Hook Size Debate

Hook Size Debate

On May 5-7 the Finesse News Network featured a debate about hook sizes that Midwest finesse anglers employ on the jigs.


It commenced with my comments about the Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jigs that I use with my Midwest finesse presentations for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in Kansas and Missouri reservoirs and some of the natural lakes in Minnesota.

I noted that I primarily use Gopher's 1/16-ounce Mushroom Head Jig. But throughout the winter, I often work with a 1/32-ounce Gopher jig, and there are a few spells throughout the year, when I use the 3/32-ounce Gopher jig. The 1/16-ounce Gopher jig that I prefer is fitted with a No. 4 Mustad bronze hook. The 1/32-ounce Gopher jig that I use is poured around a No. 6 Mustad bronze hook. The 3/32-ounce Gopher jig sports a No. 2 Mustad bronze hook. In my eyes, I like the way soft-plastic baits move or quiver or undulate when they are rigged on a jig with a small hook. In my eyes, a bigger or longer hook impedes the moving, quivering and undulating. Of course, who knows if a largemouth bass or a smallmouth bass are seduced by what my eyes deem to be seductive moves, quivers and undulations. But I do know that since 2008 that I have caught more than 20,000 largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass on those three sizes of Gopher jigs and hooks, and most of the time the barbs on the hooks were removed.



Here is what Finesse News Network members said about jig hooks:

Nathan Parker of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the first angler to post his opinions Finesse News Network about hook sizes on his mushroom-style jigs.

Parker wrote: "I am currently experimenting with a bunch of 1/16-ounce mushroom-style heads poured around No. 4 and No. 2 Matzo Sickle Hooks. My experience has been that I lose more fish when I go all the way down to No. 6 hooks, and I am curious whether I will notice the difference between the No. 4 and No. 2 hooks in terms of landing percentage. I use No. 4 hooks on my 1/32-ounce mushroom-style jigs, No.1 hooks on my 3/32-ounce mushroom heads, and 1/0 hooks on my 1/8- and 3/16-ounce mushroom heads. By year's end I am hoping that I will be able to settle on the best hook style (sickle or round bend) and size for my various weight jigs."

Soon after Parker's thoughts were circulated on the Finesse News Network, Bill Reichert of Lincolnshire, Illinois, wrote: "My thoughts on hook size are short and sweet. I find the small hooks I employ on Gopher Mushroom Head Jigs to be up to the task of bringing frisky bass to hand. Larger fish of many species are landed often on jigs with hooks this size. Walleye in excess of 10 pounds are often caught on small jigs. If you are straightening out hooks you are using too heavy of tackle."

Anglers who want to know more about Reichert endeavors with Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jigs affixed to Z-Man 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ can read about it on this blog: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/08/13/finesse-news-network-gear-guide-the-orange-jig-test/

Reichert's insights were followed by Ted Mallires of Milford, Michigan, and he wrote:

"I fish primarily natural weedy lakes in Michigan for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Over time I have realized that the smaller hooks on the Gopher Mushroom Head Jigs do not seem to reduce hooking and landing percentage, but they greatly improve the ability to work through weeds, which makes for a far more efficient presentation. So I am a firm believer that the advantages of small hooks outweigh their potential drawbacks. You just have to use some care when bringing fish in."

Clyde Holscher of Topeka, Kansas, penned insights about hooks on the Finesse News Network on May 6. He explained that he is a multi-species guide in northeastern Kansas, where the weather and water conditions change rapidly in the spring and fall. To contend with those less than desirable days afloat, he has found that utilizing Midwest finesse rigs, such as a 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig with small hooks, allow his clients to catch fish.

He noted that "spinnerbait, topwater baits, Texas-rigged worms and creature baits have their time and place in northeastern Kansas waterways. But from my 19 years in the guiding world, a Midwest finesse rig surpasses them all day in and day out. The degree of angling prowess of my clients can vary greatly, and employing the proper presentation confounds a lot of them. But Midwest finesse rigs with small hooks are relatively easy for even the rank beginner to use and catch a few fish on. Depending on the color and shape of the soft-plastic bait affixed to the jig and the cadence of the retrieve, Midwest rigs can replicate most of the creatures that our black bass, crappie, temperate bass and walleye forage upon.

I often use this analogy when I try to gain a client's confidence in Midwest rigs, which are not appealing to most anglers' eyes. Huge cinnamon roll is usually too much for us to consume, and, in essence, it is similar to power fishing. But a tiny bowl of M & Ms isn't daunting, and, in fact, it almost provokes us to start munching on them, and some ways that is similar to a Midwest finesse rig.

"The small jig hooks allow the rig to glide with ease across and around a variety of underwater terrains and obstacles, allowing my clients to be able to differentiate a rock from aquatic vegetation, or a stump or a brush pile or a strike from a largemouth bass.

"I have found that a small hook penetrates fish flesh easier than a big hook. And tell my clients that if your doctor is about to give you a flu shot, and he asks you if you prefer him to do it with a 4/0 needle or a number 4 needle, and most of us would opt for the No. 4 because it is a smaller needle and penetrates our easier than a 4/0 hook. Also tell my clients that when the 4/0 hook does penetrate the flesh of a largemouth bass' mouth, it often wallows out a gaping hole, which might allow a largemouth bass to throw the bait.

"I would concur with another FFN members comment: 'If you are losing fish, your tackle is too powerful or your drag needs to be loosened.'"

Ron Yeomans of Independence, Missouri, wrote: "In regard to hook size, I have used both the No. 4 and No.2 hooks with 1/16-ounce Gopher jigs. My impression is that I hook a greater percentage with the No. 2, although I haven't done an actual count. The No. 4 works really well for bluegill and crappies."

Walt Tegtmeier of Kansas City wrote: "I've had zero issues with the smallest hooks available on the 1/16- and 3/32-ounce Mushroom Head Jigs. But it has been easier for the largemouth bass to shake loose from the No. 6 hook on the 1/32-ounce jig. They usually get to the boat before freeing themselves, though. I'm probably not applying enough pressure for the duration of the fight, as it seems to happen most when the initial surge from the fish is toward the boat."

Rich Zaleski of Stevenson, Connecticut, said "I'll occasionally use Lunker City Standard Round Head Jig or its Standard Grade Fin-S Jig with a No. 4 hook for bass when I am using very thin bodied baits. But I generally prefer somewhere between a No.1 and a 2/0 depending on the bait. I use a No. 2 Gamakatsu drop shot hook for nose hooking drop shot baits."

On May 5, Dave Reeves of Lansing, Kansas, wrote: "I am a tinkerer and a self-admitted hook snob. As such I have played with a bunch of different combinations when pouring heads for the little Midwest finesse rig, and I have settled on a handful.

"The top two are the Gamakatsu #604 size No. 1. and Gamakatsu #604 size No. 2. It should be noted that even in this slightly heavier wire Gamakatsu hooks are a little smaller compared to the Owner, Mustad, and Eagle Claw of the same size. I have had some trouble with durability on the points of the Gamakatsu hooks, and they do not re-sharpen particularly well.

"The third one is Owner Super Needle Point No.1 This hook withstands a beating from the bass, but it will rust if left rigged (All of them will rust, but some rust faster.)

"The fourth one Mustad #32833BLN size No. 2. It's a steelhead hook that Vic Oertle of Manhattan, Kansas, pointed me in the direction of this hook (pun intended). I am still playing with them, but I am fairly impressed. I have another 200 or so to go into molds this week. Points seem to hold. It is a heavier wire than the other; therefore it requires a bit more force to penetrate. Might not be a great hook for swimming, but nice so far for bottom fishing and putting into cover. They re-sharpen well, which is a big plus for me.

"The fifth one is Eagle Claw 570. Its drawback is it absolutely needs sharpening.

"Initially, I was pleased with the sharpness of Matzuo's Sickle hooks, but they ended up having more flex than I liked.

"My hook snobbery is due to limited fishing time. When I am able to fish, I want each bite to count for myself, my kids, and my partners. Some of it is a hangover from my tournament days.

"In small lakes and ponds, I remove the barb, but I don't at Table Rock Lake. Ethically it makes no consistent sense, but when I am at Table Rock, I have a lot of hard-earned cash invested in the time and the trip."

Burton Bosely of Burton, West Virginia, wrote: "Here in West Virginia we have a 20 on 20 club, which consist of anglers who've caught a 20-nch trout on a size No. 20 fly. That is possible because the parabolic cushion of a light fly rod does not tear the tiny hook out. The eight-foot light-action parabolic spinning rod I've started using is great with the small hooks of the Mushroom Head Jig; it keeps pressure on the fish but is forgiving when a strong fish surges close to the boat. My medium-light, fast-action rods will tear a small hook out of a bass' mouth. Hence I use bigger hooks when wielding them. When I use an 1/8-ounce jig, I use bigger hooks -- as big as I can without ruining the action of the lure. I might add there are plenty of soft action spinning rods that are shorter than eight feet, but for distance the long rod is a good one. That's my two cents worth."

Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, wrote: "I like small jig hooks. Years ago I used number 4/0 and even 5/0 worm hooks, and I probably lost 25 percent of the fish I hooked. I now use smaller hooks on all my baits, I even take the trebles off my Rat-L-Traps and replace them with little No. 1 bait hooks on, and I rarely loose a fish anymore. No matter what size hook you are using, it is an absolute must to sharpen every point on every hook from power baits to tiny baits and loosen the drag a little. An angler can always put his thumb or finger on the spool in an attempt to stop a fish from running into a brush pile, In short, small jigs and hook put more fish in the boat.

A Midwest finesse angler, who asked to be anonymous, wrote: "I thought I might share some random thoughts about hooks sizes. The difference in length of a No. 2 and a No. 4 hook is 1/16th of an inch. If my math is right, on a 2 ½-inch bait that is a 2.5 percent difference. I do not think that bass are quite that perceptive of vibration and undulation of a 2 ½-inch soft-plastic bait that a 1/16th of an inch makes a difference. To complicate this more, different brand hooks are different sizes even though they claim to be the same size. The Mustad Ultrapoint is shorter from the bend to the eye and longer from the shaft to the eye by about a 1/16 of an inch compared to the Gamakatsu. The wire of a Gamakatsu hook is smaller in diameter than the wire of the Owner and Mustad hooks.

"I would submit there are trade offs. I really think the proper hook relates more to the angler's goals than effectiveness of the hook.

"Let me explain. If you are simply fishing for fun, a 5-foot super ultralight rod and a tiny reel with two- or four-pound-test line and a tiny barbless hook on a small lure provides the most sport. If your goal is to catch the world record bass, then an eight-foot heavy- action rod with 80-pound-test line and an Alabama rig or a big jig and frog should be your choice.

"In essence it is a compromise that each angler makes to meet their objectives. You and I are really similar about most of our fishing. Where we separate is the big fish thing. You are quite comfortable with tiny barbless hooks, and if you had lost the giant smallmouth bass that you recently caught, you would not care. I love catching numbers, but the thrill for me is the skill of landing a giant on light tackle. As an example, I have caught three 51-plus- inch muskies on six- pound-test line. I have never lost a big muskie on light line, and it never took more than 15 minutes to land one. My best smallmouth weighed seven pounds, two ounces, and I caught it on four-pound-test line and a SJR 6400 IMXLoomis spinning rod. Many other trophies over the years have fallen to undersized tackle.

"A No. 4 hook will not hold up to my light tackle, but it works well for your goals. My guess is we both get about the same amount of strikes and catch about the same amount of fish per hour. My point is we use tackle that fits our goals and in both cases our hooks work with our tackle and goals. I feel that if I can land 111 perch in two hours on a full-sized Z-Man's Hula StickZ affixed to a jig with a No. 1 Gamakatsu hook, that hook is small enough for my applications.

"Now here is the truth of the matter. When I catch 40-50 fish a day, I like to swing the majority in the boat. A two-pound bass can occasionally break an eight-pound-test leader or straighten out a No. 2 hook on a dead pull out of the water. Now that I am a senior citizen I do not want to bend over and land all of the fish by hand. Therefore my system is now a SJR 7100 Loomis spinning rod, six-pound-test Berkley FireLine with a 10-pound-test leader and a minimum of the No.1 hook. I am neither right nor wrong; it is just the minimum system that meets my goals.

"We are both strong proponents of the finesse system. I think the entire beauty of the Midwest finesse rig is it can be used by a wide range of anglers that fits their goals. For that reason I would submit there is no right answer to the hook size question."

Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, wrote: "I have been using small hooks since I read the first story about Midwest finesse fishing in In-Fisherman magazine. And I like them I fish a lot of woody cover. If used bigger hooks, I would get snagged constantly. I have caught some very nice bass on the 1/32-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head Jig with a No, 6 hook, and the bait skips better with the small hooks.

"The hook size is a big impediment for a lot of folks. I have shown this tactic to several anglers, and they have balked at the small hook. That's their loss.

"It also helps me catch big bluegills means the bluegills. Losing a few largemouth bass doesn't worry me. I'll stay snagless and skip away with the small hook. I have had only one well-used hook straighten or break under a fish's pull in the three years I have been using the Gopher jig."

Dave Weroha of Kansas City posted his insight about jig hooks on May 6 to the Finesse News Network. He wrote:

"A key positive attribute of smaller hook sizes (such as No.4 and No. 6) is the narrow width, which improves penetration rates due to less surface area and less hook setting thrust power needed when setting hooks. Here are two examples of the reduced surface area idea in everyday activities: (1) A single sheet of paper (thin, sharp, yet fragile) causes the infamous paper cut. (2) Cutting meat doesn't always require a larger knife, but it requires a sharper one.

"I am not implying that larger hooks are not sharp. I am merely illustrating that smaller hooks inherently have less surface area, and therefore can penetrate the fish's mouth with less effort exerted. Since going to No. 4 or No. 6 jig hooks, a few months ago, I have not lost a bass larger than 16 inches. By the same token, my reel's drag is set to appropriately, allowing some give to the fish. If I lose a lunker, I would certainly report that on the FNN. As you know, Bob Gum of Kansas City, who I fish with frequently and who use 2/0 hooks on his Gopher jigs, states "I notice you don't get as many snags as I do." And that is due at least in part to using a smaller hook size. The times I get snags, they are easily removed and I ensure the hook is bent back to original form.

"There is an exception to using a No. 4 or No. 6 hook. That is when I wield a tube (such as the ToobZ) or wide-body creature bait, and with those baits, I opt for No. 2 jig hook.

"At first I was skeptical of smaller hooks but now it is a staple tool in my arsenal on every outing. I invite others to test these assumptions, impressions, or biases on the "Bigger is better" debate.

Gord Pyzer of Kenora, Ontario, responded to Weroha's comments, saying that he agreed with him totally. Pyzer added: "Provided your small hook is sharp, it will go into flesh like a nurse giving you a needle. I always get a chuckle when I watch guys with small sharp hooks set like they're Roland Martin flipping and pitching and setting a heavy wire hook. That is the recipe for a missed fish 90% of the time. Just like a nurse doesn't jump off the floor when she puts the needle into your arm, just a firm and steady sweep is all that is required."

 Endnotes:

(1) For more information about Gopher Tackle, please see this blog: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2012/08/13/a-short-and-informal-history-and-tour-of-gopher-tackle/. Anglers can order Mushroom Head Jigs with various hook sizes by calling 218-546-8195 and talking to Darrick Peterson.

(2) Since the creation of the Finesse News Network, there are a few more anglers around who are working with Gopher's small hook jigs than there used to be. Still most bass anglers prefer to work with bigger hooks than No. 4s and No. 6s . What's more, most bass anglers use baits that are fatter and longer than the 2 ½- to four-inch baits that I and several other Midwest finesse anglers dress these little jigs hooks with. The only professional and semi-professional bass anglers that I have encountered that use hooks the size or even smaller than the ones that I use were two anglers from Japan who used to compete as co-anglers on the FLW circuit, and they didn't use them every outing as I and some other Midwest finesse anglers do.

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