How to

Stick It To ‘Em!

WHEN an angling professional describes his mate’s favourite flathead hook as “you know, the bendy one”, it’s a timely reminder that a hook review is in order. So here we go, but be warned: this is no definitive technical work, rather just one bloke’s thoughts on the subject.

What we’ll do over the next few pages is take a look at the more popular hook patterns available these days and relate them to suitable situations. More accurately, we’ll identify hooks and hook patterns that have proven themselves over time and which hold a secure place in the Australian market place. We’ll then list fishing situations that suit each particular hook.

Hookin’ into History
My understanding is that the oldest images of fishing were of Chinese origin and therefore the Chinese may well have been the first to fish, so I was surprised to learn of an article published in the November 2011 issue of Australian Geographic, reporting that early types of fish hooks, thought to be about 23,000 years old, have been recovered from caves in East Timor.

Egyptians were believed to be using hook-like implements called “gorges” as early as 2000BC, tied to lines of plaited horsehair. By 200AD the Chinese were using silk lines and needles. References to fishing are also found in ancient Greek, Assyrian, Roman and Jewish writings, but whether or not they used lines and “hooks” is uncertain. The Mustad hook company reports that “in Norway, the oldest known fish hooks were dug up in Vistehulene (and) are believed to be 7000-8,000 years old” (see image below).

Ancient fishing “gorges” have been dug up from a French peat bog in the Somme. Given the flogging we “civilised” folks gave the place during WWI, it’s remarkable that even a gorge remained in one piece.

Gorges were about 20–30mm in length, with a point carved into each end. They were made from bone, wood (and later metal) that had fishing line secured to the side or middle. The gorge was hidden within the bait and by allowing the fish to completely swallow the bait before striking, the gorge would turn sideways and jam into the fish’s throat so it could be hauled in. Later on wire gorges incorporated loops as the point of line attachment and bends to improve their efficiency. From there, all it took was the removal of one side of the gorge and the addition of barbs to get to the hook as we know it.

English needle makers produced fishhooks as early as the 1600s and by the 1650s Charles Kirby, who later invented the Kirby bend (with the point offset to the shank), made important improvements in the process.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed factories and ultimately interrupted production for well over 50 years. By 1870, the Mustad hook company was producing hooks, or “angles”, in Scandinavia.

Early wire hooks were handmade: barbs cut with a chisel, points with hammers and multiple firings to soften, harden and strengthen. Quality was a problem due to brittleness and lack of strength.

Whilst the Europeans were heating and hammering, island cultures carved their hooks from bone and shell. They carved beautiful hooks and used them effectively. While these hooks are still produced, they seem to be more of a tourist souvenir as steel hooks are the norm amongst island fishermen, even those fishing from a dugout canoe.

My own father was fishing in the early 1920s and a peek through his old fishing creel revealed tins of bronzed hooks called “Kirby snecks”. They have no eyes, but rather a flattened section to keep a snell tied onto the hook’s shank from sliding off.

The most modern hooks are made from high quality wire and undergo multiple processes, many including laser and/or chemical treatments, to produce the ultra sharp hook we now remove from the packaging.

As with most things, hooks in point, you get what you pay for, so stick to the recognised hook manufacturers for a reliable product: Gamakatsu, Mustad and Owner are well-known as top of the rung performers, but don’t disregard other companies like True Turn, Daiichi, Black Magic, Decoy, VMC, Tsunami, Hayes and Pakula, as well as various others, as each produce quality hooks designed for specific purposes.

Rae’s Top 10 Hook Round-Up
What follows is a description of 10 bait-fishing hooks that I use regularly, listed in no particular order. I’ve named them with a moniker that I’ve come to associate with that style of hook. Given that manufacturers often allocate their own specific name to similar styles of hook, don’t be put off if you don’t recognise my naming or if you can’t find the same name in your local tackle store. The hook images featured are Gamakatsu models but most other major manufacturers make similar patterns.

Just about every hook manufacturer includes a Suicide pattern within their range. They come by a variety of names including Octopus, Penetrator, Beak and Big Red. They are possibly the most popular hook in the country with small sizes used for catching livies, medium for snapper and the larger models for mulloway and big cod. The appeal comes with their versatility. Being a short-shanked, wide gape hook means that Suicides are ideal for use with just about any bait: flesh strips, pilchards, livies and even to nip in the tail of a cricket or freshwater yabby. Personally, I use Suicides for snapper because they are easy to conceal within a pilchard bait or slimy mackerel fillet, and they offer a high hookup rate. In a word … nice!

Long Shanks
Featuring an extra long shank, these hooks are tailor made for baiting up long baits such as worms. Mullet, garfish, whiting and flathead fisherman all swear by Long Shank hook patterns. In addition, fishermen targeting livies use them because they allow for easy de-hooking of baits without the need to hold the fish. Poddy mullet, yellowtail and particularly slimy mackerel suffer from being held, so it is preferable to avoid touching them at all costs. Long Shanks allow the angler to hold the end of the shank and shake them off the hook to fall straight into the water of the livebait tank.

Gang Hooks
Gang Hooks are synonymous with tailor and salmon anglers using pilchards and garfish as bait. Gangs, as the name suggests, consist of a line of two, three, four or even five hooks, linked together by closing the eye of the following hook over the shank of the previous hook. They have been in use for many years and are now available in chemically sharpened options, either with a straight or turned down eye. Gang Hooks are useful in far more situations than many anglers realize. Twin Gangs are ideal in a variety of situations such as bream fishing off the rocks using whitebait or frogmouth pilchards (No. 1s), half pilchards for snapper, pearl perch and teraglin  (4/0s), and half pilchards and flesh strips for coral trout and red-throat/grassy sweetlip up on the GBR (5/0s) … it seems to me that two or three hooks are often better than one!

Straight Hooks
These are a less well-known option that deserves more recognition than they currently enjoy. By “Straight” I’m referring to a style of hook that lacks an offset in the bend, meaning that the hook lies flat on a horizontal plane. Common names for these hooks include O’Shaughnessy and Tarpon. The bonus of a Straight hook is the lack of offset means that the hook will not spin when trolled behind a boat or when used in turbulent water. These hooks are ideal for rigging whole or butterflied fish as a troll bait. I use them when chasing mackerel, either spotties using pilchards rigged on a small chin rig or with whole bonito or large gars for Spanish mackerel. It is this same spin-resistance that puts them in the sights of surf fishermen as well. Large Straight hooks minimise line twist when soaking big flesh baits in search of jumbo tailor or mulloway from the beach.

Wide Gape
Don’t let the unusual shape of these fine-wired, extra-wide gape hooks put you off as they are very effective when used in the correct manner. Wide Gapes are an ideal estuary hook for flathead anglers using crabs, yabbies and prawns for bait; insert the hook into the tail and thread it up and out between the bait’s legs for best results. See prawn image opposite. Alternatively, a wide gape nipped through the tail of a live prawn, yabby or mullet is likely to result in a hookup in the corner of the fish’s jaw, making for a healthy release.

This is an all-round salt and freshwater bait fishing hook well known as a traditional classic. The French hook is often used for general reef and rock fishing. This extra strong pattern is an ideal drummer hook when using cunje for bait and there aren’t many better reddie options than a 3/0 French hook linked to a 4/0 model via a small swivel.

Live Bait
These hooks are an extra-strong pattern made to withstand the pressures necessary to subdue species occupying the upper echelons of the food chain. This is the hook for tough fighters, be they mangrove jacks, tuna, kingfish, billfish or sharks (although Circles are better when C&R fishing). As well as use with livies, these hooks can be hidden within the cube baits popular with tuna anglers. They are manufactured from heavy-duty wire and have wide gapes and short shanks that make them less conspicuous to keen-eyed predators.

Bait Holder
This is a heavy-duty estuary hook that features one or two barbs on the outside of the shank designed to help hold the bait onto the hook, hence the name. They are strong for their size and work well with peeled prawn and fish strips when chasing bream in the estuary and for drummer and groper fisherman using crabs, cunjevoi and bread from the rocks.

Fine Wire hooks
Fine Wire hooks are the fine-gauge cousins of bait holders and are intended for delicate baits such as shrimp, squirt worms, earthworms  and bloodworms. They are often called “worm hooks” but should not be confused with the specialist worm hooks used with soft plastic lures. Fine Wires are a finesse hook best suited to light lines in situations that don’t require a heavy-handed approach. When used without a sinker in calm, shallow water, Fine Wires result in a naturally realistic slow sink; perfect for shy trout, bream and whiting!

Circles are most commonly used in deep-water paternoster rigs where it is difficult to detect bites. They are also very popular in marlin fishing circles where the fish are released as the jaw hookup inflicts minimum damage to the fish. I use them in the shallow water snapper fishery close to home; just let the fish run and then simply flick over the bail arm. In whatever situation a circle is used, the hooks are much smaller than a comparable J hook. This is because they are to be swallowed, so stick to the usual size. The key to using Circles is not to strike – let the fish eat the bait, then engage the reel to allow the hook to lodge in the fish’s jaw.


Editor’s note: Fisho photographer Shane Chalker wishes to thank Brad at Great Lakes Tackle and Camping in Tuncurry (02 6554 9541) and Gamakatsu ( for supply of product for the images featured in this article.

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