Fishing with bait is one of the most basic and productive methods of catching fish. It’s also one of the most popular. According to surveys conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, nearly half of the state’s anglers fish with bait. Additionally, nearly all anglers learn how to fish by dunking worms, salmon eggs or by using artificial “dough” baits like Powerbait and Gulp.
However, despite its popularity and effectiveness, bait fishing has one major drawback: it often results in increased fish mortality. Fish caught on bait frequently become “gut hooked,” which makes it nearly impossible for anglers to remove deeply embedded hooks and return fish safely to the water.
Circle hooks, used for decades by commercial saltwater fisherman, have gained popularity in recent years among fresh-water anglers who want the option of safely releasing some fish back to the water. Unlike traditional J-shaped bait hooks, circle hooks have a circle-shaped bend in the gap and a hook point that faces inward. The simple but effective design substantially decreases hooking mortality, making circle hooks the ultimate conservation tool for catch-and-release anglers.
Don’t ‘Set’ the Hook
The principle behind circle hooks is simple: After a fish swims off with the bait, the angler does not “set” the hook, but instead, applies gradual pressure to the line, maintaining a slight bend in the rod by slowly reeling the hook out of the fish’s stomach or throat. As the fish turns to swim away and the hook begins to leave the fish’s mouth, the hook point rotates and nearly always sets in the fish’s jaw.
With circle hooks, “gut hooking” is virtually eliminated, and fish-mortality rates are reduced greatly. Using circle hooks makes it easier for bait anglers to follow bag/possession limits by safely releasing some fish back into the water.