The advent of circle hooks, also known as long-line hooks or recurved hooks, has changed the angling scene.

Circle hooks are exactly that, a hook shaped like an almost perfect circle with the point running perpendicular to the shank, rather than parallel to it like a conventional J hook (commonly called suicide, beak or octopus models).

Despite being relatively new to the angling community, circles have been used by the commercial sector for years.

The tuna long-line fishery created the need for a hook which could hook a fish unaided, but which the fish could not dislodge by struggling against the line.

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The Japanese fishing industry came up with answer, but the style of hook goes back to ancient times.

Pre-European Polynesian fishermen used hooks fashioned from bone or stone of a similar shape.

While these hooks are now always employed by game fishermen trolling or setting live baits or whole dead baits for fish like broadbill swordfish, marlin and tuna they are also now common among the bottom-fishing fraternity; those who drop cut baits for snapper, tarakihi, gurnard, hapuku and other species found on the sea floor.

The pre-made flasher rigs and ledger rigs always involve recurves, as do long-lines although these are smaller and more box-shaped.

But the principles are all the same; they are designed for the fish to hook itself, and this is where many anglers become unstuck.

They have been using J hooks all their lives, and of course these require the angler to strike in order to set the hook.

Circle hooks are completely the opposite, as they are designed to hook the fish without any help from the angler.

But to suddenly say "Don't do anything" is hard for many to grasp, and they can't resist the temptation to strike when they feel a bite. How often do you hear, "I put the rod in the holder to do something, and all of a sudden it bent over and there was a fish on."

It helps to understand how the hook works. Imagine a fish has come along and eaten the bait, and as it moves away the water pressure will push the line against its body.

This in turn ensures that the line is running out of the corner of the mouth. This applies whether it is a live bait being swallowed head first, or a chunk of pilchard being chewed.

When the hook slides around in the corner of the mouth the point catches on the hinge of the jaw and digs in. This system works well on a set long-line as the trace slides along the backbone until it hits a stop and so sets the hook.

So the answer when holding a rod is to either let the fish take out some line, then slowly ease the drag up and start winding when it comes tight.

Or, you can lower the rod towards the water which gives the fish a little time to swim away, before winding slowly and taking up the slack. Either way a violent jerk is not needed to set the hook.

A simple test which illustrates how these hooks work is to drop a circle hook into a bucket then slowly pull it out.

The hook will catch on the lip of the bucket every time. Alternatively, if you pull the line quickly then the hook will simply bounce over the rim, which means a missed strike.

When a bite is detected the answer is to not strike, which pulls the bait away from the fish, but give it ample time to get the bait down.

There is another benefit from using these hooks and that is the conservation angle. Whether game fishing or snapper fishing, we are all conscious of the need to release many of the fish we catch.

With conventional J hooks the fish is often gut-hooked because it has swallowed the bait, and the damage caused by removing the hook will guarantee that the fish is going to die.

Circle hooks almost invariably hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, and it can be easily removed with long-nosed pliers. This minimises the damage and improves the chances of survival.

The other important factor when releasing fish is to not remove them from the water if possible.

Lean over the side and flick the hook out. If the fish has to be lifted out of the water because of the size of the boat or you want a photo, use a net and when handling the fish do so with a wet towel, not dry hands which damage the layer of slime on the skin and increase the odds of infection.

Freshwater
Lake Rotoiti continues to provide great fishing, particularly for those anglers familiar with jigging.

Some experts have caught hundreds of trout since Christmas, returning most to the water. They know how to find the depth where the smelt and trout are gathered, and hold the boat in position with an electric motor.

When using colour-coded braid line you can hit the exact depth you want and then it is a question of jiggling the rod with small wrist movements until a fish strikes the smelt flies.

The small silver, green and white smelt patterns are the most popular, but like most fishing it is more a question of where you put the lure rather than the pattern.

Tip of the Week

If a fish has swallowed the hook and you still want to release it, cut the line as close as possible to the mouth and let it go. It is amazing just how fish hooked like this can survive, as the salt soon rusts the hook away. For game fishermen it is also important to use hooks made from galvanised iron and not stainless steel, for this very reason.

Bite times
Bite times are am 8.30am and 8.55pm today, and 9.20am and 9.45pm tomorrow. More fishing action can be found at GTTackle.co.nz.