Photo: Doug Stamm

Photo: Doug Stamm

There are a zillion different types and sizes of fishing hooks out there, from J hooks to circles to trebles. How are you supposed to know which one to choose in any given situation? And how do you best judge the proper size of hook to use? Listen up, anglers — here's everything you need to know about hooks.

Hook Terminology

All hooks have some common components, and we need to make sure everyone knows exactly what they are. The point is the sharp part that (hopefully) penetrates a fish's jaw. The barb is a thin sliver of metal that arcs out behind the point to prevent the point from slipping free after it's done the piercing. The bend is the curved part of the hook. The shank is the long part of the hook leading up to the eye, the part to which you tie your fishing line. And the gap is the space between the point and the shank.

Hook Terminology Diagram

Hook Types

The Circle Hook

Instead of having a relatively straight point and shank, the circle hook is shaped more or less like a circle. The goal of using circles is to hook fish in the jaw more often and gut-hook the fish less often. Most of the time, circle hooks do end up lodged in the corner of the fish's jaw. As a result, many catch-and-release anglers like using circle hooks.

Using circle hooks effectively takes some practice. The toughest part? Training yourself NOT to set the hook. When you feel a fish strike, jerking back on the line is an instinctual reaction. Unfortunately, with a circle hook, it also means that you'll usually jerk the hook right out of the fish's mouth. To be successful with circles, however, you need to allow the fish to eat the bait, then slowly apply pressure while the curved point finds its way to the corner of the fish's jaw.

They only work, however, when a fish actually takes a bait and attempts to eat it rather than merely smashing it in a fast attack. As a result, their application is limited mostly to bait, and it's very unusual to see circle hooks on lures.

The Circle Hook

The Treble Hook

Trebles have one eye and a shank that splits off into three separate bends and points. They're most commonly seen on lures which may be struck from any direction — with three points waiting, at least one will usually be in the proper position to snag the fish. Some people also use them when fishing with bait.

Trebles are quite effective, but they're also a bit more dangerous than regular hooks. Many lures have two sets of trebles, one aft and one forward. A striking fish usually finds just one of these. And when it comes aboard kicking and flipping, the second set of trebles can easily end up in a seat cushion, a jacket, or a body part.

Trebles are also terribly destructive to the fish. As they thrash, the multiple points commonly rip free and then get stuck again. Two or more points may get stuck in the fish's throat or mouth, making removal quite difficult. And sometimes, one of the points will snag the roof of the fish's mouth while another snags the bottom jaw, making it virtually impossible to remove either without doing serious damage to the fish. For this reason, trebles should never be used when catch-and-release fishing, nor should they be used when you're fishing an area in which large numbers of undersized fish are present.

The Treble Hook

The J Hook

The J hook is the most common style of hook used today, and it probably has been since humans learned to carve bone and work metal. J hooks are great all-around fish snaggers and will work in virtually every fishing situation. Some slightly specialized subcategories of J hooks, shown, provide advantages under certain circumstances.

Aberdeen Hook

Made of light, thin wire, they're good for use in areas with lots of snags, as you can usually bend them free, then bend them back into shape after you retrieve them.

The Aberdeen Hook

Bait-holder Hook

The small barbs on the shank keep soft baits in place during casts and when fish are nibbling.

The Bait-holder Hook

Octopus Hook

With a relatively short shank, a relatively large gap, and sometimes a slight curve to the shank, these versatile hooks are often a top pick for live-bait anglers.

The Octopus Hook

Siwash Hook

Designed to replace the trebles on some artificial lures, Siwash is a simple J hook with an eye that remains open a bit, instead of being bent flush or welded to the shank.

The Siwash Hook

Snelling Hook

An offset in the eye allows you to "snell" a line to it (knot the line around the hook's shank instead of just to its eye). Some anglers believe using a snelled hook reduces spinning when the current pushes against your bait, keeping your hook in line with your leader. Many like to use pre-snelled hooks with a short leader that terminates in a loop; it's fast and easy to rig and replace them.

The Snelling Hook

Worm Hook

A bend at the top of the shank, just below the eye, makes it ideal for rigging plastic worms, plastic lizards, and similar lures.

The Worm Hook


Once high-quality laser-sharpened or chemically sharpened hooks rust or dull, even though they can be improved, they'll never again be as sharp as when new. Replace them.

Size Matters

Considering all of the above, you should now have a fairly good idea of what type of hook to choose for a particular type of fishing. Planning to live-line with pinfish for tarpon? Octopus or circle hooks are a good bet. You're fishing timber for bass? These would be a horrible choice, but an Aberdeen or worm hook is probably in your future. One huge question, however, remains: How do you choose appropriate hook size?

This question is actually much easier to answer than you might think — if you know one simple rule of thumb: Match your hook size to your bait size. Truth be told, you can catch a 100-pound tarpon on a shockingly small hook. But if you choose a very large hook, thinking that you need it to match the fish's large mouth, you may weight your poor baitfish down so much that it can hardly swim. As a result, it won't look very lively and may sink to the bottom, ignored by those big predators.

And what about the bass angler casting his or her lures? Again, many different sizes of bass can be caught on a single size of hook, but the fish may never strike the lure if an oversized or undersized hook ruins its action or appearance.

There are, of course, limitations to this rule. Using too small a hook for too large a fish can result in the hook never finding its purchase, and you might drag the bait right out of the fish's mouth. At the other end of the spectrum, certain species of fish, like sunfish or triggerfish, have exceptionally small mouths. If you don't use an exceptionally small hook for fish like these, they simply won't be able to wrap their jaws around it. So apply some common sense as you match your hook size to your bait size. But that's all it takes, anglers: a little basic knowledge of which type of hook you need, a hook sized to match your bait or lure, and a dash of common sense. Put these three factors together, and you've got the point.