Circle hook or J-hook – Sturgeon Fishing
The Fraser river sturgeon fishery utilizes baits of various types and sizes to catch sturgeon and there are two hook styles that are employed to cover your bait choices – J-hooks and circle hooks.
J-hooks were the most utilized hook-style employed by sturgeon anglers for many years. Although commercial grade circle hooks have been around for forever, very few sturgeon anglers utilized them. In the last decade, hook manufacturers have been offering circle hooks, and anglers are using them with great success. The choices offered by manufacturers are plenty. Choose a manufacturer that offers strength, sharpness, durability, and a complete and clean finish at the eye. Some hook manufacturers standards are so poor, the eye of the hook isn’t always completely closed, as an example. As with many things, you get what you pay for.
J-hooks are in the shape of their namesake, a “J”; the shank and the beak (point) of the hook are generally parallel to each other. Circle hooks are also shaped as per their name, however, the beak of the hook is turned in and facing towards the curved shank of the hook like the shape of a “C”. J-hooks can, on occasion, allow fish to engulf the bait if you are not watching your rods, and be hooked deeper in the mouth than anglers desire. Deep hooking fish can increase the chance of damage to the fish, something no angler wants to have occur. With the nature and shape of circle hooks, deep hooked fish are a rarity, as the point of the hook is turned in, thereby avoiding the point of the hook from engaging into the fish – until there is tension.
J-hooks are effective for smaller baits such as roe bags, lampreys and small coarse fish baits. I tie many of these baits along the shank of the hook to ensure a straight presentation and to keep the bait from interfering with the gap in the hook, and to avoid covering the beak of the hook. Generally, I stick to a 9/0 or 10/0 J-hook when using those types of baits.
There is a hook set to some degree while using a J-hook, but not always. Hook sets are another conversation for another time. Experience and confidence over time will dictate when and how that hook set occurs.
When using large baits such as large strips of fish or fish parts, I will lean towards the use of a circle hook in the 8/0 – 10/0 size. I simply attach the bait to the circle hook by nipping the hook through the tip of the large bait, allowing the bait to dangle.
The difference in using a circle hook is that there is no hook set. Some anglers will wind into the fish while using a circle hook, however I mostly prefer to let the fish grab the bait and wait for the rod tip to indicate a hook-up has occurred. The reason for this, is the specific shape of the hook that allows the hook to grab on the edge of the mouth, mostly right in “the hinge” or corner of the mouth – a very desirable spot that reduces damage to the fish and provides a solid hook-up. Some describe the action of a circle hook as a “cam-like” action as it sets, and this is pretty accurate. Grab a circle hook as if you were a fish grabbing the bait. You will see the hook slide out somewhat – but once there is tension the hook will turn into your hand and grab you.
On another note, there are some knots to learn that are effective for both hooks. I always use a bait loop knot when employing J-hooks. J’s generally have a bent eye, allowing for a shank style knot such as a bait loop knot.
Circle hooks generally come with a straight eye. The bait loop knot is not really suited for circle hooks for two reasons: the bend of the leader from the knot through the straight eye is not at a great angle and appears as a weak link. As well, the bait loop knot, and worse yet, using an improved clinch knot, does not allow the circle hook to perform it’s cam-like action and may actually inhibit the effectiveness of the circle hook. When using a hook with a straight, inline eye, I have found that the simplicity of a perfection loop is “perfection”. The loop knot allows the circle hook to move in the manner that the hook was designed to be utilized. Many fly anglers are well aware of loop knots and use them extensively. While the perfection loop appears simple and maybe even “weak”, the reality is, the knot is highly effective in the hook set and in strength.
As always, there are many options available, but these points can provide anglers that are new to angling a good place to start. As your angling experiences continue to grow, so too will your ideas on what works best for you.
Have fun, enjoy what we have today, and remember, you can’t catch fish from the couch.