Tackle and Tactics
"Circle hooks for piking".
Anyone who has been reading the site for a while will be aware that I've been catching pike and other species on circle hooks for years now. These hooks are widely used in other parts of the world for their efficient hooking capabilities and, particularly, to avoid unnecessary injuries to fish that are to be returned. There seems to be no doubt that circle hooks are effective for a wide range of species from perch to plaice to bass to bream. Equally there seems to be no doubt that they are difficult to use with baits (such as worm) that need to be threaded along the hook to enable distance casting.
My pals and I have caught so many pike on circle hooks now that I am totally confident of their use with live and wobbled dead baits. I had assumed that they would be equally (or even more) effective with static dead baits (I haven't use them in this way myself) but a recent email from well known pike angler Mick Brown (following correspondence initiated by my angling friend Richard Gardiner) suggests that there may still be things to learn about their use. Here's Mick's email of 17 April-
Pike deadbaiting rigs with circle hooks.
Over recent seasons I have seen a lot of advantages in using single hooks for pike deadbait rigs, particularly if they are barbless. Singles have always featured in my pike fishing in one way or another. Over the years I have caught hundreds of pike using flies with single hooks including thirteen twenty pounders up to nearly twenty nine pounds. I have also lost count of the number of pike up to thirty five pounds that I have caught on single hook jigs so the benefits of using a single hook where possible is always waiting to surface again in other aspects of my pike fishing.
In recent seasons I have been considering using them more for deadbait fishing and last winter, I wrote a few articles in Coarse Fisherman, Pike and Predators and Angling times where I have offered readers positive reasons for trying them for themselves. Briefly this was to make life safer for the angler and better for the pike for a variety of pretty obvious reasons.
Anything that deviates from standard practice always creates a backlash of suspicion and, I must say, cynicism from some quarters and my writing certainly created this. An interesting point that did emerge though was the potential advantage of taking things a step further by using circle hooks. Strangely enough, no-one who made this suggestion had actually used them for themselves. I had not been aware of Mike's work at that time and to be fair, the literature that abounds about circle hooks in commercial applications does seem to point in a positive direction and with this in mind I sent for some to try out.
The hooks I bought were not commercially branded and bought on-line from Tackle bargains UK and I opted for a size 4/0 which was the size of J shaped single that I had most confidence in for pike. Initially I ordered a cheaper hook but the quality was inconsistent and I later had them changed for a better quality brand so that any problems with my tests could not be attributed to hook defects.
Some readers may be aware that many of my rigs consist of chunks of bait or hair rigged multiple chunks. These seemed to be an ideal application for circles as the bait is less likely to mask the hook during a strike or self hooking situation.
In brief, after attempting a variety of different strike techniques to runs on these rigs ranging from gently increasing the pressure through to sharp strikes, my hook up rate was very poor indeed and although I would be prepared to accept a slight reduction in hook up efficiency for the other benefits on offer, the difference was too much to tolerate. My hook up efficiency over several dozen runs was about thirty percent.
With self hooking rigs, I experienced many dropped runs due to the pike sussing out something was wrong before hooking up took place. Certain pike did surprise me though by their sheer persistence of trying to pick up the bait for several minutes as witnessed by the rod shaking but the reel not paying out line.
Have I given up and moved on? No, I will persist for another winter season when I start my deadbait fishing again. It was like a breath of fresh air to come across Mike's practical experiences with circles which has got me thinking again. Having read and digested Mike’s experiences, I have a few ideas that might lead me to a more positive conclusion with deadbait rigs.
Circles obviously work for commercial fishermen around the world and for Mike too with his approach to pike fishing with live and wobbled baits. That’s not in question, so where is the difference?
1 – I would suspect that where circles are used successfully in commercial applications, the shoal type species compete more aggressively and persistently for the baited hook and that pike feed quite differently, particularly in low water temperatures.
2 – Mike is fishing baits off bottom – livebaits and wobbled baits. This is possibly the best application for circles with regard to pike and these baits will be taken very differently to static bottom baits as they are being engulfed and quickly turned at higher speed than would a deadbait being inspected and picked from the bottom. A situation not too far removed from the commercial application.
3 – My fishing has so far been in very cold weather, a time when pike are picking up static baits from the bottom in a much more sensitive manner. There would also be some degree of caution from pike that have been fished for and caught previously.
4 – I have been using mono. We know the difference that braid makes to efficient hooking with lures; maybe it will be similar with self hooking circle rigs?
At the time of writing I feel that circle hooks have advantages in some rigs as Mike has discovered. I will be taking Mike’s findings on board when I fish similar rigs myself in future. (Thanks for that Mike!). For static deadbait rigs though, I am not so sure but I do remain open minded. The benefits are too important to dismiss the possibilities too easily.
Perhaps I could comment on Micks email. First and foremost I'm a fairly parochial angler and my catches of big pike from a range of waters certainly don't begin to approach Mick's. His experiences are interesting to compare with my own in several respects. Probably for twenty years, long before I tried circle hooks, all my pike were caught on single size 4/0 J hooks. I'd quickly tired of extracting trebles from the gill arches and throats of hooked pike. Also, bear in mind that these days I always use braided lines. Taking his four points in order my first thoughts are as follows -
(1) Pike may feed differently in cold water, certainly they will probably be a bit more sluggish. However, I don't think that the circle hook is going to make any difference to how they pick up the bait. The hook only becomes effective once it's inside the fish's mouth. I think that the same argument applies to points (2) and (3). Circle hooks tend to be most effective on the edge of the jaws and even a J hook can't stick in unless it is also inside the mouth.
(4) The braid could make a difference to 'hookability' as could hair rigging BUT why would the percentage of 'hookups' be so poor using circles as opposed to Js?
I don't really have an answer unless it lies in the reluctance to resist striking at bites. I've certainly experienced this myself after almost sixty years of striking. Good luck Mick! I look forward to seeing how you get on with interest (must keep an eye on the coarse fishing mags next winter).
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