Wind It Tight to Set the Hook

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I see it all the time on the boats. An angler gets bit and here comes the big swing, and… it’s usually a miss. At which point someone in the peanut gallery chimes in, “Nice swing, [insert TV bass fisherman name here]!” Things are a little different out on the ocean. Most of the species we fish for don’t nibble. Either they bite or they don’t. The big swing typically only yanks the hook out of your prey’s mouth. If they’re already stuck, you open a hole where the hook is set, to make it easier for the fish to shake your hook during the fight.

When fishing circle hooks, I always just tell people to wind it tight to set the hook. However, some captains and guides are starting to recommend this practice for fishing J hooks as well.

circle hook
circle hook

If you’ve ever had a hook come flying back toward the boat when an angler reacts to a fish’s strike, you know how strong the urge is to set the hook. Though it’s not widely known, there’s a reason many captains insist that anglers reel tight — instead of yanking hard — when live-bait fishing with circle or J hooks. Let me explain why.

In most scenarios, reeling tight to a fish ­generates a stronger hook-set than a full-muscled yank. A steady retrieve often leads the hook to the corner of the mouth — more secure and more harmless than gut hooking. Still, don’t allow the fish too much time with the bait to prevent swallowing. Even if a fish misses the presentation initially, second-chance opportunities favor the patient angler. Plus, today’s hooks are incredibly sharp right out of the package.

Photos: Sport Fishing (top), Matzuo (above)


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Joe Sarmiento
Joe is an avid saltwater angler. He grew up in Washington State on the south end of Puget Sound where he first started fishing as a boy catching perch, flounder, rockfish, and occasionally salmon. Today, Joe lives in Southern California where he fishes off beaches and jetties, kayaks, and sportfishing boats. Joe writes about his saltwater adventures in the SoCal Salty blog, and for Western Outdoor News.

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