We seem to be at a crossroads in the world of fishing tackle, with many pieces of equipment and fishing philosophies appearing to be in opposition to each other. For instance, while fishermen are being urged to be more conservation minded and more oriented to “catch and release”, ads for many tackle items still try to sell us on the number of fish these things might help us catch. Since guides, fishing shows, and tackle manufacturers still want us to catch our limit every trip, perhaps our best friends – and those of the fish – are the legislative bodies that keep shrinking the size of those limits, as painful as that is to consider.
Once in awhile a tackle innovation or fishing technique that is more fish friendly does come along, and is actually accepted by the sportfishing community. The use of circle hooks is a prime example. Circle hooks originally gained fame by being more efficient at catching fish, proven by their use on unattended longlines. From commercial fishing tools they were soon adopted by bottom fishermen who recognized that they made setting a hook much easier when the fish was deep and the “feel” of a bite hard to detect. Somewhere along the line (no pun intended), someone noticed that the circle hook almost always set up in the corner of the fish’s mouth, and once set, was almost impossible to accidentally dislodge. With no gut hooked fish, successful releases became much more practical.
The circle hook was a modernized version of early hooks carved from bone and shell. Without barbs, the hook had to curve back against the shank to have any hope of holding. The modern circle hook really needs no sharpening or barbs either; as it holds by physical entanglement, not point penetration. A barbless circle hook, then, would seem to be the next step in fish friendly tools to make catch and release fishing more practical from the fish’s point of view. This would have been the case, at least, had not a fishing guide near Galveston come up with the idea of the modern “straight” hook!
Even before the circle type design was formed from shells, the first hook used by primitive man was a straight piece of bone, shell or wood, perhaps but not necessarily always tapered toward each end, with the fishing line of whatever type tied to the middle – forming a “T” or toggle. Catch and release had not “caught” on in those days, so the original intent of the straight hook was to provide dinner, which it did by becoming lodged in the throat or internal organs of a fish that swallowed the bait it was hidden inside of. A properly sized straight hook must have been brutally efficient, but it was probably edged out by curved types due to the bulk required by the materials used to fashion them at the time, making them unsuitable for smaller species.
Capt. Josh Kidder, a bay guide working of out April Fools point on Galveston Bay, began toying with the idea of a modern straight hook during a slow period for charter trips late last winter. Seeing potential where others see none is a mark of greatness, and Capt. Kidder surely had a vision when he first put a small cotter pin in a vise and twisted it so he ended up with a straight bar, tapered towards the ends, with a loop or eye in the exact middle. Although he admits his original intent was to fashion tiny clothes hangers for his niece’s doll collection, with a fishing line or leader attached to this eye, the guide had an efficient looking snagging device, which soon proved it could catch hard head cats in the slip behind the bait camp. It did not take much experimentation, or very many beers, to discover the most effective methods of baiting and rigging with the straight hook – and soon the advantages of this design became obvious.
In the basic technique of using a straight hook in most natural baits, such as cut baits, dead shrimp or squid – even live baits – the fisherman need only push it in longways, letting the line or leader run alongside the half of the hook pointing towards the rod and reel. Capt. Kidder improved his design as he went along and discovered a small barb on the end away from the reel helped hold the hook inside a bait. When a fish has the bait, the angler gives a pull, the straight hook comes out of the bait with the line pulling from its center, making the “T” that will catch against the inside edges of a fish’s mouth. With many live baitfish, it is better to cut a slit in the back, alongside the dorsal, and run both ends of the hook just under the skin, leaving the “eye” exposed to attach line or leader to.
With artificial lures such as soft plastics – especially the eel or worm type – the straight hook is used in a similar manner, but Capt. Kidder found it did not necessarily have to come out of the bait to be effective, as long as the “T-bar” turned. In fact, having the entire plastic body wedged in the fish’s mouth and padding the metal was even less likely to cause any sort of damage. As with natural baits, having no hook exposed outside the bait or lure is the ultimate technique for fooling wary fish, and straight hooks do not cause an unnatural “bend” in the lure or bait. With trolling lures, however, it has turned out that pulling the hook in its “T” configuration does not appear to frighten fish from striking – especially lures with a full skirt – and in fact helps some lures to run straighter.
The straight hook is much safer for the fisherman to handle than even a circle hook, much more than a standard “J” hook, and certainly more so than a treble. While it is possible for a fish to swallow the hook and injure itself internally, this can be minimized by a technique of alert hook “setting”. Not only does the straight hook make releasing a fish much easier – just turn it straight and lift it out – but it will come loose on it’s own it the fish isn’t clamped down tight, and the angler doesn’t keep a tight line. Combine this attribute with the ability to size the hooks by length for the size of fish desired – longer shafts are required for larger fish, and will often pull out of a small mouth, while a too small straight hook has little chance of gaining purchase in a large fish’s gullet – and the conservation minded angler can be proactive about slot limits and minimum size limits without ever having to handle (or even fight to the boat) a fish of the wrong size.
More skill is required to successfully use a straight hook than in pushing a circle hook into a piece of bait, and also to successfully land or boat a fish. This should lead to smaller recreational catches and reduced bycatch of released fish that might be injured in the fight or handling, which are goals usually expected to only be attainable by legislation and enforcement. Most importantly, straight hooks put the fun back into fun fishing, and isn’t this what we all really want?
Capt. Kidder has a patent pending on his straight hook design, and plans to market them – along with a line of “Deceiver” lures – under the “Jest Fun Fishin’” brand. Contact Josh at www.jestfunfishin.rod.