Do you ever get the feeling that some people are talking another language, even when they’re talking about something you are passingly familiar with? Or perhaps you’re new to a particular interest or activity but the terminology trips you up and you’re not sure you’ll ever get your head around it. Perhaps you’re getting a handle on what’s being discussed or described but you feel a bit intimidated, and actually doing something yourself – or even just talking about it – makes you feel somewhat self-conscious, a bit of a numpty. That needn’t be the case ... and we’d like to help.
Fish hooks have been around for a very long time but they have also evolved to an incredible degree with regard to both design and manufacture – all in the interests of a better hook-up. But their variety and the technical aspects thereof are frighteningly extensive. So let’s start with some terminology and explanations.
The modern fish hook has the following design features;
These features, along with the materials used and the manufacturing methods involved produce endless combinations for a wide variety of applications and an equally wide range of price points.
The eye of the hook may be turned up, parallel with the shank, or turned down. There may not be an eye at all but rather a spade end that will aid in the tying of a snood knot around the hook shank. The reason for the variation is to produce leverage on the hook when tension is applied to the line, or so that a snood applies an inline pull on the hook shank. An upturned eye with line knotted to it will roll the hook around the hook point, while a down-turned eye will tend to make a hook roll around the point where the bend begins on the shank, and make the hook point protrude. If the upturned or down-turned eye is used to pass line through to a snood knot on the hook shank, then a straight or neutral pull will occur in the shank. So too will a knot tied to a flat, or straight, eye.
The shank can be considered to be the backbone of the hook. It’s the length of hook from the eye to the beginning of the bend, and its length is variable, depending on the type of hook. A short shank is usually found on both live bait hooks and circle hooks. A live bait hook is designed to be swallowed with the bait fish – head first – and will be set in the fish as it’s being drawn back out of the fish’s mouth; a long shank doesn’t help in this scenario. Most J hooks have a moderate shank length and traditionally, in the south of the country, long shank hooks have been used when blue cod are the target species. If you cut through the shank of the fish hook and looked at the cross section you’d find it to be either round – a wire hook, or slightly flattened, which would make it a forged hook.
The bend may come in very many profiles; each will determine the particular gape and front length (see below) and are very much specialised for each application. Some are quite innovative and unusual and aren’t even a bend at all, being more angular.
The gape (or gap) describes the distance between the hook point and the shank. The gape tends to be more open (or larger) in a J hook design, where a point more or less parallel to the shank is expected to be set by the fisher in a straight pull, with some force. The gape is smaller with the point angled toward the shank in circle hooks, which are designed to roll around the fish’s lip or the corner of the mouth under consistent but gentler pressure. Eye position is designed to assist in both situations.
The front length describes that part of the hook from the bend to the hook point. It isn’t really obvious in a circle hook, hence the name, but in J hooks it’s the length which accommodates the barb, and brings the hook point closer to the eye. This design feature also determines the bite of the hook: the distance from the point to the radius of the bend furthest from the eye.
The barb of the hook is usually produced by making a slice in the wire of the hook within the bite of the hook. Some may have the barb positioned on the outside rather than the inside, although this isn’t common. There are of course barbless options, particularly on smaller freshwater fish hooks. On other small – and usually freshwater – hooks, barbs are positioned on the shank and away from the gape of the hook; they’re there to assist in holding bait such as worms, insects or shellfish in place on the hook. The extent to which the barb stands proud of the wire of the hook is called the gullet, while the notch left in the wire of the hook when the barb was sliced from it is known as the gutter, in case you wanted to know – both of which suggest there are such things as micro barbs.
The points on the hook come in an equally astounding variety – some simple, such as a needle point barbless, through to some quite complex designs such as having four micro cutting edges on the point. The difference obviously has a significant impact on the production cost of the hooks, and thus their retail price. One particular consideration with regard to hook points is that some points are angled in towards the hook shank. This feature gives rise to the term beak hook. This is usually apparent in circle hooks but to some extent is also present in hybrid designs and J hooks.
The other design feature that can trip up and confuse fishers is the term recurve hook. It’s tempting to assume that these are just a circle hook by another name. But recurve actually describes the front length of the hook angled back towards the shank or the eye of the hook, rather than just the point. So a recurve hook may well describe a circle hook, or a portion of a hybrid design, or a J hook.
Another term that trips up many fishers is the label offset. Some may even confuse it with recurve. Offset refers to the twisting of the part of the hook called the bend away from being parallel to the shank; it will be forced either to the left or right and designated either kirbed, or reversed, accordingly. The reason this is done is to present the hook point proud, to one side, to make it grab anything it drags over. Unfortunately it means that hook-ups in the gut, gills or throat of fish are more common – it’s a matter of hook design being perhaps a little too efficient, at least when it comes to point penetration and where it occurs. It also makes releasing fish in good condition much more challenging.
It is with interest that I note that the New Zealand Sports Fishing Council have amended their rules and bylaws for national competitions and for tag and release using livebaits, in order to require participants to use circle hooks which have no offset when targeting billfish.
Perhaps the one piece of hook advice that can be offered to the uninitiated, particularly when it comes to use and practice, revolves around setting hooks in a fish’s mouth. It is the significant difference between employing a circle hook as opposed to a J hook design. When fishing a J hook, setting the hook will usually require a strike, a relatively positive and forceful lift of the rod tip. When fishing a circle hook, or hybrid hooks with a recurve or beak point, the habit of waiting for the fish which has taken the bait to become a weight on the line, before gently starting to retrieve line, putting a bend in the rod and pressure on the fish to set the hook, is a discipline that must be learned.
Next time in Tackle Talk we’ll continue our look at hooks, keeping in mind that knowing what you want to achieve, and understanding design and manufacture, will help you choose hooks that will best suit your target species, technique and application.