The Importance of a Hook
Why even bother to have different types of fishing hooks at all? It’s a fair question – since they all have the same basic components of shank, bend and point – with the job of lodging securely in a fish’s mouth. However, when you look at the size and species of fish – coupled with what you attach to a fishing hook in order to get those fish to bite, it quickly becomes obvious that you need different hooks for different types of fishing.
One thing is consistent across all fishing hooks though, and that is the need for an exceptionally sharp hook point. Without that, it has no hope of performing it’s intended function well. From somewhere around the 1980s onwards, the practice of chemical sharpening has become far more widespread – which made it possible to mass-produce very sharp hooks. However, interestingly, some of the highest-end fishing hooks advertise their specialist hand-sharpened status.
At the end of the day, if you can’t successfully present your bait, lure or fly and then gain (and maintain) a secure attachment of a fish to your line, then you can’t fish successfully. Those three functions are entirely down to the design and quality of your hook.
Anatomy of a Fishing Hook
While there are a few “eyeless” hooks (which are whipped onto the line by knots or thread wraps), by far the most common fishing hooks in modern angling have an eyed connection, through which you thread your line to then tie your knot. Behind the hook eye is the hook shank. This is the main wire forming the “backbone” of the hook which, as you follow it along away from the eye, leads into the bend. Finally, as the bend continues around far enough that the wire is pointing back towards the eye, there is a sharpened hook point.
- The distance from the apex of the bend to a perpendicular line drawn from the hook point to the shank is known as the throat of the hook.
- The perpendicular distance between the hook point and the main hook shank is known as the gap (or in UK English, the gape).
Barbed vs. Barbless hooks
Depending on whether you have a barbless hook or a barbed hook, on the inner face of the gap, just behind the point, there may be a sliver of the wire cut out to create a backward-facing sharp point. Where this is present, the barb acts to help prevent the hook falling out of a fish’s mouth due to slack being allowed to enter the line while trying to land the fish.
Barbs for bait
For bait fishing and for some soft plastic baits, you may find one or more bait holder barbs on the back of the main shank of the hook. These hold bait in place on the shank and help present it exactly as you first rigged it (instead of annoyingly slipping down around the bend). A common shorthand name for this design is simply baitholder hooks.
Multi Point Hooks
Fishing hooks that have a double shank, two bends and two points are known as a double hook (common fishing hooks for tying certain kinds of salmon flies). In the same way, hooks with three bends and three hook points are known as treble hooks. These are most commonly used when fishing for predators using lures (while they are also used for mounting either live or dead fish baits when pike fishing).
A treble hook may be barbed (with a barb on each hook point), barbless (no barbs on any hook point) or even semi-barbless – where only one of the three hook points has a barb.
Semi barbless treble hooks are used when the barb is designed to hold bait securely – while the barbless hooks can be easily removed from the mouth of a captured fish so that it can be easily released without incurring undue damage.
The angle that the hook eye makes to the shank is another variable component of fishing hook anatomy. This can either be directly in line with the hook shank (e.g. as in siwash hooks – a long-shank “J hook” design often used to replace treble hooks on lures) turned out away from the point (as in up-eyed dry fly hooks or offset bass fishing worm hooks) or turned in towards the point (e.g. down-eye wetfly hooks).
Let’s look at some hook shape categories.
Types of hooks by shape
One way to categorise different types of fish hook is by their overall shape. Starting with single hooks, the two most basic shapes would be described as
- J Hooks (which resemble a lower-case letter J – minus the dot – when you orient them with the apex of their bend pointing downwards and the upward-pointing point to the left of the shank)
- Circle Hooks – where the shank is relatively short and the strongly-curved bend ends in a sharply-bent point which is pointing inwards towards the main shank at approximately a perpendicular angle.
…but those seemingly simple categories hide quite a lot of complicating factors.
For instance, the basic J-hook design has a shank that has at least a portion of roughly straight shank behind the eye. However, adding a deliberate curve to a part of that shank (and also creating different curvatures to the bend of the hook) can quickly start to depart from what you’d recognise as a letter J. Particularly when it comes to fly tying (for instance when imitating various underwater grubs or larvae), the shanks can have a substantial curve.
Another example, this time for bait fishing, would be octopus hooks – which have short, curved shanks, round bends and up-eyes. However, if any such curved-shank hooks lack the perpendicular elbow in the hook-point, they wouldn’t ever qualify as a circle hook.
It makes sense to start with probably the most classic example of a J hook shape:
These are long shank hooks normally with a very symetrical, rounded almost “u” shaped bend. It is a favourite choice for both saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing with large worms or other forms of live bait fishing. Other common J hook designs may feature Limerick bends…
Limerick Bend Hooks
Compared to “round bend” hooks such as Aberdeen hooks, a Limerick bend has a sharper angle just past the apex of the bend (moving towards the point). So a hook bend that starts as a fairly shallow curve then has a sudden tight angle at the base of the (straight) hook point.
These are a kind of jig and live bait fishing hook belonging broadly in the J hook family. Defining features of a sickle hook are a generally smaller barb than other bait hooks and – particularly – the acute 45-degree angle at the apex of the bend.
The functions of this bend design include the prevention of live baits (such as minnows) from sliding out of position around the bend or even escaping the hook completely. It is also meant to hook your target fish more securely – so keeping them pinned better while landing them. Because of the ability to remain lodged following the hook set, it allows for the smaller barb associated with the sickle hook design to still be effective.
In combination, the smaller barb and famously sharp points increase hook-penetration on the hook set; while the 45-degree bend works together with the micro barb to avoid it working loose as you reel in your fish.
Designed primarily for soft plastic baits (though they are becoming more common in fly fishing now with the availability of slotted tungsten bead weights), jig hooks are longer shank hooks to allow for a 90-degree elbow a short way behind the eye.
Having a longer shank means that there is plenty of room to mount your soft plastic baits (or tie the bodies of your flies) on the shank, without the addition of a weight stealing too much of that real estate on the hook. The elbow also creates a good angle of pull along your fishing line to increase your chances of an effective hook set.
That elbow also allows a weighted head to be mounted on the hook shank – covering the 90-degree angle and the shank joining that elbow up to the back of the eye. As a result, the hook will fish with the shank acting like a keel and causing the lure/fly to fish with the point uppermost. Being on the opposite side of the shank from snags on the bottom can help prevent your lure from hanging up on the lake or river bed.
Fishing point up may also help you to find a solid hold in a particularly bony fish mouth.
The various types of worm hooks available on the largemouth bass market also feature that same 90-degree elbow just behind the hook eye. However, in this case the function is to hold soft plastic baits in place on the hook while they are rigged in a weedless style – first developed for Texas Rig bass fishing.
As well as straight worm hooks (long, straight shanks and round bends) for slim plastic worms, the Extra Wide Gap (EWG) style of worm hooks allows fatter swimbait and creature baits to be used – and still get a good hook up ratio.
Sometimes the EWG style of worm hooks also come with cast lead along the shank – to create a weighted worm hook design. Here, the ability to fish soft plastic swimbaits at the required depth through cover is the significant advantage provided by this design of fishing hook.
As previously mentioned, Siwash hooks are longer shank hooks with quite rounded bends, sturdy wire and a hook eye that is absolutely straight, in-line with the shank. A quality siwash hook will fish really well at the rear end of, for instance, metal fishing lures which would normally carry treble hooks to catch tail-nipping fish.
One of the main features of octopus hooks is the up-eyed design. This is intended to allow the tying of a snell knot around the shank (and the threading of the fishing line out through that eye), so as to produce a straight-line transition from hook shank to fishing line.
Interestingly, the same result would be achieved with a down-eye hook – but for octopus hooks, you can actually tie directly to the eye and still achieve good hook up ratios due to the angle of the point. When you pull on the line, the in-curved hook point causes the hook to undergo a camming action which levers the point into the fish’s mouth.
That camming action derived from an inward-angled point is a slightly toned-down version of the mechanics behind a true circle hook.
These types of fishing hooks are really the transitional form between J hook and circle hook designs. They can have straight eyes or up eye designs and their defining features are:
- Having the point angled directly at the eye
- A very wide, almost flattened gap (like an extended sickle hook shape)
- Generally finer wire than a circle hook (causes less damage to live bait)
Their most common sizes and the shape/size of the gap make them most suitable for larger fish.
True Circle Hooks
Making the jump from what you might just about still consider a J hook (in an octopus hook) to a full-on circle hook is a good prompt to explain what circle hooks are used for and how they work. First things first, circle hooks are out and out bait fishing hooks.
They are not suitable for lures or flies that are actively retrieved. It may be possible to use circle hooks for specific flies that are fished static in a similar way to bait – but the mechanics of that are well described by considering how circle hooks work for bait fishing.
The circle hook was originally designed for set-line fishing of cut bait where it was important to avoid gut hooking fish (e.g. line-caught tuna fishing). The idea is that the fish can pretty much swallow the bait, without the in-turned point lodging in that fish. It is only when the fish pulls against the line and the circle hook is drawn back right into the corner of its mouth that it finally catches hold.
At that moment, the exact same camming action that happens with octopus hooks kicks in and twists the point home into the fish-safe corner of the mouth. In scientific studies, the survival rate of fish released after capture on a circle hook is very high.
When using a circle hook, you should NOT perform a standard hook-set, this will just pull the hook straight out of the fish’s mouth. Instead, simply winding-down and applying a constant pressure gives the best chance of success.
Where survival with j hook designs was lower, this is likely to be due to gut hooks and the associated struggle to remove hooks. This means it’s important to be on top of your strike detection when fishing with j hook designs. Whereas with a circle hook, gut hooking fish is all but impossible.
Hooks by material
Classifying fishing hooks by material is, in a way, quite difficult- since there are just two main choices of core material.
- Alloys of High Carbon Steel and Vanadium
- Stainless Steel
Often the biggest difference in fishing hook material will be the coating used on the outside of the core metal. Manufacturers may or may not make it easy to see what material their hooks are made from – which is where the difficulty arises.
The main challenges facing the materials used to make fishing hooks are the resistance to corrosion and the trade off of overall strength versus brittleness. High carbon steel is super strong and holds a sharp edge very well – but is prone to shattering under shock loads…
Saltwater fishing hooks obviously have a greater requirement to resist rusting
Fishing hooks by size
Fishing hook sizes are one of the biggest mysteries in any so called system of standardisation. The basic idea is fairly simple – the higher the number, the smaller the size… until you get to numbers followed by a forward slash and a zero (e.g. 1/o, pronounced “one-aught” ), where the higher the number, the larger the size.
Fishing hook sizes are used to describe the size of the gap – and not the length of the shank. The big variation in hooks of the same size rating between different manufacturers is well known. However, that variation can even apply to fishing hook sizes within a single brand!
Part of that variation within a brand comes from the intended use of different fishing hook types. For instance, in fly fishing hooks or plastic creature bait hooks, the manufacturer may try to estimate what the effective gap will be after the width of the body of the fly or lure is taken into account.
So a Czech nymph (fat-bodied fly) or EWG (extra wide gap) hook should have a much larger gap than regular bait hooks of the same numerical size rating.
To give some idea of the range of hook sizes – super tiny flies that imitate aphids or miniscule midges might be tied on a size 32 hook. This can easily sit on the head of a match.
At the other end of the fishing hook sizes scale, a size 20/0 big game, shark fishing hook might have a gap around 3.5″ wide and an overall length of around 7″
Wire Gauge vs. Fishing Hook Sizes
When it comes to dimensions, it’s not only about the overall hook size. The wire gauge used to make a hook is important for strength and sink-rate. Light wire hooks have good penetration and slower sink rates. They are commonly used for dry fly hooks – since the flies will float more easily. Obviously, the reduced strength limits the size hook that can be supported by a fine wire without being too easily straightened out by a hooked fish.
Fishing hooks by fish type
Although it’s impossible to give an exhaustive list of fishing hook types according to the species of fish you’re targeting, there may be some useful guidelines to keep in mind. The best way to do this is to work backwards from what you are presenting to the fish in order to persuade them to bite your hook (and how you are presenting it).
Then, it’s a case of how you will get a good hook-up ratio when presenting that bait, lure or fly. This relies on the available gap, the sharpness of the hook and the pull-angle of the line to the point.
Finally, based on the anatomy of your target-fish’s mouth (and how they behave once hooked), the best combination of hook shape and barb-design (for barbed hooks) will determine your chances of landing that fish.
For channel catfish, treble hooks are common, since they are better suited to smaller fish than some of the super wide gap hook designs. Treble hooks are also ideal for punch baits and dip baits (they work fine for cut bait of course) and they offer a good chance of securing a hook hold.
For other (larger) species of catfish, where large chunks of cut bait dominates, you might find circle hooks or Kahle hooks a much better bet.
In fact both largemouth bass and smallies will be well catered for by using treble hooks on hard baits, jig hooks for plastic worms, swimbaits and tubes, straight or EWG worm hooks for Texas and Carolina rigged soft baits (with fatter baits being better matched to EWG hooks).
Some bass rigs will even have their own dedicated hooks – such as weedless wacky rig hooks or swim jig hooks (both designed to fish into heavy cover without getting hung up).
A pro-tip for choosing treble hooks for hard baits and largemouth bass fishing – points that are angled inwards are best for keeping fish pinned during the times of year when they jump repeatedly when hooked. However, points that are more parallel to the treble hook shank may have a better shot at snagging a shy biting bass during colder conditions.
Barbless single hooks are the way to go for catch and release fishing for trout. These will most commonly fall into sizes range between 18 – 8 for fly fishing, 14 – 10 for bait fishing and 10 – 8 for hard bait artificial lures.
Here’s where the sickle hook design (particularly on jig hooks) is most commonly used. This could be as part of standard soft plastic baits mounted on jig hooks – or even tipped with a live minnow.
What are different types of fishing hooks?
The main types of fishing hooks would have to include the J hook, the Circle hook and the Treble hook designs. Within each category there are many specialist variations (for lure fishing, bait fishing and fly fishing). This is unpacked in the rest of this article.
What are bass hooks called?
The names of bass fishing hooks will vary depending on the fishing tactics used. For hard lures like crank and jerk baits, treble hooks are often used. For plastic worms and creature baits, worm hook or Extra Wide Gap (EWG) worm hook designs may be used. For live bait, baitholder hooks are common. However, this is just a small selection – see the main article for more.
Which hook is best for fishing?
While the circle hook design may be best for avoiding deep hooking of fish, it is only suitable for bait fishing. Treble hook designs are good for lures which you can fish away from cover and snags (since a treble hook is NOT a weedless design!). Worm hooks allow you to mount soft plastic baits in the Texas rig style and fish into heavy cover with little risk of hanging up. The short answer is that the best fish hooks are the ones which are the right size for the fish you’re targeting and the right shape/design to support the techniques you will use.