Circle hooks are specially designed fishing hooks. As the name suggests they have a circular design. They are made to hook fish in the side of the mouth rather than somewhere deep that can cause a lot of damage. In some cases they may also lead to more hook ups. At the very least they can prevent deep gut hooking which can kill fish.
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Regular J-shaped hooks can be swallowed by fish and harm their internal organs. That is much less likely to happen with circle hooks. When the line is tightened the circle hook moves back towards the angler until the hook point catches on a surface like the corner of the mouth. Then it penetrates and stays there.
When to use a circle hook
Circle hooks are normally used when fishing for larger fish using live bait. So they are often seen on sliding sinker rigs, pole float rigs for catfish, and specialized rigs like the double hook slip sinker rig. They are also widely used in saltwater fishing. Most circle hooks are sold in larger sizes.
Circle hooks work especially well when teamed with baitfeeder reels like the Shimano Baitrunner D. These reels have a release switch on the back. When you flip the switch the line can freely feed off of the reel. When a fish takes the bait the line feeds out creating an audible sound. You then pick up the reel, flip the switch and start reeling. The fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth.
Although circle hooks are probably most well known for live bait rigs meant for big fish they can also be used in other situations. Some people use small circle hooks when fishing with trout with bait. Others use circle hooks on the terminal end when fishing beads for salmon.
How to use a circle hook
Circle hooks are of course hooks, but they are not hooks like any other. The main difference when fishing with circle hooks is that you simply reel in when a fish takes the bait. Normally when a fish bites anything from bait to a fly you set the hook. In other words you strike so that the hook point penetrates the fish. But if you try to set a circle hook you will usually just end up ripping it right out of a fish’s mouth. So when fishing with circle hooks you do not set the hook.
Instead you simply tighten the line and start to reel in. The pressure this creates is alone enough to get the hook stuck in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Then you can begin to fight the fish as you normally would. Since setting the hook can become almost instinctual for anglers this is something that has to be remembered when using circle hooks.
When you get the fish in you will normally see the circle hook stuck right in the corner of the fish’s mouth. There it is easy to find and remove. And it does a lot less harm to the fish than it would if you hooked the fish deeper. That is basically all there is to fishing with a circle hook. Used in the right situation they can improve your angling success.