In 1999, Rudy Lukacovic, a biologist with the Maryland DNR, noted that, of 640 striped bass caught with circle hooks, 96.6% of the fish were hooked in the mouth with a mortality rate of 0.8%. In comparison, he noted that, of 476 striped bass hooked with J hooks, 82.8% were hooked in the mouth with a mortality rate of 9.1%. When fish are deep-hooked, the chances for internal injuries increase. Numerous studies with a variety of species have shown that the location of the hook wound is the single most important factor influencing the survival of released fish. If the wound site is a vital organ, the mortality, as expected, is high.
Circle hooks increase the likelihood of lip-hooking. The actual curved shape of the hook keeps it from catching in the gut cavity or throat. After the fish swallows the hook, light pressure pulls the hook toward mouth. The unique hook shape causes the hook to slide towards the point of resistance and embed itself in the jaw or in the corner of the mouth. The secret to using circle hooks is to let the fish take the bait and resist the urge to set the hook by pulling back on the rod. Circle hooks work well with slower action rods that allow fish to pull against the rod without ejecting the bait.
Circle hooks are effective when pursuing fish that engulf their prey; hook-ups require that the hook be fully within the fish's mouth. When selecting a circle hook, it is important to select a hook that does not have an offset. Offset circle hooks have a tendency to hook fish deeply when they are swallowed.
Why it is important to the fish: When anglers release fish, they should be in viable condition. We practice catch and release fishing to sustain and improve our fisheries; releasing the fish to live and fight another day is an important cornerstone of the catch and release ethic. Circle hooks increase the likelihood of lip hooking and, thereby, reduce the mortality rate of released fish. They provide additional tool that the catch and release angler can use to efficiently return fish back into the wild with minimal injuries.
For more Stewardship Tips visit www.RecycledFish.org