How To Choose The Right Size Fishing Hook
Fishing hooks date back to prehistoric times, and are the oldest piece of fishing equipment made by humans.
However, even the most seasoned anglers can become perplexed by the dizzying variety of hooks found in any tackle shop.
Just go into any tackle store nowadays, and you’ll find that hooks come in an absurdly wide range of sizes, materials, styles, and colors.
To make things a little easier, this article will give you a quick rundown of how to choose the right size fishing hook for your purposes.
Start by deciding which fish you want to target
Hooks sizes are largely dictated by two factors: the size of the fish you want to catch, as well as the size of the bait that you’ll be using. We’ll talk more about the bait in a second, but first it’s important to get clear on what fish species you want to catch.
It intuitively makes sense that you can’t catch small panfish with oversized 4/0 hooks that don’t even fit in their mouths. But few beginners realize that the opposite also holds true: you can’t catch big fish with small hooks.
The reason for this is that a small hook is made of thinner metal, and if you have to fight a big fish on a small hook, there’s a good chance that the metal will bend open during the fight, due to the explosive strength of the fish.
I learned this the hard way when I hooked a trophy sized muskie on a size 6 hook that I was using to finesse walleye. I lost the muskie after fighting it for half an hour, and when I checked my hook it was bent straight.
So make sure that your hook is big enough to get the job done.
Hook sizes for different species of fish
Here are the most common hook sizes used for different fish species:
- Walleye: size 6 to 2/0
- Bass: size 4 to 4/0
- Panfish: size 12 to 4
- Catfish: size 4 to 6/0
- Trout: size 12 to 4
- Striped Bass: size 1/0 to 5/0
- Northern Pike: size 1/0 to 8/0
- Carp: size 6 to 1
- Bullhead: size 6 to 1
These hook sizes are rough approximations, and on some occasions you may need to go outside of them to fit your specific fishing tactic or bait.
Make sure you understand hook sizing
The next step is to get a basic grasp of how hook sizes are classified, which is unfortunately a trifle confusing. The reason for this is that there are two size scales that you need to know: the regular scale, and the aught scale.
Regular hook sizes go from 1 to 32, and the size of the hook decreases the bigger the number. Aught sizes go from 1/0 to 19/0, and the size hook increases the bigger the number.
The two scales don’t overlap, but cover different parts of the hook size spectrum. That means you need to use both hook size scales when choosing hooks for some fish. For example, bass fishing usually requires size 4 to size 4/0 hooks.
Another confusing aspect of hook sizing is that every brand is slightly different. So if you’ve got a size 4 Mustad hook, that’s going to be a little different in size from a size 4 Eagle Claw.
So, to make things easier, it’s generally a good idea to stick to only one brand of hooks, since their relative sizing will be entirely consistent with each other.
Matching hook size to bait
Now let’s talk about bait, and how it affects your choice of hook size.
In general, it isn’t super difficult to match hook size to bait, since you just need to hold your hook up against the bait, and check if it isn’t too big or too small for the bait you want to use.
However, there are some nuances to this that can make a big difference.
For example, if you’re fishing in clear water and targeting fish that are hook shy, you probably need to make sure that your hook is completely (or almost completely) hidden inside the bait.
So as a rule of thumb, try to choose a hook that is small enough to be hidden by your bait.
On the other hand, if you’re using large, chunky bait, you’ll need a hook that is big enough to pierce the bait and then the mouth of the fish. Otherwise the bait might prevent successful hook ups, as it stops the hook from penetrating the mouth of a fish.
Also, if you’re using live bait (such as minnows or leeches), you’ll generally want to use the smallest hook size possible, as that will give your live bait more freedom to move about without being weighed down by a massive hook.
You should also choose thin wire hooks when using live bait, as this also helps to give your bait more freedom in the water.
Hook size for finesse fishing
If you notice that the fish are finicky, and don’t want to commit to eating your bait, it’s often a good idea to downsize your fishing rig and try a finesse approach.
This usually means switching to lightweight spinning reels, and using smaller baits, and therefore lighter line, smaller weights, and a smaller hook.
With finesse fishing it’s even more important to make sure your hook is concealed by the bait, which become harder the smaller you go with your bait.
However, if you’re finessing big fish, such as big largemouth bass, you also need to keep in mind that the hook needs to be strong enough to handle the weight and power of the fish.
In that case you can opt for a smaller hook size with a larger wire gauge (in other words, with a thicker wire).
What size hook should you use with soft plastic swimbaits?
As a general rule of thumb, choose a hook size that’s about two-thirds the length of your soft plastic swimbait.
For example, if you’re using a paddletail swimbait, your hook should extend all the way to the end of the body of the paddletail, but leaving the tail to move freely in the water.
If you use a hook that’s smaller than that, there’s a good chance you’ll get many short strikes due to fish eating the tail end without the hook. And if you use a hook that’s bigger than that, it will tend to interfere with the paddling action of the tail.
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