Just Plain Hooked

Published in the September 2008 Issue September 2011

A hook is a hook, right? Most anglers don't know an Aberdeen from a Kahle and frankly don't care; as long as there's a bend and a pointed barb at one end and an eye at the other they figure any hook will catch the fish they're after.

For most of my angling career I felt pretty much the same way, and still do to some degree. But there are some situations where having the right hook can mean the difference between having fresh fillets or frozen sticks for your fish dinner. We're talking meat fishing here, when you are serious about catching fish and plan to keep what you land for the dinner table. In many cases, when you simply must catch fish, that means using live bait as your primary lure.

I hesitate to recommend using live bait when you intend to catch and release the finned critters you fool. Angling with live bait is more akin to feeding the fish with the real thing, rather than fooling them with something they are more likely to spit out than to swallow. And anyone who has had to dig a barb out of the gullet of a fish that they had no intention of keeping-let alone killing-knows that fish that hit live bait tend to be hooked more deeply than those who are fooled by artificials.

The hook, after all, is `where the rubber meets the road' angling-wise; your real connection to the fish you will fight and eventually hope to swing over the side of your boat. But before you can get there, you need to consider that the hook first must hold the bait that draws the gamefish to the table. Not only must the hook secure the bait in place at the end of your fishing line, to be effective it usually must do so while allowing the live offering to look as natural as possible.

Depending on what type of live bait you are presenting, there are four hook types that do that, styles that serious bait-dunkers might want to consider, for both fresh-and salt-water fishing.


The most common fishing hook for use with live bait such as minnows is the Aberdeen style, which is usually made of gold-colored wire and features a long shank with symmetrical bend. The narrow-diameter wire permits easy penetration through a baitfish's lips, skin or fin, and the hook's light weight allows the bait to swim more naturally. The light wire also straightens under pressure, which often allows the angler to pull the rig free from snags without breaking the line, and the long shank makes hook grasping and removal easier. Light wire Aberdeens are a great choice when fishing with minnows around cover-or with kids-for those two reasons alone.


An extra pair of barbs built into the Bait-holder's shank make this popular style a great choice for holding worms on the hook. The worm or nightcrawler can be threaded onto the hook allowing one or both ends of the bait free to wiggle and attract finicky fish while suspended under a bobber or fishing on the bottom. Used while trolling, casting or drifting, the Bait-holder can securely clasp the head of the worm, allowing the tail to trail behind while keeping the moving bait from spinning.


Made of wire formed into a large gap with a barbed point bent in toward a short shank, the Kahle is designed for use with larger live baits such as shiners, crayfish and frogs. The exaggerated curve of the hook's throat helps keep lively baits impaled-and the barb in the gamefish's maw once the hook has been set and the fight is on. The Kahle is also popular among anglers offering soft plastic artificial baits.


The talon-like curved point and wide mouth of the Circle hook was developed by commercial anglers using multi-line rigs to hook and hold fish without benefit of a conventional hook-set. The design allows the hook to turn and catch in the corner of a fish's mouth as it swims off, which makes for a firm hold and an easy release. Circle hooks can be used with minnows, worms or other presentations such as cut- or prepared baits and is a popular choice among fishermen targeting bottom-feeders such as catfish.

No matter what style hook you use for live bait presentations, make sure is isn't too big for the job; you can fool and catch a big fish with a small hook, but even the dinks won't give it a second look if the bait's size and action are overwhelmed by a hook that is too large or too heavy or both to allow your offering to strut its stuff.

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