Why Use Circle Hooks? How to Use with Live and Dead Bait


Why use circle hooks and what is the difference between them and inline j-hooks?

If you’re been fishing long in Florida, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes the Florida Wildlife Commission suggests or insists on certain hooks to be used for catching fish. Sharks for instance. Nobody really keeps sharks to eat or puts a big jaw bone up on their wall anymore, so it’s best to use a hook that can get caught in the side of the mouth instead of swallowed.

That way you can easily release the fish unharmed. Circle hooks are great for this.

What Is a Circle Hook?

Most fishing hooks form a “J” in shape. A circle hook is a fishing hook is designed with the point turned back at a right angle to the hook shank. It’s not exactly a circle, but that’s where the name comes from. to form a generally circular, or oval, shape.

Circle Hooks have become very popular due to new regulations in many areas requiring them for catching some fish. Here’s a chart showing the last 18 years of interest in the USA in “Circle Hooks

Why Use Circle Hooks?

Circle hooks have a few advantages:

  1. Perfect Corner of the Mouth hook sets. The corner of the mouth is a great place to hook a fish because they can recover easily from that and keep feeding and digesting as normal. It’s ideal because most fish we catch are thrown back in the water to live another day. That’s the hope, anyway! Unfortunately, almost every time I see a Florida fishing video on YouTube, I see improper handling of fish that may be causing grave harm. More about that in another article.
  2. Less Gut-hooking. When a fish like a Sea Trout swallows a regular hook, it can lodge in the belly or the throat. These places are lined with blood vessels and bleeding and other digestion and feeding problems can result. A good percentage of gut-hooked fish won’t survive when let go.
  3. Circle hooks eliminate the need to set the hook hard. This is good for the fish in a couple of ways. One just mentioned above, less gut-hooked fish and fish hooked everywhere but the corner of the mouth. Though it feels like we’re really ‘fishing’ when we set the hook hard, it’s also nice to know we don’t even have to set the hook. We just wait until the fish has the bait in his mouth and is moving with it. The circle hooks set themselves in the perfect spot. Not ALL the time, but often. Circle hooks are a good match for anglers with many rods on a pier with a drag set on the reel because a weak drag is just enough pull to gently set the hook in a moving fish!
  4. They increase the landing rates of many species. Here’s a study from Australia on it. They show that you’ll actually catch more fish using these round hooks because it eliminates the crucial timing of setting the hook.
  5. Keep More Hooks. Circle hooks almost eliminate the need to cut line and leave hooks in fishes mouths, so you’ll save yourself the expense and the time of tying on hooks the more you fish with circles.

So now we’ve seen WHY to use these hooks but HOW should we use them?

How To Use Circle Hooks (Best Practices)

These hooks are not for all fish. They just won’t work with some fish. They work best with certain fish. But, WHICH fish?

Use for These Fish

This doesn’t mean they won’t work with other species but you can use these round hooks with the fish above and have a good degree of confidence that you’ll catch more than you lose.

Tips for Catching More Fish with Circle Hooks

  1. Match the circle hook size to the size of the bait you’ll use. Of course you’re not going to use a 1/0 hook size for catching sharks, but within reason, pay more attention to the size of the bait.
  2. Fishing with these new hooks will take a learning curve for you. Try hard not to set the hook. It just isn’t necessary, and actually, you’re going to lose many fish if you do try to set these hooks!
  3. Don’t fill up the entire hook with the bait. You must leave the hook and good portion of the curve of the hook open. See the images below for a better idea.
  4. Off-set hooks do not work as well! Stick with inline (non-offset) hooks.
  5. Gut-hooks are inevitable. Some fish will just swallow the bait immediately. Lessen stress to the fish by cutting the line as close to the hook as possible and hope for the best when you release it.
Circle hook placement and best practices for a variety of bait (3 photos).
Ensure as much of the circle part of the hook is exposed as possible for more hook-ups. The images here are good, but ideally you’ll squeeze the barbs flat to cause less damage when removing the hooks.
Why Don’t You Set Circle Hooks?

Attempting to set a circle hook to catch a fish defeats the purpose and will lose the fish. Circle hooks are meant to move in the fish’s mouth and set automatically. When you pull the hook you put it at the wrong angle to catch the mouth and hook the fish.

Are Circle Hooks Better than J Hooks?

Both hooks are equally as effective for inshore species and can be used for all fish inshore. Offshore fish species will be lost 30-40% of the time using circle hooks because the way the fish attack bait is not the same.

What Is the Main Advantage of Using a Circle Hook while Fishing?

Using circle hooks cuts down on hooking fish in the gut and gullet. Circle hooks lodge in the mouth to make it easy to catch and release fish and to ensure their survival after release because they are less stressed.

Download this FREE Catch and Release Guide (PDF) from Sea Grant in Tallahassee. It has some great tips.

Video: Fishing for Redfish using Cut bait on a 4/0 Circle Hook and 25 lb. Fluoro Leader and 1 Split-shot

One of the BEST Ways to Catch Redfish - Cut Bait Under Mangroves

Final Word

Using these hooks is better for the environment and better for fish. When a fish is hooked in the corner of the mouth, the survivability increases dramatically when the fish is let go with only a minor injury. If you really want to do the best you possibly can, squeeze the barbs on your hooks to cause even less damage when hooking and removing the hooks from the fish. Use these hooks when you can, and teach other people to use them as well. Help to keep fishing alive for decades more by fishing sustainably and sensibly.

Thank you for doing your part!

About the Author

My name is Vern Lovic. I grew up in Pennsylvania fishing for trout in the streams and bass in the lakes. I’ve fished both coasts of Florida for more than a decade, but I’ve been primarily on the West Coast around St. Petersburg. I fish mostly from a Kayak and pier along with wade-fishing and shore fishing but I occasionally will go out on a boat with one of my friends.

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