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How To Choose The Right Fishing Hook For Your Kind Of Fishing

Updated on January 24, 2013

Get The Right Hook: It's Absolutely Vital

When you select the hook to tie on to the end of your fishing rig you are making a vital decision. The right hook can go a long way towards catching you a fish. The wrong hook may not lose you a fish but worse; it may prevent you from ever getting a bite in the first place.

Determine The Purpose

Only you know what fish you intend to go out and catch: what species and what size you can reasonably expect for your venue and any other factors you think appropriate. That's why there are a whole range of fishing hooks from which to choose. The problem is that there is so little guidance given, on the packet or elsewhere. The following should help you to think through the main issues and to select a fishing hook that, if not ideal, is certainly good enough for the job at hand.

Description On The Packet

The description doesn't tell you much
The description doesn't tell you much

The Size

About the only thing that is standard about fishing hooks is the measurement of size. I have never seen a packet that didn't state this important fact. How then is size determined? That is not so clear; in fact it seems that there is no real standard. Amazing given how many must be made each year across the globe.

For one thing, the numbering originally started like fractions, with a larger number (for the denominator or 'on the bottom') being smaller. Since this system was only really suitable for freshwater anglers in the UK where a size 1 was about as big as a hook needed to be, another system had to be created to cope with the bigger hooks used at sea and abroad.

We therefore have a system where:

  • a no. 20 hook which is tiny;
  • a no. 1 hook which is fairly large;
  • a 1/0 hook which is bigger again; and
  • an 10/0 is about the length of your index finger curled.

Apparently the largest size hook available is a 19/0. That takes a really big worm!


Hooks may all look the same but the strength of hooks made in different patterns by different manufacturers of different materials can vary widely. It is therefore well worth the effort of checking that the hooks you just bought are adequate for the fishing you intend before losing a big one.

I like to test at least one new hook ... sometimes to destruction. I tie one to some strong line or wire and use my wieghing scales to see what pull it will take. If I reach a pre-determined weight without any distortion then I'm happy. Remember, the real pull is with the point penetrating, not with the bend around a nice round pole. An old bit of wood makes for a good substitute for a bony mouth.

Hook Terminology

Essential terms used below
Essential terms used below

The Shape

A hook is shaped like a ... hook, isn't it. Well, yes, but let's be a bit more specific.

The shank curves back up towards the point. The far side needs to be at least parallel to the shank else the pull is directed away from the point. Often the curve is more than to just parallel ... but too far would close the gape and prevent a hooking at all.

The curve can be a steady one, or one that proceeds in a less even pattern. Sometimes the curve actually goes the other way at first. This can produce a wider gape for the same size of hook.

Other issues which affect the overall shape but also other matters are considered separately.

Wide-gape = Circle

Just for clarification, I have used the term wide-gape here for hooks which are often called circle hooks across the Atlantic.

Was it George Bernard Shaw who said that Britain and America were:

Two nations divided by a common language

No need for anglers to misunderstand each other.

The Point

The point needs to be sharp for obvious reasons. Modern manufacturing techniques achieve incredible sharpness so be careful with hooks new out of the packet. You just need to do your best to keep them that way. Keep your hooks carefully so that the points don't get blunted and keep them clean and away from water so they don't corrode.

If you have used any hooks it pays to remove all traces of bait, rinse the hooks in freshwater and dry them thoroughly before storing for the next trip. Some like to pack them in vaseline or similar.

A hook sharpener is a useful tool, especially if you fish for species with a bony mouth, or on rocky terrain where points can get damaged even without a fish.

The Attachment Point

A hook needs to be attached to your line. I'm not going to discuss knots here today but it is worth noting that generally these are suitable for either hooks with eyes or hooks with spade ends.

An eye needs to be large enough for the line and knot you intend to use. I say knot as some (such as the Palomar Knot) require you thread a bite through at some stage.

Spade ends are most suitable for light-weight fishing and are generally not seen on larger hooks.

Originally. most attachments were made in line with the shank of the hook. Nowadays this is often offset, as is the case with the hook above. You can see that it actually aims straight at the point.

During your strike, the pull on the line will concentrate the force so as to drive the point deep - hopefully into the fishes mouth for a firm hold.

Some manufacturers have taken this issue to the extreme and you will see all manner of kinks at this end of their hooks.

The Shank

The shank of the hook connects the point to the attachment point. It needs to be strong enough for that purpose without being some cumbersome as to be noticeable to the nibbling fish.

The shank also serves a secondary purpose which is often forgotten. An appropriate shank will help with bait presentation.

For a linear bait such as a worm a long shank can hold the bait in a more natural shape in the water, especially if it has bait-holder notches cut along it to stop the bait sliding back towards the point.

Short shanks are more suitable when fishing with spherical baits such as bread paste, boilies or crabs.

Some shanks are themselves offset to some extent offering another dimension to the angle of pull during your strike.

The Barb

Traditionally, the point of a fishing hook has a barb directly behind it such that the sharp point pierces easily but then does not come out again without considerable effort. A bigger barb requires more force to come out.

After landing a fish it is necessary to take the hook out of the fish, whether you intend keeping it or not. At this point, you will see that your effort, no matter how skillful, results in damage to the fish. For more on this issue take a look at the Barbless Hooks discussion and poll below.

Trebles and doubles

Some hooks come in sets. Typically you can find a treble hook on the end of a lure, the idea being that this increases the chances of catching a fish somewhere significant as it snatches at the moving target. Treble hooks can cause undue damage to fish through fould-hooking or by holding the fishes top and bottom lips together so that it cannot breath properly during the play. Double hooks (like a treble but with one point missing) are becoming more popular as the dangers are less.

Hooks can also be joined up in another way. Gang hooks are used to present linear baits, especially soft ones like worms, more naturally. These are joined by threading the shank of one down through the eye of the next, ofet during the manufacturing since barbs get in the way later.


I have left this factor to last as I don't think it is so important. Given the vital role that the hook plays and the relative cost of hooks to the other items used I don't see that it is worth buying cheap. Get the best that you can afford for those that suit your purpose.

Now For Some Fishing Hook Controversy

Anglers the world over can get pretty heated when discussing such as things as the right hook or any other right fishing tackle for that matter. I expect to get comments on the points I have made above but have also deliberately included some controversial issues below to take the sting out of some of those.

Barbed Or Barbless?

The barb on a hook is there to get tangled in the fishes mouth and make it harder for the fish to wriggle off the end of your line should you ever let the tension up. Now I'm not saying that we can catch fish without hurting them but it is worth thinking whether or not the barb is necessary since it does do considerable damage when removed.

The point here is probably that, in the days of catching fish to eat, it was perfectly natural to reduce the chances of losing any that did bite. For the sport fisherman, where the challenge is more important, the barb is not essential. Fishing with barbless hooks can demonstrate your skill (since you never do let the line go slack) as well as help the fish returned to the water to live and fight another day.

What do you think? Have your say in the poll below.

Barbless Hooks

What Do You Think About Barbless Hooks?

See results

Are Wide-gape Hooks Just Too Damn Good

I have liked fishing with wide-gaped hooks since I tried them as a boy. They do seem to catch more fish. Thats' where some old-timers will butt in and assert that that's exactly the type of angler that should be using such hooks - kids and other newbies.

I've had my say above. Let's see how the poll goes down below.

Who likes wide-gape fishing hooks?

Have you found that wide-gape fishing hooks work better for you?

See results

General Comments

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    • profile image

      Brooklyn 2 years ago

      Yesterday I took my tenkara rod (12ft) with some 2 lb mono a 2 4 pole float a size 18 hook to 1lb nylon which is 0.008mm and some paste made to a Japanese repice and tried my luck in an old silted up canal. What fun for a morning, I fished in amongst the reeds and rush beds and caught 3 Inanga ( a small native fish) and 5 small rudd all under 4 inches on a classic autumn morning. I also saw Canada geese flighting in from the high country for their winter by the sea and my second cattle egret ever. All so very different from my usual trout fly fishing.RECIPE for PASTE1 tea spoon std white flour1 tea spoon gluten flour4 drops of cod liver oilBoiling waterMethod: Mix dry ingredients, add oil and mix in. Now add the boiling water to make a smooth dough. Cool and use. The paste will be very elastic and stays on the hook for ages. I guess that this repice would last a full day with wheat grain size baits.

    • fordie profile image

      fordie 5 years ago from China

      Derdriu, hooks are so small that fisher-folk generally neglect them in favour of bigger rods and reels though, of course, they are vital to success. I'm glad you enjoyed the write-up and, for your fishing, wish you ...

      ... tight lines!

    • profile image

      Derdriu 5 years ago

      Fordie, What a clear, helpful, logical, practical, useful discussion of the right hook for the right fish! In particular, I like this format in which you give information and then encourage readers to share and vote. Especially since your information and insights are so experts, it's reader-friendly for you to be doing so.

      Thank you for sharing, voted up + all.

      Respectfully, Derdriu

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      Lweinberg 7 years ago

      Conservation is the way to go!

    • fordie profile image

      fordie 7 years ago from China

      Must admit I've never even thought of giving one a fair trial.

      Fishing is different things for different people. I can enjoy even when I don't catch one; which is lucky now I live in China and the local river is over-fished.

      More reason to believe in conservation. Anglers are generally believers in that.

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      Lweinberg 7 years ago

      Oh okay great! Thanks for the info, I hate the idea of causing an innocent little fish pain.

    • fordie profile image

      fordie 7 years ago from China

      Barbless hooks cause less damage and are much easier to remove without tearing the skin/flesh.

      A proper hook placement minimizes the damage in the first place. This will come by matching the hook size to the likely fish and also by using the appropriate fishing style.

      Avoid double or triple hooks if you are planning to catch and release. They are much more prone to foul hookings and can even cause serious damage when properly placed.

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      Lweinberg 7 years ago

      The few times I've gone fishing I always toss the fish back, and carefully remove the hook to do less damage. But, are there any hooks that are designed for catch and release? May be a stupid question since I know almost nothing about fishing!