TAC­TICS + TACKLE

TACKLE MOD­I­FI­CA­TIONS THAT BOOST YOUR HOOKUPS

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - Ge­orge Poveromo Land­ing more fish is as easy as swap­ping hooks on your fa­vorite lure.

It seem­ingly goes against the grain. Can a cir­cle hook af­fixed to a cast­ing, topwater or sub­sur­face lure bol­ster suc­cess­ful hookups? When fish­ing with tra­di­tional cast­ing lures, we rear back dur­ing the strike to set tre­ble- or J-style hooks.

There­fore, it’s only log­i­cal that a cast­ing lure rigged with a cir­cle hook should come fly­ing back to us un­der the same treat­ment. But, as you’re about to dis­cover, that’s not nec­es­sar­ily so.

Capt. Bouncer Smith has been catch­ing Mi­ami Beach tar­pon for more than 50 years. A strong con­ser­va­tion ad­vo­cate, Smith has re­fined his meth­ods and rigs to in­flict min­i­mal harm to tar­pon and other game fish. And his lat­est in­no­va­tion is a head-turner.

Given the vast pop­u­la­tion of tar­pon win­ter­ing in Mi­ami, Smith pro­motes lure fish­ing when con­di­tions per­mit. To make it less harm­ful to the fish and less danger­ous to the per­son re­mov­ing the lure, he ex­per­i­mented with cir­cle hooks paired to sur­face plugs and also jigs. With the for­mer, nearly all the fish were jaw- or lip-hooked, and his clients’ catch ra­tios soared.

“The hookup ra­tios of plugs went from be­tween 10 and 30 per­cent with stock hooks to 80 per­cent with a cir­cle hook,” Smith says, “and a tar­pon, — or any other fish for that mat­ter — can’t shake a wellplanted cir­cle hook.”

KU­DOS TO MOLA

An ear­lier pi­o­neer of re­plac­ing stock hooks with cir­cle hooks on lures is Rick Mola of Fish­er­man’s World in Nor­walk, Con­necti­cut. Nearly two decades ago, seek­ing to min­i­mize the throat- and gut-hook­ing of striped bass and blue­fish on di­a­mond jigs, Mola re­placed the stock tre­ble hook with a sin­gle cir­cle hook. He ex­pe­ri­enced a nearly per­fect hookup-to-catch ra­tio on his first out­ing be­cause the bass and blues couldn’t shake the cir­cle hooks, which, iron­i­cally, had set in their jaws and lips. I wit­nessed this first­hand while shoot­ing a tele­vi­sion episode with Mola soon af­ter, and we cov­ered it in Salt Water Sports­man. Since the Mola ex­per­i­ment, nu­mer­ous coastal an­glers jumped on this band­wagon and con­tinue to en­hance their hookup ra­tios with striped bass, blue­fish, mack­erel and tuna by us­ing di­a­mond- and flut­ter-style irons rigged with cir­cle hooks.

VARI­A­TION OF THE CIR­CLE JIG

Back down Mi­ami way, Smith of­ten drifts live shrimp and crabs on cir­cle hooks for tar­pon, per­mit and snook in in­lets and passes. If some weight is de­sired to bring a bait deeper, he pig­gy­backs a jig to the cir­cle hook. “I have a cir­cle hook sized to the bait,” says Smith. “Now, if I want a bait to go deeper, I’ll take a jig the likes of a Hank Brown Hookup and se­cure it tightly to the out­side bend of the cir­cle hook with half hitches of 50 or 70 waxed thread. The di­rec­tions for se­cur­ing (out­lined above) are the same as with a plug; only dif­fer­ence here is that you’re first se­cur­ing the thread to the eye of the jig, then us­ing half hitches to fas­ten it to the cir­cle hook. The com­pan­ion jig serves no pur­pose other than to add bal­last. You can leave its hook in­tact or cut it off.”

The cir­cle-hook/jig combo for tar­pon has roots go­ing way back to Louisiana,

JIG AND LIVE-CRAB VARI­A­TION: Fit­ting a cir­cle-hooked crab with a jig head pro­vides ex­tra weight and an ad­di­tional hook.

with the fa­bled Coon Pop. Once a tar­pon was hooked, the heavy jig was rigged to break away and not in­ter­fere with the fight. Its neg­a­tives: an­other heavy jig gone and more lead on the ocean floor. Smith’s method is a bit cleaner be­cause his jig usu­ally re­mains at­tached to the hook.

BACK TO THE TOP

For topwater tar­pon, Smith has re­fined two lures: Ra­pala’s Skit­ter Walk and the new Coastal Series Twitchin’ Mul­let 8, a slow-sink­ing, sub­sur­face bait; though he says just about any plug works with proper tweak­ing.

The ini­tial step is to match the size of an in-line cir­cle hook to the tar­get fish. In Smith’s case, it’s a 7/0 VMC lightwire cir­cle. Next, he ad­vises cut­ting off around 16 inches of ei­ther 50 or 70 waxed thread, cen­ter­ing that strand through the lure-eye ring and ty­ing an over­hand knot to se­cure; about 8 inches of thread should be ex­posed on both sides. Take one strand and tie six half hitches around the bend of the cir­cle hook to­ward its hook eye. With the re­main­ing strand, tie six half hitches around the bend of the hook to­ward its point and trim the ex­cess. That se­cures the cir­cle hook to the lure-eye ring.

FINE-TUN­ING AND BAL­LAST

Some fine-tun­ing may be re­quired to main­tain nat­u­ral lure ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, Smith says ev­ery lure de­sign has its own is­sues, and some per­form best by leav­ing their stock hooks in place. “The stock hooks some­time bal­ance out a lure af­ter a cir­cle hook is added to the nose,” says Smith. “To keep such a lure from nose­div­ing and up­set­ting its ac­tion, just leave the stock hooks alone. They shouldn’t in­ter­fere with any­thing. If you’re con­cerned over them, just clip off the hook points and leave the shanks for bal­last.”

HOOK-SETS

Though there’s a marked dif­fer­ence be­tween cast­ing lures and jigs, the one con­stant is the proper hook-set. It’s a dis­ci­pline which must be mas­tered with cir­cle-hook mod­i­fi­ca­tions. On the strike, whether with the iron or topwater, do not rear back; the cir­cle hook will not likely set. Rather, hold the rod in place dur­ing the strike, and wind rapidly un­til you gain line and the fish moves off. At this point, the cir­cle hook should be set, and a nor­mal fight­ing style can be re­sumed.

Smith says the cir­cle-hook ad­di­tion works well on top­wa­ters, swim­ming plugs, spoons and buck­tails, and it’s a proven and pop­u­lar mod­i­fi­ca­tion for di­a­mond- and flut­ter-style jigs, and even tra­di­tional deep jigs.

Want to in­crease hookup ra­tios while pos­ing less harm to fish? Try the cir­cle­hook mod­i­fi­ca­tion. It’s a win-win for both an­glers and con­ser­va­tion.

TOPWATER-PLUG MOD­I­FI­CA­TION

Orig­i­nal hook points may be clipped if the shanks are needed to main­tain proper lure ac­tion. Oth­er­wise, re­move orig­i­nal hooks.

FLUT­TER-JIG MOD­I­FI­CA­TION:

Swap­ping hooks on a flut­ter or di­a­mond jig is eas­ier. Use a split ring to af­fix a reg­u­lar cir­cle hook, or one that comes with a swivel.

LURE MODS: Cir­cle-hook swapouts of­ten im­prove the hookup rate with a range of baits and ar­ti­fi­cials.

At­tach a split ring to cir­cle hook or swivel

Floss through lure eye; lock in place with over­hand knot Match cir­cle-hook size to tar­get species

Re­move orig­i­nal hooks, or leave ’em for bal­ance and clip off points

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