The fishing hook was once listed in the Forbes top 20 tools in the history of man. Nicky Sinden looks at its design and evolution
One of the earliest tools made by man, archaeologists have found fishing hooks in Palestine dating as far back as 7000BC, and one find in East Timor could be 23000 years old. Made from materials as diverse as wood, shell, stone and bronze, the Maori often used hollow bird bones due to their light-weight and flexibility. By the 17th Century, in Europe, steel hooks made by specialists were in common use.
These days, there is a vast array of modern designs on the market, each working in subtly different ways. Whether you’re after a bait hook, a fly hook or a lure hook, there are certain characteristics every angler should understand so they can choose a hook fit for purpose.
There are three main types of hook, based on the number of points they have: the single, the double and the treble hook. All are relatively common and found in most comprehensive tackle stores.
Hook sizes are yet to be standardised, and often differ between manufacturers. As a rule, the advertised size refers to the width of the gape.
The sizes are broken down into two numbering sets. The first refers to smaller hooks, with ‘size 1’ being the largest, descending down to ‘size 32’. In the other direction, the size increase is referred to as ‘aught fractions’, and is written with a backslash zero, from 1/0 all the way up to 20/0.
Other size indicators include the length of the shank; described as short, standard, extra long, 2XL etc., and the weight of the wire; described as fine, heavy, extra heavy etc. It is feasible a hook could be small yet heavy, or long but light, depending on the job you need it to do.
The materials used to make hooks have varied over the centuries, but modern hooks are usually made from high-carbon steel, a steel alloy or stainless steel. Alloy hooks tend to be lighter and less likely to corrode. Carbon-steel hooks are the most durable and flexible, while their stainless steel cousins are strong but brittle. Ideally you want your hook to have a little bit of flex so it doesn’t break, but not so much it bends out of shape.
Hooks are often coated to prevent rusting. Using a higher carbon blend with a light coating is probably better for the fish as they rust quickly and often fall out of a fish after a few days in the water. On the flipside if you get saltwater in your tackle box, that’s the end of your hooks.
Top tip: Feel the point
Before deploying any bait, I will check the sharpness of a hook against the top of my fingernail. With the lightest pressure it should scratch a line into the nail.
Many modern hooks are chemically sharpened; they’re dipped in acid to shave down the metal giving it the sharpest possible point. The problem here is that chemically treated hooks cannot usually be manually sharpened.
Common hook styles
Hooks come is a vast array of shapes and styles. Understanding the function of each pattern helps greatly with hook selection.
Mustad is the world's biggest seller of hooks with a truly vast range. Here are a few recreational patterns for various uses -
A modern chemically sharpened version of the classic recurved or circle hook, the Mustad Demon is ideal on deeper water ledger rigs and some light-gauge livebaiting applications.
MUSTAD BIG RED
The classic suicide style Mustad's Big Red is a strayline fisherman's favourite. While great for rigging baits like whole pilchards it will gut hook some fish so swap to the Demon style if too many small fish in the area.
MUSTAD LONG RED
While long shank hook styles like the Mustad Long Red are often considered a bit old-school, the Editor likes to straighten the offset bend with pliers and use them in octopus skirts to catch skipjack tuna.
The small Mustad Kirby style is perfect for catching bait like piper and Jack mackerel on small baits. Anyone who has fished with a top northern or Whakatane-based charter captain will have used them to catch blue koheru.
A classic competition style livebait hook the Mustad Hoodlum is built strong to handle hard fights with kingfish and tuna.
Anatomy of a fish hook
Almost all modern hooks have an eye, a shank, a bend, a gape, a throat and a point.
The eye: The shape of the eye on the hook can suggest how the hook should be tied to a leader. For example, straight-eyed hooks are best matched with a uni knot, which allows the hook to hang naturally in line with the main line. Angled or offset eyes are often attached to the leader via a snell or snood knot, which pushes the hook point into its optimal alignment under tension.
The shank: The shank of the hook is between the eye and the bend. They can be straight, bent, curved or humped depending on the fishing style favoured by the angler. As a rule, the shape of the shank defines how the hook should be dressed. For example, a straight shank might be bound with feathers as a fly hook or used in a towable lure. A humped shank suits an artificial worm, and a curved shank is commonly used with an ordinary cut bait.
The bend: The bend of a hook tends to be the most obvious visual cue as to the ideal use of a hook. For example, in gamefishing, hooks with a nice symmetrical bend tend to be best used in lures whereas those with a highly asymmetrical bend ending in a hook point which points more toward the shank than parallel to the shank are considered recurved or circle hooks and excellent for livebaiting.
The gape: The gape of the hook is the distance between to point of the hook and the shank. Ideally, it should be large enough to get around the jaw bone of the fish.
The bite: The distance between the point of the hook and the back of the hooks bend.
The point: Most hooks have a barb, which helps prevent the point from falling out of a hooked fish. If you’re intending to release your catch, it is worth flattening the barb with a pair of strong pliers. Hook points have many variations including needle, hollow, curved in and knife. Needle and hollow point hooks offer little resistance, slicing through the fish. The knifepoint has triangular shaped edges that help penetrate with a slicing motion.
The curved hook point rolls inward towards the shank, and is very hard for a fish to take out. An offset point is angled slightly to the side. This makes it easier to score a fish, but increases the chances of fatally injuring your catch.
The shape of things
The subtly different shapes of hooks have important implications for the angler.
The J hook: The most familiarly shaped hook in the recreational fishing segment, the shape of this hook means that when the fish bites it is up to the angler to set the hook in the fish’s mouth by ‘striking’. Where the hook will end up placing itself in the fish is anyone’s guess. Variables usually are in the gut cavity, throat and the mouth of the fish. The J hook tends to cause trauma to the fish so if you are planning to release then this hook is not the most suitable.
The Circle hook: Also called recurved hooks, are designed so that the point of the hook curves back toward the hook shank. The circle hook will only catch on something if it can fit between the gape in the point and the shank – like the corner of the fish’s mouth or jaw.
When the fish swallows your baited hook, tension on the line from the fish swimming away will pull the hook out of the fish’s throat. As this happens the hook will roll around into the corner of the fish’s mouth or jaw making for an easy and sustainably released catch with a much higher chance of survival.
Another advantage of using a Circle hook is that you do not need to strike. It is considered a self setting hook due to the shape of the hook and striking would essentially pull the hook out of the mouth of the fish. In most cases the angler can wait for the fish to hook itself and then will put gentle pressure on it and begin winding.