Hook Selection: Comparing hooking methods to catch catfish

Catfish are commonly thought of as “simple fish”.  Most people think just throw out a hook with some bait on it and you can catch fish.  Although this is true, there are a few ways to fine-tune your hook selection for the bite pattern to catch more fish.  The two methods are using standard hooks and the old hook set and the not-so-new but very misunderstood method circle hooks.

Standard hook methods are just what we all know about.  Place a j-hook or kahle hook on a slip rig, cast the line out and set the hook when a fish hits.  Circle hooks don’t work like regular hooks.  To be successful you will have to change your equipment and your mindset toward setting the hook.

Standard Hook methods

There are two basic methods to catching catfish that use a plain hook.  One is the old-fashioned cast to the strike zone, hold on to the rod, wait for the fish to bite and lay the wood to them when they hit.  The second is the same as the first except instead of holding the rod you put the bait clicker on free spool, place the rod in the holder and wait for the fish to hit the bait and run away causing the bait clicker to sound off.

Holding on to the rod all the time is the preferred method to people from the south and the proverbial old timer that we so often hear about.  This method is the most effective method of catching catfish there is.  It allows the feel of even the slightest pickup and full control as the fish takes off with the bait.  Because the line remains tight at all times the fish can’t drag the bait into snags easily because they aren’t allowed to take much line when they pick up the bait.  Besides being the most effective way to catch a catfish it is also the most work.

Most people in the northern states like to use the bait clicker method.  They prefer to cast out, sit back and wait for the excitement when the fish takes off with the bait.  This method is by far the most exciting of the two because you never know when the fish is going to hit and take the run.  There is pure excitement as the fish takes off and that bait clicker is screaming before the hook is set.  When the fish takes the bait you want to slowly remove the rod from the holder, then close the bail and quickly set the hook.

Downfalls to using the bait clicker method is sometimes the fish will drop the bait for various reasons before the rod can be picked up and the hook set.  Another downfall is when fishing close to snags the fish has opportunity to drag the baits into the woody mess and cause a snag, hence losing the fish.

Circle Hooks

Another method that is gaining popularity to catch catfish is circle hooks.  This way of catching catfish is really nothing new but it seems very confusing to many anglers who don’t understand the ideas behind the hook design.  Many people who catfish insist that they have tried circle hooks and hate them.  What they didn’t understand is that those hooks operate differently than a standard hook.

What is a Circle Hook?

A circle hook is very similar to a j-hook with one major difference.  The difference is the turned in beak at the point.  This beak will allow the hook to be turned into the corner of the fish’s mouth when he grabs the bait and makes a run.  This ability to turn into the corner of the mouth prevents fish from becoming foul hooked nearly 100 percent of the time.

When you decide to add circle hooks to your bag of catfish catching tricks there are some other upgrades to your equipment that will need to be made as well.  It all starts with a soft rod.  This goes against everything any catfisherman has ever learned.  A nice long downrigger rod (8-10 feet) or bass set up is the most cost-effective way to go.  It will have a very soft tip yet have a good stiff backbone for fighting big fish.  Now that you have the rod, just rig it up as you normally would with the exception of putting on a circle hook.  Cast the lure into the strike zone place the rod in the holder and wait.  When you see the fish pick up the bait, leave the rod in the holder until the rod is all the way “loaded up”.  Once the rod is loaded, simply remove the rod from the holder and reel in your fish.  You will find that not grabbing the rod and setting the hook is one of the most difficult things not to do in fishing.  Just “Sit on your hands” and the rod will tell you when it is ready.

When to use circle hooks

Circle hooks can be used any time in any catfishing situation but for those of us who still like to set the hook there are some instances when the circle hooks can make the difference between a good day and a great day.

The first situation to use a circle hook is when you are fishing tight in woodpiles and snags.  Because this method hooks the fish with the rod movement rather than with a free spool run it can only go a couple feet, which will allow you to pull it out easier and not lose it in the wood and have to break off.  This method will save time and money in re-ties.

The second place to use a circle hook is when river levels are falling.  For those of you who like to use bait clickers you will know that when a river is falling the fish tend to hit hard and spit out the bait.  By using a circle hook system when the fish gives that one hard hit they just catch themselves and can’t spit the hook in time to avoid being caught.

The third place for a circle hook is when you are fishing with inexperienced people or new people to catfishing.  This just takes the guesswork out of catfishing and makes it easier to catch more fish.  Anyone who is new to a body of water wants action and a circle hook system is a good way to get that action.

Putting these methods together

There is a time and place for all of these methods.  In the Red River where it is legal to use two rods per person, it is very effective to run one rod with a plain j-hook and the other with a circle hook.  Cast the circle hook out and place the rod in a holder then cast the j-hook out and hold the rod, but keep a rod holder ready in case a fish hits the circle hook.  If the circle hook gets a fish simply place the other rod in the holder, turn on the clicker and deal with your fish.

If water is falling or the river system you are fishing is coming out of the spawn where the fish seem to be biting short (not quite finishing the circle rod or hitting clickers but dropping the bait), the holding the rod method will work the best because the fish doesn’t have time to spit out the bait.  When fishing in deep cover with a good solid bite, holding the rod or using a circle hook can be very effective to keep the fish from tangling you up in the wood.  If the bite is on and you are looking for an exciting way to catch catfish and like to set the hook, turn on the clickers and wait for that clicker to take off.   There truly is no other sound in fishing quite like the clicker taking off on a good run.

The next time you are hitting the river for some trophy channel catfish action pay attention to what isn’t working.  It may be as simple as changing a hook or holding the rod.  It can make all the difference in whether you have a 2 fish day or a 22 fish day.

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