Mike Ladle


Information Page

Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 10 Small hooks will hold big fish.

Forged, snecked, beaked, plated and chemically sharpened, these are just a few of the adjectives applied to modern hooks. Every serious angler has his own preference but does it make any difference to the number of fish actually landed? The very fact that there are so many different patterns suggests that there is no "ideal" hook and that it doesn't really matter very much which pattern is on the end of the line! So! What are the criteria that should be applied to our hook choice??

Firstly, a hook must be small enough to fit within the mouth of the chosen quarry. This may be critical if the fish we have in mind are small-in-the-mouth; either because they are very young, because they are small or because they have tiny mouths. Some flatfishes and breams are notable examples. It is amazing how fish with very small mouths can sometimes absorb massive lumps of metal but, on the whole, it is best to fit the hook size to the fish you are after. Fish such as mullet have quite large mouths but small hooks hold much better than large ones in the rubbery lips.

Secondly, the hook must be large enough to avoid being masked by the chosen bait. If the latter is bulky the answer may sometimes lie in a well-designed rig rather than an extra-large hook. Pike, carp and salmon anglers seem to do very well with small hooks The mouths of these species range from enormous and bony to large and rubbery. In these cases it is not unusual for hard fighting fish of ten kilos or more to be landed on hooks ranging from sizes eight to twenty. Very few sea anglers (other than specialist mullet fishermen or tiddler snatchers) ever use a hook as small as this. This gulf between freshwater and sea angling is perpetuated by tackle dealers. The first question asked of novice anglers when they approach the counter is not "What sort of fish are you after?" but simply "Sea or freshwater?" If the answer is "Sea" out come the big hooks.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of any hook should be that it permits near-perfect bait presentation. Again we have a lot to learn from coarse anglers. This aspect is particularly important where bait movement is important or where the weight of the hook is likely to be a significant part of the total bait weight. If you are using small livebaits such as shrimps, prawns or sandeels then a small lightweight hook will often improve the effectiveness of bait presentation. Sea matchmen have certainly twigged that the choice of hook can make a big difference to their catches.

Lastly there is the matter of hook strength. As sea anglers progress to the use of tackle which is lighter and more in keeping with the size and nature of the fish which they catch it will become apparent that almost any good quality hook is adequate to land fish much larger than average. Modern size eight or ten carp hooks are plenty strong enough to land the biggest fish you are ever likely to hook around our shores.

Of course you may worry that the gape of the hook will be masked by a large bait and indeed this can be a problem, but a Pennel rig or a couple of small trebles may be a better solution (and result in less missed bites) than a size 8/0 meat hook. This is particularly the case over clean, soft sandy or muddy seabeds where there is no wrack or kelp to clutch at the hook points.

I'm not suggesting that there is no place for large hooks in sea angling - far from it. However, it is well worth having a rethink about hook sizes. No angler should feel that hooks ranging from size 10 (or smaller) upwards are unsuitable for sea fishing. If the metal is man enough to hold a bait then it's strong enough to get to grips with a big fish.

One other aspect of the 'hook problem' is rapidly becoming apparent with the growth in popularity of fly-fishing in the sea. There is no point (excuse the pun) buying expensive materials and spending an hour tying subtle imitations of sand eels, sprats or crabs on hooks that will rust away as soon as they come into contact with seawater. This is particularly important with artificial flies because the dressing materials absorb salt water and compound the problem. There are one or two patterns of stainless hooks available for fly tying but there can be no doubt that there is a market for more and better ones. Similarly, the trebles on plugs and poppers are often the only bit of the lure, which is subject to rapid deterioration. This is particularly the case where the hook is dressed with a tassel or plume of hair. I notice that Rapala have just started selling (at a price) packs of spare hooks for their lures. Surely it's not beyond the wit of modern science to produce a more or less rustless treble hook (not a rustless coating that is damaged the first time a hook is sharpened). Until then I shall continue to carry a little box of replacement trebles for my lures.

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 - docladle@hotmail.com


Think like a fish.

Small hooks big fish.

'Fly fishing in the sea.

Small, stainless hooks are almost essential for saltwater fly fishing.

Big lure big hooks.

Bulky lures such as this Skitterpop are often fitted with hooks that are too large and crude for the target fish.  Note that the tail treble, even though well plated, is liable to rust because of salt water trapped in the dressing.

A small flounder on ragworm.

Even quite large plaice, flounders, dabs and soles require smallish hooks.

An eel caught on squid bait.

Eels have large mouths and this one had no trouble getting hold of a 4/0 hook intended for bass.