Rod-wrap welts don’t go over that well in church Sunday morning . . .

That moment when line comes taut and hook snaps forward to split lip and bone, sending the mighty whiskered quarry digging deep and hard, is like that moment when bat or golf club meets the sweet spot on a ball—sweet indeed unless something goes awry, sweetness mysteriously slips left or right, and the ball goes careening into a terrified crowd.

I actually fish with a few guys like former president Gerald Ford. Now I don’t know if old Jerry is much of an angler, but those of you who remember him as a duffer know he beaned more spectators than—well, Lee Trevino once said the fairway was a hellava lot safer than most of the crowd when Jerry took the tee.

Lots of fellers I fish with, well, you don’t want to stand nearby when they go to settin’ a hook, for the swing and miss that are fairly certain to follow, could get you a rod wrapped around your face. Rod-wrap welts, it’s safe to say, don’t go over that well in church on Sunday mornings, what with everyone staring at you and wondering what happened, instead of listening to the sermon the preacher probably worked real hard on. Not that I’d know anything firsthand about rod-wrap welts, mind you—really, my bottom lip and the lower lobe on my left ear always look like this. I would say, though, some days, depending on who you share bank or boat with, catfishing is more dangerous than a front row seat at a professional wrestling match.

I long ago suspected that I had a lot to learn about hooks, and that doing so would improve my fishing, when I began to see that the grand daddy cat hook of them all, the O’Shaugnessy, wasn’t quite the hook all the old boys said it was. Incredibly versatile, a real fine all-around hook, yes. But the perfect hook for every situation, heavens no. Even for trotlining, where the hook is real fine for most situations, it isn’t the toughest hook a feller might choose if he’s after monster catfish. Not that most fellers who trotline are after monster catfish.

Once you begin to take hooks seriously. Once you spend time considering design features, one hook style versus another. Once you experiment with various hooks given the situations you fish. Once you really get with it and study how physics might even be applied to the logic behind choosing the right hook for the situation at hand. Well, the subtleties of design in catfish hooks could keep you wondering and experimenting for the rest of your life. (Which is what I’m aiming for right now.)

Take the design of the O’Shaugnessy, for example. The little-bit-longer shank makes it easy for a feller to grab and bait a hook—time after time after time, which is the case with trotlining. The relatively wide gap also makes it an easy fit for baits that might range, depending on the season, from grasshoppers to cutbait, to chunks of Ivory Soap.

On the other hand, the hook’s such an ancient design that it’s built a little bit heavy in every corner, from shank to bend to barb. The barb certainly needs to be reduced to make it easy to slide through livebaits, whether large or small. The hook’s also too heavy to make it easy for smaller livebaits to swim seductively. And even in small sizes, the design is just too heavy to do well with small baits like those little red-legged grasshoppers that are such a fine option starting in about late July.

If the hook were thinner, however, it would aggravate a problem already inherent in the design. The longer shank, you see, already offers big fish more than enough leverage to bend the hook out in a few situations. Hundreds of trotline and longline anglers have been astounded over the years to find 12/0 O’Shaugnessys bent straight by big catfish. But then it really doesn’t take a catfish that big to bend this design. A friend once had a 32-pound flathead just about to get free from a 10/0 O’Shaugnessy, which the fish had just about straightened at the end of a log line.

All-Around Designs For Most Situations
So no hook, not even the venerable O’Shaugnessy, is perfect for every situation. Each design makes more or less sense for certain situations. I haven’t changed my mind, though, about the basic hook style I’ve recommended since I began writing about catfish more than 20 years ago. I’ve caught thousands and thousands of catfish of all sizes up to 50 pounds on the Mustad 92671 and the Eagle Claw 84, hooks so similar it’s hard for most folks to tell them apart. Most major hook companies offer a hook of a somewhat similar design. With its slightly shorter hook shank and slightly lighter wire, it’s a design even more versatile than the O’Shaugnessy as a rod and reel hook. Everything an O’Shaugnessy can do, this design does better, except perhaps outmuscle the most monstrous fish.

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