Sea fishing hooks are of crucial importance as they are the only item of tackle which is in direct contact with the fish anglers are aiming to catch. While there is a seemingly bewildering range of hooks on the market modern manufacturing processes which are used today, such as chemical sharpening, mean that even moderately priced sea fishing hooks are very good quality. Despite the vast array of fishing hooks which are on offer anglers only need a relatively small selection of hooks to cover all angling situations they will come across when targeting species around the British Isles. The sizing of fishing hooks can also be an issue which confuses those new to angling, although as we will see the system for designating different sizes to different hooks is relatively simple.
Features of a Hook
Gauge: The gauge of a fishing hook refers to the thickness of the wire the hook is made from. Heavy, robust hooks for catching big fish will have a thick gauge, whereas light hooks for small species will have a much thinner gauge. Thick, heavy gauge hooks are stronger, and less likely to bend or break when fighting a large fish, but thinner gauge hooks will cause much less damage to baits and will lead to better bait presentation.
Offset: Hooks which are offset have a point which is twisted to the side, so it no longer runs parallel to the shank. If the point goes to the left it is classed as Kirbed (or Kirbied), and if it goes to the right it is reversed. The reason for offsetting a hook is that it is more likely to pull into the mouth of the fish when the angler strikes and therefore provide a strong hookhold.
Eye: The eye of the hook is simply the circle at the end of the hook which the angler ties the line to. Smaller eyes mean that less damage will be done to the bait as it is threaded over the hook and up the line (worm baits in particular can be badly damaged by hooks with large eyes). However, larger hooks for big fish may have larger eyes so that stronger, thicker line can be used with them. Some fishing hooks have turned up or turned down eyes. This changes the way in which the hook moves when the angler strikes and can increase the chances of getting a good hook hold.
Gape and Throat: The gape is the gap between the point and the shank. Larger gape hooks are often used by anglers using bulky baits as they have enough space to accommodate the bait without obscuring the point of the hook. The throat of the hook is the space between a line drawn from the point to the bend.
Shank: The shank of a hook is the main length of the hook which runs from the eye to the bend. Hooks can have shanks of varying length, with circle hooks having a short shank and Aberdeen pattern hooks having a relatively long shank. Some hooks have extra-long shanks and these can be useful for removing from species of fish with small mouths, such as flatfish.
Point: The point of the hook is the most important part as this will penetrate the mouth of the fish and provide a hook hold to reel the fish in. Modern chemically sharpened hooks have very sharp points indeed, although anglers do need to check that hooks have not become blunted through use (i.e. when being dragged over rocks or sand). Some anglers take a sharpening stone fishing with them, so that they can quickly re-sharpen hooks which have become blunted during the course of a fishing session.
Barb: The barb of the hook is essentially a notch cut at the end of the point. The purpose of a barb is to stop the hook from sliding out of the mouth of the fish once it is hooked. Obviously, the larger the barb the better it will hold a fish, but the more damage it will cause when it is removed. In these days of catch and release fishing some anglers use barbless hooks, or crush the barb of standard hooks with a pair of pliers to remove it.
Hook sizes seem complicated, with confusion existing because freshwater hooks and sea hooks use the same scale. The system starts with hooks that are sized 24, which are the smallest freshwater hooks, and go up in size (in even numbers only) until size 1 is reached, which is the largest freshwater hook. After this we move into the sea fishing scale which add a /0 to the size and range from 1/0 to 12/0. Although this can seem confusing the scale below shows how simple the system actually is.
Further confusion exists because the freshwater/sea fishing divide is obviously not set in stone. Sea anglers will often use hooks size 1 or smaller when targeting small fish, and anglers specialising in catching species such as mullet will go down to hook sizes as small as an 6 or 8. Anglers taking part in LRF (Light Rock Fishing) may go even smaller still, with hooks right down into the freshwater sizes of 10 – 18 used. At the other end of the scale anglers searching for a big cod will usually use hooks sized 4/0 – 6/0, while targeting the largest shore species such as conger eels or tope could see anglers using hooks sized 8/0 or even bigger. The table below gives a general idea of which species should be matched to which hook sizes.
Using the correct hook size is very important. Using a hook which is too large will see bites missed as a fish will be unable to fit the baited hook into its mouth. Using too small a hook will also bring a number of problems: bites may be missed as striking will not see the hook point driven into the mouth of the fish or the hook may bend, snap or otherwise fail if it is not big and strong enough to handle a large fish. Furthermore, using hooks which are too small may also see fish becoming gut-hooked, which makes catch and release fishing impossible. Remember, whatever hook size or pattern is chosen anglers should always ensure that the point of the hook is clearly exposed so that it is able to pierce the mouth of the fish and provide a secure hook-hold to reel the fish in. Hook points buried deep within a bait lead to missed bites and lost fish.
Hook Pattern and Use
The design of a hook is referred to as a pattern in sea fishing. There are many, many different patterns available with some of the most popular are Aberdeen (a relatively fine gauge hook ideal for general fishing), Baitholder (a pattern with additional barbs on the shank to stop baits sliding down and obscuring the point) and O’Shaughnessy (a strong thick gauge hook). Many big name manufacturers also make their own patterns of hook, such as Mustad who make the Viking pattern. This hook was originally designed for uptide (boat) fishing, but is strength and durability mean that it is now extremely popular with anglers fishing from the shore. Other manufacturers such as Kamasan make their own versions of classic designs, such as the Kamasan B940 Aberdeen hook which is a very popular all round sea fishing hook with British anglers.
Circle Hooks: The last few years have seen circle hooks become increasingly popular in the UK, although most anglers still use the traditional J-shaped hooks. With circle hooks there is no need to strike in the usual way. Instead, the angler just needs to reel in normally and the hook will be pulled into the corner of the fishes mouth and lip hook the fish. Alternatively, fish often hook themselves on circle hooks by taking a bait and then swimming away with it in their mouth, causing the hook to slide to the edge of the fishes mouth and hook itself there. Commercial long-lines which leave thousands of hooks unattended in the sea for 24-hours or longer have used circle hooks for decades due to the self-hooking ability. An additional advantage of circle hooks is that they almost always lip hook fish – perfect in these days of catch and release fishing. Circle hooks are massively popular in the USA and parts of Europe, and while they have increased in popularity in the UK anglers using them are still in the minority, with some angers pointing to the difficulty in presenting worm baits on them as a reason why they have not fully caught on.
Pennell Hooks: Bigger baits also benefit from being presented in a pennell configuration. This is not a pattern of hooks as such, but rather it refers to one hook being presented behind another. Pennell rigs are a classic way of presenting baits for cod, with a full whole squid a favoured bait to use with pennell hooks, but many other baits, particularly cocktail combination baits, can benefit from being presented on pennell hooks. The advantage of a pennell set up is that there is a hook at either end of the bait, so no matter where a fish picks a bait up from it is going to get hooked. Some anglers use two hooks of the same size, while others prefer the second hook to be of a smaller size.
Treble Hooks: Treble hooks are not used for bait fishing but are instead attached to lures. Spinners will usually have a single treble hook attached, while sea fishing plugs can have as many as three treble hooks. As treble hooks obviously have three points they can be extremely effective at providing a strong hook hold on any fish which take the lure, although they can also cause a lot of damage to fish due to the multiple points. For this reason many anglers either use barbless treble hooks or crush the barbs of treble hooks to make them easier to remove from any fish which are caught. Weedless treble hooks are also available. These feature a metal guard over the points which prevents the points becoming caught or snagged in weed, allowing anglers to fish heavily weeded area for bass or pollock without losing lures. The vast majority of treble hooks used in UK sea fishing are size 2, 4 or 6.
Suggestions for Sea Fishing Hooks
Most anglers build up a selection of hooks so that they have all angling situations covered and can make rigs for a whole range of situations. The suggestions below are clickable and link to either Sea Angling Shop or Amazon where the hooks can be viewed and purchased.
Small Hooks: When fishing over light ground for species such as plaice or flounder many anglers choose smaller hooks in a fine wire pattern which allows the best possible bait presentation. A cheap but still high quality small hook is the Cronus Black Aberdeen Hooks, which are available in sizes down to size 6.
General Sea Fishing Hooks: Size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks are ideal for general sea fishing where a range of species could be encountered. These hooks are small enough so that 1lb fish can be successfully caught, but they are also strong enough to handle larger cod, bass or pollock. Kamasan B940 Aberdeen Hooks are an excellent all-round choice, while the previously mentioned Cronus Black Aberdeen Hooks in sizes 1/0 or 2/0 would again be a good cheaper option here. An alternative is the Kamasan B950u Uptide Hooks. These are excellent, strong all-round hooks, available in sizes 1/0 to 4/0 in convenient packets.
Larger Hooks: Moving up the size and strength scale the Mustad Viking 79515 is a very strong pattern of hook which can more than handle rays, big cod or hard fighting pollock in sizes 3/0 and 4/0. An alternative is the reasonably priced Cronus O’Shaughnessy Hooks which is a strong, heavy wire hook, available in sizes 1/0 to 6/0. For the largest fish Sakuma Manta 545 Extra are available in sizes 6/0 – 8/0, although many anglers use this pattern of hooks in smaller sizes for general sea fishing.
Circle Hooks: Anglers looking to try continental-style circle hooks could try Angling Works Circle Hooks which are available in sizes 1, 1/0, 2/0 and 3/0. These hooks offer self-hooking properties and feature a strong hi-carbon construction. Sold in packets of ten.
Baitholder Hooks: As stated baitholder hooks have barbs on the shank which keep the bait in place and prevent it from sagging down and preventing the point of the hook. Have a look at Cronus Baitholder Hooks which are available in sizes 4 to 4/0 by clicking here.
Treble Hooks: Bronzed treble hooks which can be fitted to lures and spinners can be purchased from Amazon in various sizes by clicking here.
Sea Angling Shop Complete Hook Set: Sea Angling Shop have created a hook selection which contains seventy hooks, all provided in a convenient clip-shut box. Hooks are provided in sizes 4 – 4/0 and include Abderdeen, O’Shaughnessy, Baitholder and Circle hook patterns. This set provides all of the hooks anglers need to cover all of the different sea fishing situations, whether it is using small hooks to target dab and pouting or large hooks to catch cod or big bass. The set costs only £7.49 and can be viewed by clicking here.