Fish Hook Identification
& Usage



Fishing Hooks ;  Fishing hooks date back in time for centuries.  The first were simply a piece of wood sharpened on each end and tied in the middle to a braided cord or horsehair.  In use the fish swallowed the bait and then hopefully got impaled on the projected ends.  Later bird bones were fashioned into a "Vee' with one leg longer that again was attached to a cord.  Then when metal and cotton twine was introduced, a whole new game was opened.  


There are many different styles and sizes of fishing hooks.  As a general rule, use the smallest hook possible.  This can be confusing to the novice, but there are generally accepted ideas, again depending on the lure and the intended quarry.  However the size of the bait and the method of fishing will also play a role here.  Small hooks allows for live-bait presentation to look natural, essential when using flies.   Small hooks also penetrate quicker than larger hooks upon the fish strike. 


Hook sharpness is a prime objective.  Always test your hook for sharpness, even new ones.  Obviously sharp hook points will catch more fish than dull hooks.  To test your hook simply draw the hook point across your thumbnail, a sharp hook will leave a light scratch and digs in to your nail.  A dull hook will skate across your nail with out digging in.   One visual test for a good fisherman is to look at his thumbnail during the fishing season.


When necessary touch up the hook point by using a hook file or sharpening stone, simply draw the hook sharpener against the point of your hook a few times (parallel to the shank) on the inside, and then take a couple of quick strokes to each side of the hook.

Don’t be misled that new hooks out of the box are always sharp especially the cheap hooks that are made of soft poorer quality steel.  Even high quality hooks will dull over time and use by hitting rocks and debris in the water, or being exposed to saltwater.   The bottom line is always use a sharp hook.

Hook Sizes ;  When it comes to hook sizes, it tends to be little confusing to the newcomer.  There is no real standard when it comes to classifying a hook size, generally when a single number is used such as size #8, verses a size #2 the higher the number the smaller the hook.  This classification system ranges from #1 largest to #32 being the smallest. Once the size goes larger than the #1 the numbering system changes to a fraction type.  The next larger size then is a #1/0.   And the system moves upward.  For example 1/0 (pronounced one - aught) the sizing system is reversed so the higher the number the larger the hook.  In this larger system, #1/0 is the smallest up to the largest hook at #19/0, which is considered a shark hook and is many times used when making up a "Flying Gaff".


The Anatomy of a Fish Hook ;  The parts fish hook are referred as:  It’s point - the sharp end that penetrates the fish's mouth or flesh;   the barb - the projection extending backwards from the point, that secures the fish from unhooking;  the eye - the end of the hook that is connected to the fishing line or lure; the bend and shank - that portion of the hook that connects the point and the eye; and the gap - the distance between the shank and the point.

Fish hook Identification & nomenclature
Popular Common Hook Types:
There are many different types or styles of hooks which are designed for different types of fishing. 
In the photo on the left, it shows nomenclature of a fish hook

Listed below are a few of the more common styles.

Fishing with Hooks, Sinkers, Bobbers & Rigging Aberdeen
Light wire long shank hook, perfect for Panfish, Crappie and light biting Walleyes under a slip bobber or attached bobber rig.  The light wire limits excessive puncturing on bait minnows which helps them live longer on the hook if you are alive bait fisherman, the long shank allows the angler easy removal of the hook from panfish that tends to swallow the bait.  The eye is straight
These hooks are basically the same shape as the Aberdeen hook, but are made of a heavier wire and the eye is open.  These are primarily used
on spoons and plugs where the hook is designed to be crimped into a existing screw in eye or swivel.  The larger one shown is a commercial salmon trolling hook.  Many times these are made in stainless steel when being used in salt water.  The eye is straight

Bait Holder
The bait holder hook is one of the most popular live bait hook styles today, the additional barbs on the rear of the shank holds the bait more effectively, such as night crawlers leeches and red worms.  The eye can be straight, or either up or down, but the most common would be down.


Fishing with Hooks, Sinkers, Bobbers & Rigging

Circle hooks are a excellent choice for live bait catch and release anglers.  Upon a fish swallowing your bait, the inward bend of the hook point allows the hook to slide along the inside of the fish’s throat until it reaches the mouth.  A sharp pulling hook set is not required, just maintain tension and the fish will hook itself in the corner of the mouth as the fish moves away.  The lip hook rate using a circle hook is about 95% it also reduces the mortality rate of fish to be released to fight another day.  Very popular hook for Catfish, Sturgeon and Musky anglers.    However the angler needs to remember to not grab the rod and set the hook, but let the fish swim off and then as said, it will hook itself.   These are not a good hook style when used for any lure that is in motion like trolling. The eye will be straight.


Fishing with Hooks, Sinkers, Bobbers & Rigging

Commonly called salmon egg hook, designed with a turned up eye and offset bend, so the hook rides upward along with the placement of a barb on the shank which holds the bait. The salmon egg hook is used primarily for drift fishing along current by using natural or imitation salmon eggs, spawn sacs, worms and grubs for Salmon and Trout.  The eye is turned up.


Fly Tying hook
Here we see a hook very similar to the Baitholder but without the barbs on the shank.  These an come in wire weights of different sizes designed for thin for dry flies or
heavier for wet/sinking flies
Fishing with Hooks, Sinkers, Bobbers & Rigging Octopus
The extra gap and rounded shape of Octopus hooks are very popular and used for most species of fish.  The Octopus is ideal for rigging cut bait for Catfish or Salmon, minnows for Bass, Pike and Walleyes and are good choice for building crawler harnesses.  They are also available in a assortment of painted or metallic colors.  The eye is turned up.
Barbless Octopus
Most hooks are made with a barb on the inside of the point to increase catching/retaining power of the fish.  Some modern day fish management where there are ESA endangered wild fish comingled with hatchery fish, require the fisherman to release the wild fish. 
The Endangered Specie Act,  (ESA) became law in 1973 and is the highest form of protective legislation for non human species within the United States.
The fish mangers will clip the adipose fin (the little rudder like fin just in front of the tail).  This is to identify hatchery fish from the wild fish.  Fishermen can retain these clipped fish, but have to release the wild unclipped fish.  The barbless hook is a tool that facilitates this release without as much possible mortality of a deep hooked barbed hook.  Again thew eye is turned up

Sickle Octopus
This hook is fairly new and the shape is patented by Matzuo.  It is toted to be a hook the fish does not throw as easily as when hooked, even when the barb is pinched to comply with ESA.  In use, the fish's jawbone is wedged into the Vee and it can not readily be rotated out if the fish is fighting.   Price at my local sporting goods store is $4.99 for 25 hooks.   This sickle style are also made in a Siwash open eye style. These hooks are larger than regular hooks, at least the 3/0s I am using are equal to regular 5/0 hooks.

Gamagatzu has come up with a slightly modified hook of this style named the River Bend Bait hook.  Price at my local sporting goods store is $4.49 for 6 hooks.  The Gami hooks are just a tad bit wider in the Gap for the same size as the Matzuo and about 1/2 an longer at the eye.  The Gami are not made in the Siwash configuration.

In my mind these styles are very worthwhile when being used for chasing Coho, that thrash the surface, roll and jump repeatedly.


Maruto® Semi-Barbless Grabber

 This new, Sickle style single hook offered by Angler Innovations as an answer to barbless fisheries.  A unique and premium hook they call the "Grabber" offers increased holding power in a barbless hook, including extreme sharpness in a cutting point design.  These hooks have been endorsed by both the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife as meeting their respective definitions of "barbless."  They have small ridges inside the point in the location of the older barb style.



Treble hooks are a single eye of three hooks fused together with three shanks evenly spaced.  The treble is mainly used on artificial lures and spoons attached by using a split ring. Treble hooks today comes in a assortment of colors as well as feathers tied on as a trailer/teaser hook on lures.  You may see some trebles with one of the 3 hooks larger and longer than the other two.

The weedless hook has a light wire wrapped on the shank formed in a loop that covers the point of the hook. This allows the hook to be fished in or around weeds, logs, trees, stumps, rocks and lily pads.  Upon a fish striking the bait the wire compresses, exposing the hook point.

Jig hooks are designed to usually be cast into a jig head mold ranging from 1/16 oz. to
 upwards to 10 oz. depending on the targeted specie.  In the photos on the left the top is a 90 degree bend while the bottom is a rounded version. Each jig mould has to be paired to the proper hook style.

There are numerous other styles of hooks used for various types of fishing. 


What Hooks to Use ? ;  The answer we are looking for here are SHARP ONES, REAL SHARP ONES.    I have preached this for years, and then recently violated my own #1 rule.  I got an invite from a longtime friend to accompany him for a day of spring Chinook fishing on the Columbia River.  I spent a lot of time a few days before hand getting my new gear bag ready, being sure everything was in place and even shortened some leaders to match the water turbidity and all the other stuff a fisherman usually does.


That morning on the water, I tied on my newly made Fish Flash and in a color that struck me that would be fine for the slightly turbulent water, then tied on my lure.  I even checked to be sure the barbs were pinched.  We fished for a couple of hours with no hits so I changed the presentation, which included a different lure.  When I tie these lures, I ALWAYS test the hooks for sharpness on my thumb nail.   Well apparently I did not on this lure and the rear hook was not sticky sharp.  After 6 hours trolling, I had a take down.

My fish ran close to my partner's line, so he told me to not reel the fish in just yet until he got his line out of the way and ready to net it.  The fish was not that far from the boat, so I just kept tension on it against the current.  Then the partner figured out the fish had tangled with his line, OK, leave his line out and bring in the fish.  When I started to bring the fish in, it came unbuttoned.

I had not double checked these hooks on the second lure for being sharp when I deployed the lure.   OK, I had a Brain Fart that cost me a nice spring Chinook.


Special Considerations When Using Barbless Hooks ;  When it comes to barbless hooks, there may be some extra concerns.  Recently 2013, on the Columbia River, where both Washington and Oregon, have went to barbless hooks, there has been a lot of concern by fishermen.   Many times this could be venturing into the unknown.  However Washington fishers have been using them for a number of years in the ocean.  And about 1970 the Washington commercial troll fleet had to go to barbless hooks, so this is not something really new.

The real issue is what is the ratio of hookups to actual landings.  The barbless ratio when trolling will be about the same as barbed, but where the barbless hooks suck is when plunking.   Some plunkers say, big time, like 70-80% fish lost.   This higher ratio of retention when trolling, most fishers keep the motor in gear and the boat moving which keeps tension on the fish.  While plunkers do not have the ability to move around as much to keep tension on the fish. 


(1) One thing to do is to use a long, soft rod, even a 10' 6", kind of like using a bungee cord.   Much more forgiving if inadvertent slack, especially if you fish braid line.    

2) Consider switching back to mono line.  Stretching line provides a load on the fish.  If your rod doesn't provide enough, the line will compensate. 

(3) For normal trolling, position your rod holders so as to gain maximum load on the rod BEFORE line peels from the reel.  Rod tips set low to the water works excellent in the side-rod holder position, but not so well in the straight back position .... where essentially you will have ZERO to little load on the rod when line peels from the reel when straight rearward.   Why have a rod at all?

WAIT - WAIT - WAIT for the rod to fully load and/or line to strip from the reel before grabbing that rod. This generally results in a more secure hook placement.
Whether or not the fish is chewing on the bait or swimming along with the boat during the WAIT WAIT WAIT portion of the bite is irrelevant.  From a strictly utilitarian perspective, that argument is pointless.
The fact of the matter is that during this critical WAIT WAIT WAIT period, the fish remains interested in your goods.  If not, the fish would have dropped them.  The paramount reason to WAIT WAIT WAIT is to maximize the chances of sinking that hook in a location and orientation that will SEAL THE DEAL .... right to the bitter end.   Striking too early reduces the chances of that hook point finding a solid purchase.  In fact, while the fish is still facing in the same direction as your forward troll path, the hook is far more likely to find air (water?) than solid tissue----big swing----DAM missed again!

When you WAIT WAIT WAIT for the rod tip to bury itself in the water and/or line is leaving the reel, the fish has either  (1) turned broadside and stopped its forward movement with your boat or, (2) is fleeing frantically in the other direction.  Once this happens, it results in a MUCH higher percentage hookup because it greatly increases the odds of the hookpoint finding a solid bony purchase that resists the ability of the hook to back out or tear out during the battle.  You'll find out just how important that hooking site will be to the final outcome once you go barbless.

(4) For the downrigger fisher, have the rod set high and pulled down so there is no belly in the line.  The proper rod setting will have it arced CONSIDERABLY, to the point where you are near to having the line pop out of the snap.  When the fish hits, pulling the line out of the snap, the rod being arced, snaps up setting the hook.

(5) Drop down a size in your hook.  However this may be a conundrum where you balance the need to let the fish take the bait deeper and run the chance it is a "wild" fish that needs to be released.


(6) Try the newer hook designs that improve retention in the absence of a barb.  (a) The Gamagatzu Wide Gap Finesse has finer wire that penetrates easier and a short shank that minimizes the fish's ability to leverage the hook back out.   (b) The Matzuo Sickle or Gami Big River Bend has that unique sickle bend that tends to "lock" it securely into position to resist backing out. (c) The new Maruto® Semi-Barbless Grabber sickle style hooks appear to have all the good points and being a new style barbless to boot.


(7)  From actual experience when trolling, I can verify that when using Gamagatzu barbless octopus hooks that your hookup may be less, however if you do get a good hookset, it may be harder to have the hook thrown.  My opinion here is that these hooks have the point, pointed inward more than most other brands of octopus hooks, AND the barbless versions are in pointed even farther.  My thoughts are if you have a partial "drive by" instead of a actual in the mouth swallow it type of a bite, that this more rounded outer hook point will not "reach out and grab" but slide off the fish as compared to one that has a more straighter point.

(8) Another thing that may contribute to lost fish is most fisherpersons will fight a fish with the rod in the air, but pointing toward the fish.  This can be fine if the fish is not of any size or does not really put up a fight.  This will work if the fish is deep and you are trying to bring them up.  However once the fish is nearer the surface the fisher needs to shift gears and fight the fish using the rod lower, like parallel to the water and pointed away from the fish.  If the fish comes to your rod tip, switch to the other side of him, but always maintain tension.   And Keep the rod pointed away from the fish.   If you hold the rod high, WHEN the fish dives on a last desperate run, you will loose him, or break the rod.

Whichever way the fish's head is pointed, pull hard the OPPOSITE direction.  Imagine always pulling the hook into the corner of the mouth.

(9) For you bankies, if you have the room and the location, as the fish come closer to shore, back up.  This puts less upward pressure on the fish as trying to lift it's head out of water, which excites them considerably.  You can then slide them up the gravel easier if that is your method of landing them.    If your location does not permit this tactic, well that narrows your options.


The key point to remember is that in the absence of a barb, the most important factor to keep that hook buried is the load applied to it, the more the better.  Once you lose that load, the hook is basically free to fall out on the next headshake.   When fighting the fish, maintain line pressure at ALL times.

My simple method of deciding whether a hook design is acceptable to me is that I tie a set of hooks on a leader, then I toss it on a short knapped carpet.  If it snags within 1" of movement, I am satisfied with those hooks.


I personally am a troller and have never lost a Chinook because of a barbless hook, Coho however can be a total different story, here is where I use the Matzuo Sickle hooks so when that Coho jumps, twists, rolls then jumps again.   This Sickle hook's shape does not easily allow for the hook to work out because the fish's jawbone or jaw skin becomes wedged into the Vee and it can not readily be rotated out if the fish is fighting.


copyright © 2010 - 2016  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 02-07-2012, Last updated 12-17-2016
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