Circle Hooks & Striped Bass

Long before all of the engineering advancements in technology and tackle, Pacific aboriginal fishermen carved animal horns and bones to a curved circle shape. Modern day commercial fishermen have successfully used circle hooks much earlier than recreational anglers. It took time but slowly recreational anglers learned of the importance of circle hooks.

Commercial longliners have successfully used circle hooks for tuna, swordfish, tilefish and sharks. Circle hooks offer great hooking efficiency and they reduce fish injury which in turn lowers mortality, dead discard. Photo: Britton Spark @couchchronicles
Commercial longliners have successfully used circle hooks for tuna, swordfish, tilefish and sharks. Circle hooks offer great hooking efficiency and they reduce fish injury which in turn lowers mortality, dead discard. Photo: Britton Spark @couchchronicles

Recreation Circle Hook Milestones

Central America led the way in the recreational fishing world with j-hook restrictions, mandating circle hooks in all billfish tournaments by 2005. In 2008, all federally permitted boats in the USA were required to use circle hooks with baits in all Atlantic billfish tournaments. In 2019, the federal circle hook mandate expanded to Mako sharks including a specialty HMS Permit Shark Endorsement.

Finally, in October 2019 the ASMFC (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council) approved Addendum 6 which implemented measures to reduce total striped bass removals by 18% in order to achieve the fishing mortality target in 2020. Among other measures, a mandatory use of circle hooks when fishing with bait in recreational fisheries with a January 1, 2021 deadline.

The circle hook mandate finally reached mainstream coastal anglers.

Why The Striped Bass Circle Hook Mandate?

The circle hook mandate was designed to reduce gut hooking especially in passive fishing situations. Anecdotal evidence from anglers up and down the “Striper Coast” all agree, when natural baits (fresh or live) are dead sticked for striped bass with traditional J-hooks deep hooking is highly likely. However, with inline circle hooks these risks are greatly reduced.

New management measures (size and bag limit regulations) have resulted in an increase of released striped bass. For one reason or another, a considerable portion of released fish die. It’s debatable but the latest assessment assumes +/- 9% release mortality.

The use of inline non-offset circle hooks undoubtedly reduces gut hooking and significantly increases the survival of released fish. This is especially true in the case of striped bass, a very hardy fish that has no teeth and inhales their prey.  Inline circle hooks offer the best rate of survival, reducing catch and release mortality.

Fish Fact: In 2018 (most recent year in ASMFC Addendum VI) the Recreational Striped Bass Harvest was 2.24 million fish. The Recreational Striped Bass Release Mortality was 2.82 million fish. Yes science claims recreational anglers released (and then died) more striped bass than they harvested.

ASMFC Addendum VI – 6.0 Table 2 pg14

Circle Hook Regulations For Striped Bass

Are you fishing for striped bass with natural bait? If so you MUST fish inline circle hooks.

  • Yes, J-hooks are prohibited when bait fishing for striped bass.
  • Yes, Snag and drop fishing with weighted treble hooks is prohibited!

For New Jersey Anglers – Circle Hook Regulation As Per NJDEP – In-line (non-offset) circle hooks must be used when fishing for striped bass with natural bait in all waters. Effective January 1, 2021

***Anglers are allowed ONE Striped Bass 28 inches to less than 38 inches*** While some anglers may be against it, this regulation is great for striped bass. All recreational anglers must embrace it and do everything they can to respect the fishery and decrease release mortality. Due to new age tackle, marine electronics and freedom of fast information the fish do not stand a chance.

This large striped bass was caught near Barnegat Light by angler Bob Bruns aboard Fish Head Charters with Captain Greg Cudnik on November 15, 2021. Bob caught it on a live bunker fished with a large circle hook. After a good fight the fish was netted, quickly photographed (and properly handled, supported) and swam boat side for a minute before releasing.
This large striped bass was caught near Barnegat Light by angler Bob Bruns aboard Fish Head Charters with Captain Greg Cudnik on November 15, 2021. Bob caught it on a live bunker fished with a large circle hook. After a good fight the fish was netted, quickly photographed (and properly handled, supported) and swam boat side for a minute before releasing.

Part 2: Fishing For Striped Bass With Circle Hooks (Coming Soon)

End Of February Fishing Report

We are very happy to close out the shortest month of the year, February. It’s usually filled with unruly winter conditions but for the most part it was fair to us. This has allowed eager anglers to shake off the dust. They are catching fish too!

Currently perch fishing is the mainstay. There’s good fishing reports coming in from both the Mullica River and Toms River area, both early season. Anglers fishing shrimp and worms at these prime areas are catching good number and good size ones. Fishing a small hook hi-lo rig is all you need.

One of a handful of reports came in from Karl Chen. He was recently fishing with Paul Karner and they caught their first fish of 2022. Karl said he caught three perch up to 15 inches on bloodworms.

Tuesday is the big dance!

The backwaters open on March 1st for Striped Bass & Winter Flounder. For winter flounder look around the Causeway Bridges. Usually the soft mud bottoms is where they are holding.

Striped bass are at the early season spots and waiting for all of us! Look towards the like the creeks, rivers and bays where the action turns on first.

There’s no better spring bait than bloodworms! Lethargic fish enjoy a tasty and easy to digest meal. Bloodworms is that perfect treat!

Saltwater Fishing Expo

The Saltwater Fishing Expo is March 18-20 at the NJ Convention & Exposition Center. On all of the days, there is a solid list of seminars from top fishing minds that you don’t want to miss. It’s a great opportunity to learn, hone your skills, explore new ideas and techniques. Best of all you can meet and network with other anglers.

The team from Fishermans Headquarters will be at 401 with a solid spread of fishing tackle. Be sure to stop by and say hello.

Unusual Crab Catch

Check out this albino crab catch by Jeremy Muerman. He shared, “I see a few a year with varying degrees of pigmentation. One claw is more common. It has been awhile since I’ve seen one with this much white. Two claws and two legs for this guy. It’s probably at least ten years since I’ve seen a full albino crab.”

NJ’s Offshore Wind Fiasco P1

Hopefully by now you’ve caught wind of the state/federal clean energy goals and the massive offshore wind projects. If you haven’t, now is the time to start paying attention to what’s taking place. These monumental decisions effect everyone in the state/region and beyond. On the surface offshore wind might sound like a dream but like everything in life when it sounds too good to be true… it’s too good to be true!

What started out with the 2010 ‘Smart From The Start’ initiative, things have really accelerated but not in the “smart” direction. Major regulatory changes, Task Forces (here’s the NJ Renewable Energy Task Force’s activity over the years) and executive orders (EO No8 directed NJBPU to implement Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, EO No79 established council on offshore wind “WIND Institute”, EO No92 raised goal from 3500MW by 2030 to 7500 by 2035) have amplified the expansion of offshore wind developments. Everything is and has been in high gear, seemingly reckless and rushed to meet these far out goals. However there is a very large gap between wishful (possibly delusional) political talk and physical reality.

Like it or not Gov. Murphy is offshore wind’s white knight of New Jersey with roots deep in the industry. His time at Goldman Sachs and term as US ambassador to Germany (2009-13) can shed light on his ties and the current ESG investors who are benefitting on the deals. His numerous executive orders have propelled offshore wind and have hog tied resistance from environmental activists and local communities. Nothing crippling activism more than his executive order in the summer of 2021 stripping coastal communities of their voice and power, allowing the NJBPU (Board of Public Utility) to override local government opposition to offshore wind. Photo: Seth Wenig

Offshore Wind Energy Areas In NJ

For perspective on the massive scale, which is arbitrarily concentrated inequitable in close proximity to New Jersey… As of January 2022, there’s more 500,000 aches of leased wind areas nearshore the central and south Jersey coastline; Atlantic Shore (OCS-A 0499: 183,353 acres) and Ocean Wind (OCS-A 0498: 160,480 acres). There is also Empire Wind (OCS-A 0512: 79,350 acres) in the Bight about 20 miles east of Sandy hook as well as a couple not far from Cape May, Skipjack & GSOE (OCS-A 0519; 26,332 acres & OCS-A 0482: 70,098 acres).

BOEM’s Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Leases Map Book

Later this month (February 2022) the next wind energy area auction will sell off six more lease areas totally than 480,000 acres in the New York Bight. These lease sites are shown in green.

On January 19th 2021, I attended the NY Bight Final Sale Notice Fisheries Stakeholder Meeting. [For anyone who has read this far you might care to] See these slides are basically the same as what was presented. And just like every other offshore wind energy meeting I’ve attended (and that is lots of them) the attendance was poor. Does no one care? Or does no one know?

Offshore Wind: Too Big, Too Fast

The theme of responsible offshore wind development is now run over by the threat of rapidly expansion. We currently face the risk of the largest ecological destruction of the century. Sadly the environmental community has turned a blind eye. Could the hush money (funding and non disclosure agreements) have something to do with their blurry vision, thinking and lack of voice?

It’s concerning that the poster children in the USA, Block Island Wind Farm, has painted a bad picture with a long list of failures.

There’s scientists working on important topics right. Would it not make sense to halt development until the works are completed? Also baseline studies must be complete. Unfortunately much of the reports from previous studies is either ignored or overlooked. This 2010 study outlines ecologically and environmentally sensitive areas along the south-central NJ coast and identifies conflicts.

This is NJ’s Offshore Wind Fiasco Part 1 and soon there will be additional parts that will dive into to the ocean, environment and more specifically fisheries. Then finally a part to outline topics concerning everyone; energy policy, economics and feasibility.

Stay Tuned For Part 2 Coming Soon

Centaur Jig-N-Pop Tuna Rods

Jigging and popping (casting) tuna is the most exciting way to experience New Jersey’s inshore & mid-shore pelagic fisheries. Our tuna fishing has been absolutely phenomenal the last few seasons and there’s no reason to expect otherwise heading into the 2022 season! Prepare now and be ready for the action.

Max from Fisherman's Headquarters fishes the Centaur Combat Arm jigging rod with the Shimano Twin Power 8000.
Max from Fisherman’s Headquarters fishes the Centaur Combat Arm jigging rod with the Shimano Twin Power 8000. He loves this set up for summertime jigging bluefin and yellowfin tuna on the mid-shore grounds. The outfit offers plenty of line capacity, powerful drag and gear and it’s light enough to fish all day.

Now I am by no means an expert on Tuna. On the contrary; with just about a dozen or so offshore trips under my belt. I’d very much consider myself a beginner in this realm. As someone who lacks experience, I have plenty of questions for the guys in the know. The most important of which is what equipment should I be using? I’d also like to help others in my position who need help getting into this awesome summer time fun fishery here in NJ. Below I will share some of the expert advice I’ve received from some of the fishiest folks I know.

@swagmattic – Matt Sorrentino, Author of Jigging & Popping Tuna 101

Centaur Angler’s Choice Rods

Jigging and Popping Tuna Rods are available from a number of different manufacturers. When looking for the right product, I’m choosing a company that puts serious thought and effort into construction, performance, quality control and most importantly, stands behind their products. Centaur Angler’s Choice is just that. They are not just a brand, but the manufacturer. They design, build and test their products locally for our fishery, in our fishery. All Centaur rods are made using high quality materials; most of which are sourced from Japan.

Jigging & Popping Tuna Rods from Centaur come in 3 levels and are designed to match New Jersey’s inshore and mid-shore pelagic fishery.

Best Entry Level Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Constellation Series Rods

The entry level Centaur Constellation is the best choice for beginners who just want to get their feet wet. At $189, this budget friendly rod will catch a lot of fish and definitely not break the bank. Constructed from high quality components these rods are built right and are super tough. They include FUJI Alconite guides, aluminum gimbles and custom reel seats, all features found on rods two and three times their price from other manufactures.

Ryan Duffy loves to fish the Centaur Constellation Jigging Rods which he has matches up with a Shimano Saragosa SW6000. This is an outfit Fishermans Headquarters put together for him to enjoy jigging tuna fish.
Ryan Duffy loves to fish the Centaur Constellation Jigging Rods which he has matches up with a Shimano Saragosa SW6000. This is an outfit Fishermans Headquarters put together for him to enjoy jigging tuna fish.

Best Mid Range Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Combat Arm Series Rods

The Centaur Combat Arm series lands middle of the road and features an upgraded double layer cross section Toray (more on this brand below) carbon blank. This technology offers increased power and increased deadlift capabilities which allow for heavier drag. The guides also have under wrappings to add extra strength and protection on those pressure points. All of this means the angler gets the added edge to fish harder. In addition all the Centaur fishing rods feature a beautiful hand painted epoxy clear coat finish. Which will protect the thread wrappings for long term durability.

The Centaur Combat Arm series of rods matches up well with a variety of reels from Penn, Shimano and Daiwa. In this photo angler Tyler Leary is stretched out tight on a nice size yellowfin tuna on a Penn Slammer reel.
The Centaur Combat Arm series of rods matches up well with a variety of reels from Penn, Shimano and Daiwa. In this photo angler Tyler Leary is stretched out tight on a nice size yellowfin tuna on a Penn Slammer reel.

Best Quality Tuna Rod For Jig & Pop

Centaur Chiron Series Rods

The Centaur Chiron is the top dog in this fight. It’s the most expensive for a reason. The Chiron Series offers anglers the best fishing rod from Centaur.

Fishing rods all start with the blank composition; graphite/carbon materials and the process in which it’s made.

The Chiron features Toray carbon fibers. Toray is the world’s largest and best supplier in advanced composite materials offering the highest performance carbon fibers for fishing rods. No compromise… the Chiron gets the best!

Here's the Centaur Chiron down and tight on a fish with angler Dan D.
Here’s the Centaur Chiron down and tight on a fish with angler Dan D.

The Chiron’s also have an added process which greatly improves the blank’s capabilities and reinforces its durability. Using a carbon ribbon outer wrapping, wrapped in X spiral pattern, an incredibly strong construction is created. This offers the ultimate in strength to weight ratio and most of all increased hoop strength, maximizing the deadlift capabilities and reducing torsional load.

The butt section is also strengthened to allow the angler to put even more pressure throughout the entire rod. This eliminates energy loss when lifting heavy loads helping you the angler better fight the fish especially in the end game!

Silicon Carbide (SIC) guides are the gold standard of guide ring material and have been for over 20 years. They are best suited for fast pulling species, heavy drag situations and big fish demands like painfully long battles. SIC is Fuji’s premier material handling high heat situations and offering unequalled hardness and polish. Its ability to prevent line abrasion is bar none.

When targeting tuna, do not under estimate the importance of top quality guides! If you can afford it always go with the rod that has the best guides. They greatly increase the longevity of your braided main line.

Centaur Angler’s Choice Jigging and Popping Tuna Rod Options

This spreadsheet outlines the rods from Centaur Angler’s Choice that we stock in the shop for Jigging and Popping Tuna.

The chart above lists the options for the Centaur Jigging and Popping Tuna Fishing Rods we stock at Fisherman’s Headquarters. The models are broken down simply. The number is the length. S for spinning and B for baitcasting/conventional. M for Medium, L for Light and UL for Ultralight. Don’t let those ratings fool you however, these are some seriously powerful rods.

Centaur Popping Rods

Who doesn’t want to see a tuna air out on a top water plug?!?! Nothing beats the exhilarating style of casting to tuna! Choosing the right rod for the size class and time of the year can make your experiences in this game way better!

Early season (May/June) we tend to see a good size class of bluefin and at this point in the season they are typically eating larger forage. It could be adult menhaden/bunker, mackerel, herring and/or hake. The Centaur 81 is the right call to fish larger lures to match the hatch.

As summer rolls in we start to see yellowfins in the mix with school bluefin feeding on the inshore lumps. It’s common for baits to begin to congregate there. The Centaur 79 is perfect for these roles casting smaller to medium size lures; poppers, stickbaits and/or plastics. This past season (summer ’21) the 81 came in handy as we had beautiful run of round yellowfin, commonly in the 50-70# class with the occasional much larger fish.

Casting lures to tuna is a ton of fun. Nothing beats watching a surface feed!

Late season (November/December) is cold and the weather gets gnarly but it can offer some of the year’s best fishing! The winter bite is known for having bluefin in the 40-65” class feeding heavily on baby hake, sandeel, sardines and butterfish! This time of year the fish can be skittish and commonly fast moving and and down. A stealthy approach with long casts is essential! Call on the Centaur 81 for this game, casting larger lures and it has the backbone needed to land these brutes.

Choosing the Right Reel For The Job

Pairing your rod with the right reel is huge. And I’ve talked to Fish Head’s shop tuna guru and Blue Runner Sportfishing mate Willie Davis (@epic_willi3) to get the low down on making the perfect combo.

Epic Willie recommends Shimano, “Fish the best quality that you can afford. There’s no better investment than the Shimano Stella and Shimano Twin Power for top of the line quality and performance. I depend on these reels and they always hold up.” Both Penn (Penn Slammer) and Daiwa (Daiwa BG MQ & Saltist MQ) also have options that produce results.

When choosing a reel two things you should consider is gearing and line capacity. Yes drag is important but now-a-days just about every reel has adequate drag.

Gearing: When jigging you want standard gearing or a reel with power gearing. When casting/popping a reel with high speed gearing is preferred.

Line Capacity: Depending on the target class fish you’ll want no less than 250yds of line, preferably 300-400yds.

Willie shares, “As far as reels for casting to tuna, the best options are the Shimano 14k and 18k reels because these have a higher gear ratio which offers a great quick line retrieval rate.” This allows the angler to pick line up much quicker to maintain contact with the lure. Remember you can’t hook a fish with slack line!

Also, the Centaur 77 and 79 matched up with a 10k reel is a great outfit for our local fishery’s demands.

Jigging Rods

These rods and this style does not call for a 14k or 18k size reel! Why? The retrieval speed is way too quick to properly work a jig! For a 53 or 52; 6k, 8k, 10k is the perfect size for the jigs and class of fish we see locally the majority of the time! For 51; a 20k is perfect for this big fish rod as it has a 220-400g jig rating.

The ideal conventional (baitcast model “B”) options are listed below.

51BM; Talica 16, Speed Master 16, Ocea Jigger 4000 – This is a BIG FISH rod and should be used when hunting 65″ and larger fish.

52BL; Avel MXL, Talica 12, Fathom 30/25ld, Speedmaster 12. In short this is a great all around rod for both Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna.

53BUL; Avet MXL/MXJ, Talica 12/10, Fathom 15ld, Speedmaster 12. This is the ideal choice for fishing the inshore to midshore grounds; ridges, lumps and wrecks.

Jigging Tuna Advice

Choosing a tuna jigging outfit is one thing. Knowing what to do with it is a whole ‘nother ball game. I reached out to Capt Justin Swanson of Just N’ Tyme Sportfishing for a few quick tips for Newbie Tuna Jigger Advice. Captain Justin is a mid-shore tuna specialist in central jersey. The majority of his trips feature new tuna anglers jigging and popping tuna for their very first time. He’s a captain who excels at teaching anglers how to catch fish properly.

Capt Justin Swanson; Just N Tyme Sportfishing

Here’s what he had to say:

  1. Once you drop the jig to the bottom it is time to find your jigging rhythm. Quickly lifting the rod tip about 12” and reel with a down stroke and as you return the rod lower, reel with an up stroke to always keep contact with the jig.
  2. Know where the fish are recording on the sonar and focus on that area of the water column or below.
  3. Mix up your speed.  Some days they want it very quick and other days they seem to prefer a slower lazy pace.  Sometimes they want the classic yo-yo style or a couple bounces on bottom. In other words change things up until you find what they want. 
  4. Set the hook with at least 2-3 forceful hook sets; these fish have hard jaws and it takes some extra effort to sink that hook in. 
  5. HOLD ON and keep steady pressure.  When the fish stops taking drag its your time to shine. Getting into a rhythm again here helps too to keep the fish coming up rather than the opposite. Focus on utilizing the power stroke of the rod and always cranking down to keep the line tight.
  6. Do not ever drop the tip! Do not high stick! Be cognizant especially when fatigue sets in!

Pro Tip: Angler mistakes happen with sloppy technique and when fatigue sets in. Take a look at the photo below of FishHead Greg (Capt. Greg Cudnik) to point out some key highlights as he fights the end game (close to the boat). First, take note of his stable wide stance with thighs agains the gunnels. Also his shoulders are over his hips. An angler should never get over the top, extended forward, stressing the lower back. Even though it’s late in the fight and his muscles are burning, leaning back in a hero stance is not the right thing to do at this point in the fight. The fish is doing its death circles and getting very close to gaffing. Greg has the rod under arm which offers two advantages. One, it utilizes the power stroke of the rod and also prevents a high stick event. Small lifts of the rod with quarter or half turns of the handle is all that’s needed to keep the line moving in his favor. When the rod is in a deep bend like this the blank’s strongest and most powerful section (the rear – butt) is engaged and utilized. Lifting high would incorrectly use the middle and upper portion which had mush less power. Two, this technique utilizes different muscles than the classic butt on thigh/gut stance, some of which are still fresh even late in the fight. Use these fundamental ideas to better battle our next tuna on light tackle!

Fish Head Greg is tight on the jig! Using the small yet powerful spinning reel like the one here, the Shimano Saragosa SW 8000, light tackle jigging is a super fun and effective way to target mid-shore tuna in the summer months off New Jersey.
Fish Head Greg is tight on the jig! Using the small yet powerful spinning reel like the one here, the Shimano Saragosa SW 8000, light tackle jigging is a super fun and effective way to target mid-shore tuna in the summer months off New Jersey.