go back to using traditional styles.
To purchase an autographed copy of one of Keith Sutton's catfish books, visit his website at www.catfishsutton.com.
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