Better Fish Circle Hooks For Striped Bass

Here’s Part 3 of a three part blog series to help you Better Fish Circle Hooks! Read the first two parts for more information on many the fundamentals include defining and confirming inline circle hooks, hook terminology, characteristics and most importantly choosing the best inline circle hook for striped bass fishing.

Part 1Circle Hooks & Striped Bass

Part 2Fishing For Striped Bass With Circle Hooks

Baiting Up Matters!

There are a variety of great ways to hook live baits on circle hooks and there is a wrong way. Do not choke the hook gap! Let me repeat. Never block or obstruct the hook’s gap! 

Top Five Natural Baits & Matching Hook Sizes For Striped Bass:

When riggin up to bait fish striped bass the angler must ask. What bait is going to be used and how big is the bait?

This photo demonstrates a circle hook’s text book workings, a corner of the mouth hook set! On May 8th Team Fish Heads Paulie caught this 42″ striped bass of the LBI surf on fresh clam. Due to the regulations this fish was over the 38″ maximum slot limit size so it had to be release. Fortunately Paul was following the rules and fishing bait with an inline circle hook. In this case the hook was a OWNER. The fish was properly hooked, caught and safely released with no damage to the fish.

Tips For Fishing Circle Hooks

Have you tried a circle hook before? Have you had good or bad experiences? When approached and fished properly circle hooks offer anglers no downside. With these tips you will better your results and just might fall in love with them.

  • Do Not Fill The Hook Gap! – The more exposed the hook the better. Too much bait on the hook obstructs the hooks ability to find the jaw. When using larger baits some anglers prefer to bridle baits with the entire hook outside of the bait. Keeping the hook free and exposed is a key part of effectively fishing circle hooks.

For best results anglers must fish circle hooks differently than a traditional j-hook.

  • With A J-hook – An angler detects a bite and then uses the rod to make a fast and powerful hook set to drive the hook point past the barb. This might be in the fish’s face, lip/jaw, mouth, throat or worse esophagus. This traditional hook set when using circle hooks is a bad tendency.
  • With A Circle Hook – An angler detects a bite but must be patiently aware. Commonly pointing the rod at the fish, anglers wait 3-5 seconds before slowly tightening the line and applying firm pressure. This is to allow the fish to first take/eat the bait/hook and then turn with it. As the fish moves, swims away, the hook finds the corner of the mouth (jaw) and then comes tight. Most of the time when swallowed a circle hook slips out of the esophagus safely and perfectly finds the jaw. This is the magic of circle hooks!
  • Do Not Set The Hook! – Circle hooks set themselves. Attempting to set the hook (like a j-hook) will result in pulled hooks and lost fish.
    • Crank – Don’t Yank!
    • Once Tight – Begin The Fight! 

Lever drag conventional reels and spinning reels with a secondary free spool drag (Penn Live Liners, Shimano Baitrunners) are great for fishing circle hooks. They make it very easy for an angler to patiently drop back to a fish.

This tuna ate a livebait and the circle hook work perfectly! The photo shows the hook set right in the corner of the mouth.

For anglers looking to broaden their horizons and have some tricks when situations call for it, here are some hooking options more specifically for live bait fishing with bunker, herring, mullet, spot, etc. 

Common Hooking Options:

  • Across The Nostrils: The nose is one of the best locations for most situations so long as baits are good quality and conditions allow. It allows for live baits to swim and breath freely when drift fishing with a minimally invasive hooking. When bites occur the bait rips off easily so it does not impede the effectiveness of the hook. However if baits rip off too easily try other options.
  • Hook Up Through Both Lips: Great hook holding power that’s effective for head hits but chokes and kills baits fast. Good with a cast and retrieve approach.
  • Hook In & Through Roof of Mouth – Great hook holding power that is good for casting and slowly retrieving. Must hook with care so the bait is not killed prematurely. Can’t be used in heavy current as the flow opens the bait’s mouth and floods with water killing the bait and making it spin.This hooking is very similar to hook in and through the cheek.
  • In The Back By Dorsal – A very popular choice which keeps the bait upright for live lining and kite fishing. Some anglers choose to hook at different locations of the back; ⅓ front, ½ middle or ⅓ rear depending on the baits, conditions and way fish are eating. This hooking option is the easiest to “overhook” and take up too much of the hook’s bend and gap. Be cognizant!
  • Underside Breast (Under/Behind Gills) – A very underutilized location that offers good hook holding and also commonly helps get the stubborn bait to swim down. This hooking location allows for the hook to still be in the front portion of the bait but set back from the nose therefore helps when fish are short striking. Yes it kills a bait faster but usually a bite comes sooner. 
  • Hook Near Anal Vent Or At the Tail – One of, if not the toughest spots with little risk at killing the bait. This hooking usually gets baits to swim away but commonly keeps the bait at or near the surface. Improves hook ups on short strike tail bites. When utilizing this hooking location/option be aware that the bait’s tail kicks will send pulses and this can mask light touches from skittish fish. Also be aware live bait will need to be given line consistently so it can swim and not be killed by being pulled backwards in the water.
  • Edge of Collar (behind the gill and out through the side): Good for lively yet soft baits. I’ve found this option to be very good on calm days when I want my baits to get away from the boat and swim off to the side. This also keeps the baits swimming shallow.
  • Bridal – Best hook freedom and for large baits but adds rigging time. Great for trolling.

My favorite all purpose circle hook for striped bass fishing is the Mustad 39944. This series of hooks is called the Mustad Demond Inline Perfect Circle and that is exactly what I like to call them, the perfect circle. They have a good shape with a slightly shorter shank and a nice curved bend that hooks well, holds well. Even though they aren’t forged, the round wire hooks are strong enough and their needle point is sharp enough too. Moreover it’s available in a full size range from #4 to 10/0 and available in 50 piece packs so it’s convenient for me. They are a much better price than a lot of the other hook options too.

Author: FishHead.Greg

A Long Beach Island native with life long experience fishing and navigating the local waters, Greg is a distinguished Master Captain (the highest qualified operator license), holding a US Coast Guard Masters 50T Near Coastal License with Towing Endorsement. Raised in and now managing his family's bait and tackle business, Fishermans Headquarters (Since 1962, The Saltwater Fishing Bait & Tackle Experts) Greg is daily immersed in fishing. He is the Chief Contributor of (Long Beach Island's best fishing report blog) as well as the Admin for the shop's social media pages (on Instagram and Facebook). Be sure to follow!

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