One aspect of fishing that is critical to any successful fishing trip but is routinely overlooked is the fishhook. Most anglers know the type of hook they prefer, but cannot really tell you why. However, knowing what size of fishing hook to use is key if you want to be consistently successful.
Choosing the right size of fishing hook is all about matching the hook size to the bait you’re using, the size of fish you’re targeting, and the conditions in which you’re fishing. Understanding the different sizes of fish hooks and when to use each one can make you a more efficient angler.
It is also easier said than done without a little help. While fishhooks are no mystery, they are also not obvious in the sense of determining their purpose. Read on to learn all you need to know about fishhooks in order to choose the right type and size of hook for every fishing trip.
What You Need To Know About Fishing Hooks
If you are ever in the fishing section of a sporting goods or department store and hear two people discussing fishing, take a moment and eavesdrop. You will hear discussions about rods, reels, lures, bait, even fishing line, but rarely will you hear a discussion about hooks. That is odd, given how important fishhooks are to the entire sport of fishing.
The earliest fishhooks were found in a cave in Palestine and dated back to about 7,000 BCE. Over time, fishhooks have been made from bone, twigs and metal. They are used worldwide, commercially and recreationally, and come in multiple styles and sizes. Yet, for the most part, fishhooks get ignored until one causes a problem.
Why? Because a fishhook is about the most useful piece of fishing equipment in existence. It is not flashy. Cast after cast, no matter the bait, weather, water temperature or fish biting it, the fishhook just does its job and it is incredibly good at it.
Why Fishhooks Matter
The obvious answer is that without hooks, landing a fish becomes much more of a challenge. There is more to it, though.
The main reason hooks are so important is that fishhooks make it possible to catch the fish you are targeting. Whether bluegill or bass, tarpon or marlin, trout, or catfish, using the right hook in the right situation can mean you catch the fish you are after versus using the wrong hook and catching little or nothing. So, what size of fishing hook should you be using?
What Size Of Fishing Hook To Use
The easiest way to sum up the decision of what size of fishing hook you should use is that your fishing hook should be appropriate to the size fish you are trying to catch. Another way of looking at it is this:
- If you are trying to catch a smallmouth bass, you do not need to use a hook that will catch a Bluefin tuna
- If you are trying to catch a Bluefin tuna, you do not use a hook that would catch a smallmouth bass
Those might seem obvious, but they sum up fishhook selection. Your entire goal in matching fishhooks is to try and get the best fit for the bait you are using and a hook that is appropriate for the size fish that will be going after that bait. That applies whether you are fishing with:
- Live bait
- Dead bait
- Soft plastic bait
You should learn the details of hooks, what they do and why they are set up the way they are, but that is mostly to help you learn how to select, present and retrieve bait. If the average fisherman just learns the two mantras above, they will never struggle to figure out what the right lure to use is.
It really just comes down to matching the size of hook to the size of fish, and everything else is extra information that will just make the fishing process more efficient.
Different Parts Of A Fishing Hook
The first step to learning how to select the right hook is to learn the parts of a fishhook. There are many different types of hooks with distinctive features that make them unique, but the basic parts are all the same.
This is the sharp, pointy end that pierces anything that puts pressure on it. It can pierce a fish’s mouth or other body part (when foul hooked). It can also pierce human skin. Many fishing accidents involve people impaling themselves on a hook. In most cases, the impaling is only skin deep and does not go beyond the fishhook barb.
Barbs are the sharp, backwards facing metal spikes that slope off the point of the hook and on its shank. The barbs hold the hook in place or at least prevent the hook from sliding out of your catch. An effective barb system on a hook can hold a fish even when it is thrashing about or jumping clear of the water.
The throat is the curved part of the hook that extends down from its point.
As the name implies, this is where the hook curves back on itself.
This extends down from the hook eye to the bend in the throat.
This is the ring that is formed at the blunt end of the hook. It is how the hook is attached to a fishing line.
The gape is the distance between the throat and the shank.
Different Types Of Fishing Hooks
Every fishhook is one of several types. Each type serves a specific function within fishing. Some fishhooks help hold bait, others are designed to hook fish a certain way, and still others are ideal for using with various artificial lures. The following is a rundown of the most common fishhook types.
Aberdeen hooks are made of thin wire that is flexible when stressed beyond a certain point. They are usually used with baitfish although they are perfect for any type of live bait. The thinner diameter wire means that bait stays intact, which allows it to remain lively even after spending a longer period in the water.
Another advantage to an Aberdeen style hook is that it bends and twists when pulled on. This allows it to be retrieved when snagged. That makes it great for bottom fishing for catfish or carp. The long shank on most Aberdeen hooks allows for easy removal of a hook from a fish.
The only downside to an Aberdeen hook is if you catch a giant fish that is significantly heavier than that for which you were fishing. In exceedingly rare cases, very big fish may bend Aberdeen hooks. Most fish, however, are not strong enough to bend a hook.
A baitholder is universal and used to catch all types of fish. It is highly versatile and allows for a lot of beginner mistakes, both in affixing a bait to the hook and in bringing in a fish. Use the baitholder to hold worms, insects, dough, etc. Baitholder fishhooks come in many different sizes and are used to catch a variety of fish.
The main characteristic of a baitholder hook is that it has two distinctive barbs on its shank. These prevent a fish from sliding off the hook. Each one also has a main barb that extends off the point and holds the fish in place at the mouth.
An octopus hooks is used primarily with live minnows, leeches, frogs and other live bait. It is perfect for hooking and holding larger fish. It can also be used to catch a variety of fish, provided they go after live bait. Octopus hooks can be tailored to be fished in very deep water. A characteristic of an Octopus hook is that its shank is long and thin, which makes holding fragile bait easier.
Circle hooks are usually used in saltwater but can be used anywhere cut bait is used. They are ideal for drift and bottom fishing as their thinner profile allows for the metal to be hidden in the bait. Circle hooks are also excellent for using on smaller worms (like dillies).
A circle hook has its point running perpendicular to the shaft. This is opposed to the J-hook style that many anglers are used to using. The benefit of circle hooks is two-fold:
- It “self-sets” in the corner of a fish’s mouth
- It prevents gut-hooking fish if they swallow the bait
When a fish swallows the bait, the circle part does not hook in the fish, but slides up its mouth. It self-sets when it gets to the corner of the mouth. This greatly reduces gut-hook incidents and gives the fish a greater chance of survival.
In some jurisdictions, circle hooks are becoming mandatory. One example is ocean or bay fishing for striped bass. With striped bass along the east coast of the USA, circle hooks are almost exclusively mandated when fishing with live or chunk bait (whether you are actively fishing or letting the bait soak).
Additionally, circle hooks must be “inline,” meaning the throat and point do not flair to one side or the other. An easy way to tell if your circle hook is inline is to hold it up and look at its profile from the back of the shank. If the point significantly bends in either direction, it is not inline.
Wide Gap Hook
These are usually used with cut bait. You can also use them with minnows. They are a variation of the circle hook. Some people refer to them as a narrower circle hook. The Wide Gap hook lets you disguise the hook in chunk or live bait because its shape allows the shank to be more completely covered. It works well with bass and catfish.
Worm hooks work with soft plastic baits. They are designed to hold the plastic bait in place and allow for maximum movement of the bait to attract fish. Often, they have an offset on the shank, which allows for weedless rigging.
Worm hooks can come in various types (octopus, circle, etc.) but have an offset that allows the worm’s head to rest up against the bend in a hook, alleviating tearing stress on the hook. There are also types of worm hooks based on bait type. An example of this is for thicker diameter bait.
Thicker Diameter Bait
These work best with what is called an EWG Worm Hook. EWG stands for “Extra-Wide Gap.” These types of hooks allow the worm to be affixed to the hook without tearing the worm or sacrificing hook effectiveness. EWG worm hooks work with virtually every type of bait, but work best when paired with:
- Stick worms
- Stick baits
- Soft jerkbaits
- Creature baits
- Beaver’s Baits
Slender Profile Soft Baits
Round Bend Worm Hooks work best with this kind of bait. It allows for full motion but also does not stress the bait. Examples of the type of worms used with a Round Bend Worm Hook are finesse worms, ribbon worms and some swimbaits.
Treble hooks are great for securing dough and being fished for catfish or carp. They are also most used on lures. Treble hooks also come in a variety of sizes. With lures, using the exact size of treble hook is important to maintain the balance of the lure. A treble hook that is not the right size can severely harm the action of the lure, including to the point of rendering it useless.
Snells refer to a threaded leader with an eye attachment that is attached to a main fishing line. Snells are usually thicker and at a heavier pound test. They are used for three reasons:
- To ensure a fish with teeth does not immediately sever a line
- Ease of attachment to the main line
- More secure affixing at the hook end
Likewise, snelled lines work great when:
- You are tying lines for younger kids or inexperienced fishers
- You are physically weaker and want an easier way to affix a line
- You are using a leader setup, as a snell allows for rapid attachment to the main line
Different Types Of Hook Points
As diverse as hook types are, hook points have as many different formats. Hook points serve specific purposes and have been designed to accomplish different goals. The following are the most common hook points.
These taper in towards the shank and are designed to easily pierce the mouth and jaw of a fish. They are also engineered to do minimal damage to the fish when it bites the hook. The ease of penetration, ironically, makes it harder for the fish to throw the hook.
The spear point is the most common fishhook point. It is considered to be a universal point that is used in all forms of fishing. Spear points run straight up from the throat of the hook, which helps avoid injuring the fish as well as making them easier to sharpen (more on that later).
Rolled In Point
These types of points are designed to penetrate easily with minimal pressure. The point angles towards the eye, which means any pressure you put on the eye is transferred directly to the point. These are great for highly active fish and will hold a fish when it thrashes about.
Hollow point hooks have bent-in spikes that curve towards the barb. They are perfect for penetrating soft-mouthed fish. A hollow point hook also will stay in place once set. Their shape, however, can make setting a hook difficult.
Knife Edge Point
These hooks are sharpened on both sides of the point. The points run slightly away from the shank. These are made for maximum penetration. They can also severely injure a fish.
Different Sizes Of Fishing Hooks
The size of a fishing hook is determined by the gap between the shank of the hook and the hook’s shaft. The gap (or gape) is given a number. In most cases, the bigger the number, the smaller the hook. A #22 hook, for example, is tiny and used mostly with fishing flies, while a #6 hook has a gape of about a ¼ inch, and a #1 is about a ½ inch.
After a #1 hook, the sizes are quantified differently, such as 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, and so on. A 2/0 hook is the size most anglers use to fish with plastic worms when bass fishing. The largest hook is 10/0, which can land a marlin, shark or swordfish.
If the size number of a hook has a number or “x” after it, then the shank is either longer or shorter than normal. Whether the shank is longer or shorter is denoted by a “short” or “long” after the second number. So, a “#1, 2X Short” would mean the hook size is number one and the shank is 2 times shorter than a normal #1.
With almost no exceptions, for freshwater fishing, the largest fishing hook you will ever need is a #1 hook. With saltwater fishing, the smallest you would usually use is a #1, and the more common sizes you would use are 1/0 through 10/0.
How Do You Determine Fishing Hook Size?
There are a few different ways to determine fishhook size.
Memorize And Measure
This is the most laborious of the methods here. It entails memorizing the gape size of each fishhook size and measuring the gape to determine its dimensions. While purists might like this approach, it does take a fair amount of time to master.
Additionally, few anglers are so precise in their fishing technique that variations between hooks, beyond “too big” and “too small,” don’t make much difference. Even seasoned anglers, for example, can tell the difference by sight alone between hooks of sequential sizes, but very few people could tell a #6 from a #7, although most people can tell a #1 from a #8, and the latter is clearly more important.
Refer To The Packaging
Every pack of hooks lists the size of the hook somewhere on the packaging. Usually, it is at the bottom in either the left or right corner. If you buy a hard shelled holder, there will be a label in the holder that tells you what sizes you have. If you buy packages with multiple sizes of hooks, the labelling will indicate the size and quantity.
Store Hooks Separately
Another way to keep track of hooks so that you always know what size you are dealing with is to have separate storage bins for each size hook you have. There are multiple benefits to this approach.
First, you can keep your hooks separate for easy access. Second, you can track the size of hook you most often use and the sizes you rarely use, perhaps ditching them and saving space. And finally, this approach can save you money by avoiding buying hooks that you never will need or use.
When you do buy hooks, you should leave them in the original packaging until you are ready to transfer them into their storage containers. Do not use them until you are ready to make the transfer. Write on the storage container the size of hook and, if you want, the quantity. This will just allow you to stay more organized on your fishing trips.
How Do You Know What Size Of Fishing Hook To Use?
Match The Size Of Fish You Are Targeting
If you are going after bluegills and bring a hook for a shark, your chances of landing some bluegills using that hook are remote. If you are fishing for bass, unless you are fly fishing, a hook that is too small will rip from the fish’s mouth more easily.
The key is to figure out what type of fish you want to catch the most of and its mouth size. You want the fish to be able to fit the hook into its mouth, with the bait, comfortably, but you do not want the hook to be so tiny that it cannot secure a firm penetration in the fish’s mouth.
Match The Hook To The Bait
Your bait also goes a long way to determining the size hook you should use. You do not want a bait so small the hook is hard to conceal. You also do not want a bait that engulfs your hook and makes the hook almost impossible to set.
Your hook should fit naturally on your bait and be somewhat concealed, but also have room and be displayed prominently enough to be able to function the way it was intended. For example, if you are using a circle hook, you want it to be able to gain purchase in the corner of the fish’s mouth before it exits the mouth all together. You want the “self-set” function to work flawlessly.
Likewise, you do not want a bait that is dwarfed by the hook. Fish are usually very cautious and if they see a hook or anything that looks out of sorts, they will not engage the bait. Regardless of the bait you are using, you want it to look natural and not like it is a chunk of meat with a giant piece of metal hanging out of it.
Matching Hook Size To Fishing Conditions
Experience can be the best teacher when it comes to becoming a good angler. Hook size selection is just one of the many ways learning by doing help you understand how to intuitively select the appropriate hook size. This can happen in a variety of ways.
In some cases, you may realize that the hook size you are using doesn’t let interested fish fully ingest a lure. In this case, the answer is to switch to a smaller hook. You won’t learn that, however, until you have seen the larger hook intimidate fish or prevent you from getting a solid bite.
In other cases, you may find that your hook selection is too small. An indication of this issue is when a fish can easily throw a lure or when you get a healthy strike, but when you try and set the hook, it pulls easily out of the fish’s mouth. In this case, you need to change to a larger hook that lets the fish ingest the bait, but does not obscure the hook.
Below is a handy chart to refer to as a rough guide for choosing hooks for various types of fish. Note that various other factors are also at play, and once again experience will be able to help you understand which hook sizes are best for what bait, fish, and conditions. However, this guide is a good starting point.
Fishing Hook Size Chart
|Type of Fish||Minimum Hook Size||Maximum Hook Size|
How To Sharpen A Fishing Hook
A general rule is that the sharper your fishhook, the more success you will have when you set the hook. Unfortunately, even brand-new hooks can occasionally be dull and are often not sharp enough. Additionally, after several uses, hooks can dull and even become damaged, particularly if you hang them up on rocks or submerged wood.
If you don’t store your fishing hooks correctly, they may not become duller, but they can rust, which can affect a hook’s sharpness. A good rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution with hooks. If they are not razor sharp, you risk losing a fish. Before you start sharpening anything, however, keep the following in mind.
Surgically Sharpened Hooks
If you use hooks that are “surgery sharp” because of a chemical treatment or other sharpening means, your best bet when they dull is to replace them. Hooks that sharp are prone to chip when used on a standard hook sharpening file. Hooks like this are also made of higher quality materials, so hold their razor sharpness much longer than your standard off-the-shelf hooks.
Stainless Steel And Bronze Hooks
Both stainless steel and bronze hooks dull easily. They do not, however, sharpen very well. One tip is to sharpen them as soon as you have them out of the package. By doing that, you can make them even sharper than when they were manufactured. Run the hook through a sharpener a few times and test the sharpness before taking them on your next trip.
Many hooks have a coating on them for corrosion protection and to help penetrate a fish’s jaw more easily. Sharpening these runs the risk of removing the coating, which makes them prone to rust. The key is to make sure your coated hooks absolutely need to be sharpened before you do it.
Once you sharpen the hook, color it in with a permanent ink marker. This will not be as good a coating as the original, but it will provide some protection against corrosion. It also will let you see when a hook has begun to dull or show wear and tear.
How To Tell If Your Fish Hooks Need Sharpening
A good way to tell if you need to sharpen a hook is to monitor how it performs when a fish bites it. If you are losing a lot of fish when you set the hook, your hook or hooks may need to be sharpened. A sharp hook will penetrate a fish’s mouth and jaw quickly and easily.
It is advisable to sharpen your hooks before you head out on a fishing trip. If that is not a realistic goal, you should sharpen them:
- At the beginning of the season
- Every fourth of fifth trip
- At the end of the season
Another way to assess when you need to sharpen your hooks is the “fingernail test.” With the fingernail test, you scratch your fingernail with the hook point with slight pressure (don’t use too much). If it leaves a solid mark, it is still sharp enough to be used. If the hook leaves a faint mark, you should strongly consider sharpening your hooks. If it leaves no mark, it needs to be sharpened.
3 Ways To Sharpen Fishing Hooks
1. Use A Sharpener
These are available at most stores that sell fishing tackle. The best sharpeners:
- Are easy to use
- Have multiple grits
- Are handheld
- Are compact
Because sharpeners can vary in terms of price and quality, it is a good idea to stick with sharpeners recommended by fishing lure or fishhook businesses.
2. Custom File
These are handheld files that are specifically tailored to sharpen fishing hooks. They are generally two filing surfaces with a shallow groove down the middle. There are several ways to use a custom file. When using one, make sure you follow the instructions, as they can be damaged quite easily.
3. Regular Micro File
A micro file is exactly what it sounds like: A smaller, thin file with a handle. These files are usually sold in sets of five. Each type of file has a specific purpose and while the files are not always manufactured specifically for fishhooks, each one can very effectively sharpen them.
To use these, run the file along the point of the fishhook with the tip of the file angled towards the point of the hook. If the hook starts to curl, run the file under the hook out towards the point a few times to straighten it.
Do not use lubricant when filing a fishhook. The reason for this is that you will not generate enough friction to make it worthwhile. The lubricant may also corrode the hooks.
Barbed vs Barbless Fishing Hooks
Definition Of Barbs
Barbs are metal protrusions that are part of the back edge of a hook point and the shank. Their purpose is to hold bait in place and to make it more difficult for a fish to throw a hook once you set it. There are several types of barbs that are designed to perform both of these functions to varying degrees. The extent of effectiveness is determined by the size and angle of the barb.
The Pro Barb Argument
Most fishers that favor barbs do so with an argument of economy. It is more efficient to keep your bait in place longer and more efficient to hold a hook in a fish once the hook is set. A fish that is held in place is a fish that will likely be brought into a boat or onto land.
Another argument for barbs is the inverse of the argument that barbs hold the fish in place. Hooks without barbs do not hold a fish in place as well as those with barbs, and the angler must be proficient at working the fish in to land it. When fish jump, the movement of the barbless hook lets the fish throw it easier.
It takes a lot of skill to land a fish with a barbless hook. The margin of error is extremely small and even the tiniest mistake on the part of the angler can cost a fish. Fish that jump can also throw a barbless hook much more easily than a barbed hook.
The Anti Barb Argument
The primary reason to have a barbed hook, that it holds fish in place, is exactly why barbs should not be used or only used sparingly. A hook that has barbs also can do a lot of damage to a fish, particularly if the hook is way down in the fish’s mouth. In fact, a barbed hook can actually do more damage to a fish than the hook penetration itself.
Additionally, removing a barbed hook almost always leaves a bigger hole in the fishes mouth than is needed. If the hook penetrates deeply into the fish, it can become impossible to remove without severely injuring the fish.
Injured or severely injured fish have a very low survival rate, especially if they are small. Injured fish are also susceptible to attack from other fish. They can even have a difficult time feeding themselves. Extracting a barbed fishhook that is embedded in the fish’s mouth or throat is almost impossible without killing the fish.
Which Is Right For You?
Many anglers have migrated to barbless hooks as catch-and-release has become more popular. For fish that are destined for the frying pan, however, a barbed hook ensures a meal or a freezer full of fish.
Additionally, barbed hooks are less frustrating for someone just learning how to fish. The fact that catch-and-release had to become popular before barbless hooks became “a thing” is an indicator that primarily skilled anglers preferred barbless hooks. Beginners, in many cases, don’t use barbless hooks because any error they make can lose a fish, making it difficult to progress.
So, whether or not you choose to use barbed fishing hooks will largely depend on your own personal preference, experience level, and desires in terms of what you plan to do with the fish.
Knowing what size of fishing hook to use depends on the baits you are using, and you also need to know what size of hook matches the type of fish you are going after. Once you understand those two things, choosing the right size of fishing hook to use becomes much easier.