Gorge hooks may well be the oldest style of fish hooks on earth. They can be made from a wide range of materials and they can be surprisingly effective, though they are not suitable for catch-and-release. But that’s okay: We’re going to talk about them as a survival tool, so throwing back fish would be counter-productive.
The function of these hooks is pretty straightforward. Your goal is to entice the fish to swallow a pointed object that will lodge in the soft tissues of its stomach or esophagus, allowing you to land the fish. Bait is usually involved, but the technique is different from those employed in modern fishing. When a fish nibbles at the gorge hook, give out line and wait. This is very contrary to the quick tug most of us are used to when setting our standard fish hooks. With the gorge you give out 10 to 15 feet of line, wait 30 seconds, and then gently retrieve the line (and hopefully the fish). Use a net (or a basket tied to a stick) to lift the fish from the water. It might throw the hook if you try to lift it without the aid of a net. Tear the gorge free, re-bait if necessary, and cast it out again.
Here are three different styles of gorge hooks, all of which can be fished in the same manner.
The simplest style. Hawthorn, honey locust, hardy orange, and many other trees and shrubs have thorns that are sharp and ready to go without modification. Broken bone shards and wood splinters with a single point can be used, too. Tie your fishing line to the blunt end of the gorge, and insert the hook into a chunk of meat or a fat grub. Position the gorge so that it makes a “V” shape with the fishing line. This positioning enables it to act like a hook. Inch-long thorns are usually the right size for trout and panfish.
This style of gorge is often made from bone shards that are sharp on both ends. Tie the fishing line in the center of the gorge, like a toggle. Insert the gorge into the bait so that it is parallel to the fishing line. The “V” shape will either hook into the fish’s innards,or the hook will turn perpendicular to the fishing line and hang up that way. A two-inch gorge like this can land fish up to five pounds.
The composite hook is the closest match to a modern fishing hook. It comprises a sturdy yet thin shank of wood or bone and a thorn or bone shard to create the “V” shape and provide the point. Since damp wood, thorns, and bone aren’t sharp enough to pierce through jaws and scales, the composite hook needs to be swallowed like the other gorge hooks. A one-inch barb on a two -inch shank can catch fish up to 10 pounds.
Ever fished with a thorn fish hook? Let us know how it worked in the comments.