Tackle and Tactics
"More catch and release - flatfish!".
My last piece on the value of circle hooks as a means of avoiding unnecessary fish deaths elicited a couple of emails. The first was from my pal Dave Bourne who lives up in Scotland. Now Dave is a top class all-round angler and anything he says is likely to be spot on. My question, posed in total ignorance, was - "When they were first introduced in the UK a number of writers said that they (full circles) were more difficult to use with bait (or to bait up) than J hooks - anyone know why?"
Dave has been using these hooks for about three years now and his response (almost verbatim) to this was as follows - "Threading on a worm is very difficult. I have been using full circle hooks and being short shank with no offset it's almost impossible to get a worm on whole. I'm thinking of trying the semi-circle hooks from Veals this year and see if that is any better. I hope that answers the question I saw on your web site, if not try threading a ragworm on a size 2 full circle and you'll soon see the problem". Of course I should have tried it myself but, to be honest, I'd assumed that the worms could just be 'lip-hooked' and allowed to dangle (see Mike Richard's email below). I suppose that with any form of distance cast, worms hooked in this way would simply fly off - I was just being stupid.
Following on from this - most sea anglers will have fished for flatfish at some time. Anyone who has legered for plaice, flounder or dab must have encountered the problem of deeply hooked fish. Flatties have smallish mouths and big appetites so they are apt to swallow the lot which results in surgical operations to remove hooks and serious damage to the fish. Of course this is no problem when the fish are to be eaten, however, often the fish caught are undersized or immature and the resultant slaughter is totally unacceptable. Is there a solution?
Well Dave appears to have come to the same conclusion as me that circle hooks are good for fish conservation. He sent me some comments about his experiences of fishing with with these hooks. He says that he's been using them in smallish sizes for plaice fishing for the last 3 years. He continues - "We get a good run of plaice in June up here and they are my favorite eating fish, but there are a lot of small fish caught and when using J hooks they are often deeply hooked. Circle hooks ,as you know have solved most of this problem, but there is a real difficulty baiting up." (see above).
Undeterred by this difficulty Dave goes on to say that by offsetting the hook slightly (bending the point to one side) and using a baiting needle (modern type) it can be done but it is very fiddly. He now tends to bait up a trace so that it is ready to just clip on when he reels in, giving him more fishing time.
He also comments that - "The circle hook offset point seems OK. I have deep hooked a couple of fish but they were for the pot anyway. Even so it's nothing like as bad as it was with the J hook. I was thinking of stopping plaice fishing all together with the bye catch that I was killing".
Mike Richards sent an email that was a little different but made similar points, he says -
"The circle hooks are virtually impossible to thread lug and ragworms onto. They are usually very thick wired as well which seems to 'pop' the worms more. I've used circled (Varivas) to good effect for bass and flatfish with ragworm and sandeel just nicked through the head and flicked out 20-30 yards.
The Varivas semi-circle hooks are a bit easier to thread worms onto but they are still quite difficult.
One hook pattern, which I've been informed by a few people is the best to use to prevent deep hooking of flatfish, is called a 'Messler'.
The 'Messler' seems to be a fairly normal, short-shanked hook attached by means of a non-slip loop knot (the one I use for lures and big flies) so that it can swing freely on the nylon trace.
With the live and dead baits I normally use for bass, perch, pike etc. baiting up is never a problem. Of course I expect that I'm biased but here are two more very good anglers confirming that circle hooks (despite the baiting up difficulties) can have massive benefits for certain types of fishing. Clearly they both think that it's worth taking a bit of trouble to try and solve the baiting problem. It can only be a matter of time before Mr Average Angler cottons on to this and perhaps a year or two more before the manufacturers realise that there's a market for quality offset circle hooks (and/or a design to make baiting up easier - it's a bit of a challenge and I'd have a go at inventing one myself if I ever did any beach-casting with worm baits).
If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - firstname.lastname@example.org