Hooks you can trust

Hooks you can trust

What's the lowest common denominator that all of us line fishers share in doing what we love? What is the one piece of kit we all have in the arsenal?

Somewhere in the shed or in the rod rack, we’ve probably all got a carbon fibre rod, but it is also likely that there’s a fibreglass rod somewhere. Maybe we all have a threadline reel, but then we might also have an overhead. We might have some wire trace, or swivels, sinkers and lures. However, none of those would be 100 per cent guaranteed to be in the kit of every single fisho in the WAngler readership.

About the only guaranteed common denominator is that each and every one of us has to use a hook or hooks in order to catch the fish we chase. Be it attached to a lure of some sort, buried within the fibres of a fly, or more commonly inserted into a piece of bait, I can’t readily think of a line fishing niche where a hook wouldn’t form part of the complete picture. Even the purest form of line fishing, the unweighted handline, still requires a hook and this humble method still catches plenty of fish without any rods, reels, lures, swivels or sinkers. Just a hook on the end of the line.

The humble hook is usually basic, but is also very important. There are lots of different styles and we all have our favourites, but most will catch fish at some time or another.

I’ve had a couple of eye-opening experiences just recently involving the humble hook that are worth sharing.

The first of these was with ganged hooks – two or more hooks linked gape through eye to form a chain of hooks. Without question one of the absolute best (certainly not the only) ways to present whole fish baits to predatory fish like tailor, salmon, mackerel, skippy, etc. Nothing covers the length of a whole longish fish bait nor provides more fish-holding hook points and barbs than does a group of three or so hooks threaded along the length of a mulie, gardie, whitebait, sardine or mullet. Ganged hooks rule in that scenario.

I’ve been happy to extol the virtues of VMC O’Shaughnessy 9255PS 5/0 hooks for many years as being my hook of choice to make gangs for anything which will eat a whole mulie and I’ve taken to using them in 8/0s to rig gardies for spaniards too. With their slightly longish shank, forged gape and sharp points, this style of hook gives excellent bait coverage and they’re super strong and flamin’ sharp. However, recently I have fallen out of love with the 5/0 although the 8/0 is still great.

Something has changed at the VMC factory and increasingly these hooks have been failing us. When ganged, the hooks are failing to lock into the eye of one they’re ganged to which sees the gangs coming apart, usually during a hookup, and they have been snapping midway in the curve. Now, I have been making up gangs from hooks of various brands for near five decades and I know how to gang hooks – to suffer so many failures is not me! I’d stuck with the VMCs hoping it was just a bad batch, but the last straw came recently. I set up to gang up a box of 25 hooks for another salmon session and each and every gang failed on the bench before any even hit the water. Not one or two hooks, but every set!

I quizzed Phil Gee at Compleat Angler Rockingham for a replacement ganging hook. Phil was full of good words for the Konan O’Shaughnessy range; they’re from the River2Sea Shogun stable. I use a fair bit of its lure range and the Shogun terminal tackle products so I’m pretty confident these Konan hooks come from good bloodstock. From the outset they’ve got a few points in their favour, being an O’Shaughnessy style they’ve got that inherent strength and length, they’re chemically sharpened, and are packaged in closed and open-eye variants to make ganging even easier. These hooks cost a bit more than the VMCs, but I figure less wasted hooks means we’re about even. At the time of writing we were about to head off to Bluff Creek Beach for some shore action and I was hopeful we’d have a positive report card from that trip for our new Konan 5/0s.

My next awakening came during a red-hot session out from Denham. We had five of us on my boat and we’d anchored just off some beautiful coral outcrops in pure white sand surrounded by seagrass a few miles out from town. We had the sole intent of wafting unweighted baits on single hooks back to the coral. From when the first bait hit the water until we called quits about four hours later it was non-stop action. It was a real red-hot session of pinkies, blacks, blue-spot, flag, and a myriad of other types of fish which did not want to miss a bait.

What was most interesting from the session was the use of hooks with a circle design compared to hooks which were not. The sole angler not using a circle-style hook actually stopped fishing after a while due solely to the frustration of nearly every fish being deep hooked and requiring either a long and careful hook removal or the line being cut. The other four of us using circle hooks were still getting some fish which were deep hooked, but a whole lot less. If I had to guess, I would say that instead of it being nine of 10 being deep hooked, we probably had no more than three out of 10 suffering that fate. The rest were mouth hooked. Deep hooking isn’t really an issue if you’re out to keep the catch, but when you want to release some then it becomes a bit of a problem. The downside of circle hooks is that you need to be more patient about the fish hooking up, which is no problem in a red-hot bite, but when hits are less common I don’t want to be missing too many chances.

The clear lesson was that circle style hooks do result in less deep hooked fish, but they do not totally prevent it. It also proved that circle hooks do miss the odd fish even in a red-hot bite. The call to make is about whether I am willing to forego some hookups so as to hopefully hook less fish deeply. In my experience of normal fishing, not that many fish actually get deep hooked anyway. I guess if release is going to be the general rule for a day then using circle hooks should help. However, if the action is anything less than red-hot and taking home a feed is the pure goal I would consider very carefully whether I want to use circle hooks.

Thinking about these two experiences led me to wonder about which type of hook is the best one to put into your bait. I’m so used to buying specific types of hooks I don’t generally spend much time thinking about all the other models out there. I’m happy with the ones I choose to use so I keep replacing those with more of the same. However, my search for a new ganging hook made me look more closely at what’s on offer. These days, the choice is mind-boggling and surely daunting for the inexperienced angler.

However, there is one style or pattern of hook which pretty much every manufacturer has in its range and in all sizes. This particular hook style has different marketing names but they are all pretty much the same, just the gauge and quality varies.

Regardless of your brand of choice this common hook style has caught pretty much everything for us from barra to bream to breaksea cod and all things in between. It is the humble Suicide/Octopus/SSW/Beak/Big Red. Call it what you like, it is a hook style which has been a staple in our tackle boxes forever, and likely always will be.

From little number 6s for herring or gardies to 1-1/0s for king george to 5/0s for barra and pinkies to 8/0s for reds and dhuies, this hook style really does catch them all. Yes, other hooks also work and these ones are not designed to haul 50kg bass grouper out of 300m of water or catch pelagics and gamefish (but they do), and yes there are other styles which are loosely based around the same shape and they work too.

However, if we were restricted to having no more than two styles of hook in our tackle boxes mine would be full of Suicide styles and my new favourite O’Shaughnessy ganging hooks, with a mix of various sizes of each.

Luckily and happily, our fishing world is not that constrained though and I can’t help but carry a range of different hook styles to choose from on any day. But go through my various bait fishing tackle boxes (as distinct from lure boxes) and you’ll find 95 per cent of my hooks from just two styles, that Suicide/Octopus shape and ganging hooks, and both in a whole range of sizes.

It is nice to be spoiled for choice, but it is even nicer to find some staple and reliable go-to hooks to rely on everywhere time and again.

Captions: The classic circle hook-set, most times it works well to aid release.
From barra to bream, the humble Suicide/Octopus pattern is a reliable hook choice.