Hooks That Hold Specialized fishing techniques call for fresh hook designs

Our Cro-Magnon ancestors would have gaped in awe at the sight of today's fishhooks. In addition to hunting, Stone Age man depended on fishing for survival, as Paleolithic wood and bone hooks attest. It isn't hard to make a case for fishhooks as one of the pivotal tools that helped elevate us from the caves to what we consider civilization.

Yet often it's only the very serious fisherman who bothers to analyze the best hooks for a specific fishing assignment nowadays. Maybe it's because the number of available styles seems to make choosing difficult. It needn't be.

DAD'S HOOK Old-fashioned straight-shank hooks in round-type (Aberdeen) bends still have their place, despite our addiction to offset-style hooks. The straight shank in standard gap--with a couple of little barbs near the eye to hold baits--is still my choice for small plastic worms when I swim them with a tiny weight (shot or cone) fixed a tad up the line. These hooks are still great for smaller tube baits, and they tend not to hang up in vegetation or pick up grass like the offsets with their little elbows. Straight-shank Aberdeens are available in wider-gap versions these days, too, so you can extend their use to slightly larger baits. Still, it's easier to rig a bait straight on the more popular offset style of hook.

OFFSETTING ADVANTAGE Everybody uses offsets (the "L," "J" and "Z" hooks, for example, so named by different manufacturers), which come in standard and wide gaps and are made of wire of varied thickness. Besides being easier to rig, they tend to hold a soft-plastic in place well. The Texposer, introduced by Lunker City, was one of the first radical designs within the offset hook category. It has a wide gap, and instead of the normal right-angle bends behind the eye, it is bent at acute angles. Hold it point up and trace around from the shank. You'll see that the wire makes an 85-degree bend, then angles straight up. The little vertical segment thus formed aids in trapping the impaled lure, helps to keep it straight and facilitates its side-to-side movement. The hook's point is long to avoid back-out and to expose more hooking power outside the soft-plastic. (203-237-3474; www.lunkercity.com)

SHOT DROPPERS For the most part, drop- or down-shot hooks are formed with lighter wire for finesse lures and have a pretty wide gap. Most are short-shanked. Owner's version has sharper bend angles, somewhat like a modified Texposer, but its line-tie eye is bent to place it more on the level of its hook point. This is to keep small worms, grubs or tubes hanging horizontally when rigged Texas-style and fished in a drop-shot manner. Gamakatsu's model is designed for nose-hooking a lure that's fished with the hook exposed.

BIG BERTHAS When the first ultrawide-gap hook was born, the manufacturer was afraid to give it a true size designation for fear fishermen would balk. If I recall correctly, what was termed a 5/0 was actually more like a 10/0. Not to worry. Built in typical offset design with enormous space between barb and shank, the big-maw models drastically reduce incidents of missed fish that occur when a chunky soft-plastic bait balls up during your hookset. Big worms, tubes, lizards and jerkbaits are all candidates for the ultras, but medium-size lures of those designs can benefit, too. The big hooks also help keel plastics upright so they won't spin when you swim them, and they'll sink the lures--especially the middle weights--faster when you need to reach deeper for bottom-hugging fish.

CIRCULAR SOLUTIONS I'm happy to see so many manufacturers now have circle hooks in models intended for sport-fishing. Without a doubt they work as advertised, hooking fish in the corner of the mouth rather than the gullet. Circle hooks are mostly used with natural baits. They're also excellent on streamer flies for fresh and salt water and for plastics when rigged exposed. For circles to work, a fish must grab the hook and then turn. The best procedure after feeling the weight or tug of the fish is to pause for a second, then start reeling. That's what makes circles so great for kids or anglers who aren't sure when they've got a bite.

HOT COLORS

Besides the fish-attractive red finish that's become the rage on single hooks and lure trebles since TTI Industries introduced the Bleeding Bait concept, you'll find polished black plating, which goes by various names on high-end hook models. Eagle Claw's Platinum Black finish on its new L092 wide-gap worm/tube hooks is typical. In this case, the ultra-hard, slick coating helps facilitate point penetration. (303-321-1481; www.eagleclaw.com)

Likewise, VMC is marketing a variety of hook styles wearing wild colors from hot pink to chartreuse. Bait fishermen who want to attract trout or walleyes to their otherwise complacent offerings will find such hooks helpful. (800-999-4665; www.vmchooks.com)

If you're hunting for a hook model to try with a new fishing technique, you'll likely find it in today's incredibly varied and specialized selection. We've come a long way from the Flintstones' primitive hooks fashioned from woolly mammoth tusks.

Making Points With Fishermen

EAGLE CLAW LIGHT-WIRE CIRCLE This barbless circle hook (L197B) is available in sizes 2/0 to 5/0. The hook is coated with Eagle Claw's new Platinum Black finish. (303-321-1481; www.eagle claw.com)

EXCALIBUR TX3 ROTATING TREBLE The offset hooks make it difficult for a fish to get free once it's set. The T3 point digs in. (479-782-8971; www.excaliburlures.com)

DAIICHI BUTT DRAGGER A moveable weight can be repositioned or removed. A coil-spring HitchHiker screws into the head of soft-plastics. (334-567-2011, www.daiichihooks.com)

GAMAKATSU WIDE GAP FINESSE Use this extra-strong hook for drop-shotting or to rig soft-plastics in wacky-worm fashion. (253-922-8373, www.gamakatsu.com)

EXCALIBUR TX3 WIDE GAP WORM HOOK A new three-sided cutting point called the T3 promises faster and better hookset when using soft-plastics. (479-782-8971; www.excaliburlures.com)

VMC FAST GRIP OCTOPUS FLUORESCENT YELLOW A worm hook and a bait hook in fish-attracting colors are also available. Three barbs help keep the hook in the fish. (800-999-4665; www.vmchooks.com)

OWNER LONGNECK WITH BAIT STOPPER A security barb behind the line tie keeps the bait's nose in place. An adjustable stopper helps hold the bait in the right position. (714-668-9133, www.ownerhooks.com)

MUSTAD ULTRA POINT POWER LOCK PLUS A sliding weight on the shank can be positioned for vertical or horizontal presentations. A barbed swiveling keeper shaft holds baits in place. (315-253-2793, www.mustad.no)

Jerry Says

LET THE FISH DO ALL THE WORK If you're missing strikes when using soft jerkbaits, or just learning to use one of these lures, try this: Nose-hook the bait--in and out--using a small (No. 1 or 2) circle hook. The hook is exposed but the curved design still makes it pretty snag-free and able to work through all but the thickest weed cover. When a fish hits, pause for a second, then start reeling. Don't even try to set the hook.

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