Circle Hooks vs. J Hooks: Choosing Which Hook To Use With Live Bait


How do you know when to use a circle hook vs. a j hook when fishing with natural bait?

That’s a great question since using the wrong type could cause you to miss fish, gut hook fish, or even get fined!

Thankfully though, it’s easy to decide which one to use.

In this video, I’ll show you the one main thing that will determine which one to go with.

Let’s dive in!

Using Circle Hooks vs. J Hooks For Live Bait [VIDEO]

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And here are two of my favorite circle and j hooks:

When To Use Circle Hooks With Natural Bait

There are two main reasons to use circle hooks:

  1. The law says you have to
  2. You’re passively fishing

There are some regions where circle hooks are mandatory when using natural bait, so be sure to check your local laws before you go fishing.

The other reason when you’d use circle hooks is if you’re passively fishing.

For example, if you’re having a sandwich and the rod is in the rod holder while you’re soaking a piece of cut bait, that’s passively fishing.

It’s also best to advise inexperienced anglers and children to passively fish.

Since they probably don’t know when or how to set the hook, you can rig their bait on a circle hook and tell them to just reel (without setting the hook) when they feel a big tug.

When To Use J Hooks With Natural Bait

You can use j hooks with live or cut bait when you’re actively fishing and plan on setting the hook when you feel a strike (and, of course, when it’s legal to use them).

Actively fishing means you’re feeding line off of the spool to let your bait swim or drift naturally and you’re feeling every nibble and strike so you know exactly when to set the hook.

It’s easier for fish to get gut hooked with j hooks than circle hooks, which is why you only use j hooks when you’re actively fishing.


best cut bait rig

If you’re passively fishing, or the law requires so, then use a circle hook with natural bait.

But if you’re actively fishing and there are no circle hook requirements, then you can use a j hook.

Here are two of my favorite circle and j hooks:

Have any questions about when you should use a j hook vs. a circle hook?

Let me know down in the comments!

And if you want to step up your live bait game and catch more trophy fish than you could ever imagine, then you’ve got to check out Underwater Bait Forensics.

You’ll see exactly how baitfish behave underwater and learn the best ways to rig them to make them look natural and irresistible to big predator fish like gator trout, bull redfish, and slob snook.

Get Underwater Bait Forensics here.

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10 months ago

Should not use J hooks on reefs!

State and federal regulations require all commercial fishers and recreational anglers fishing for any reef fish species to have and use certain gear. In state waters, reef fish species include groupers, snappers, amberjacks, gray triggerfish, red porgy, sea bass, hogfish and tilefish. View a list of reef fish managed in federal waters.
State Waters of the Gulf of Mexico Required Gear

  • When fishing with natural bait, non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks are required
  • Dehooking device

Gulf federal waters

  • When fishing with natural bait, non-stainless steel circle hooks are required
  • Dehooking device
Jerry Dexter
11 months ago

Thanks Tony

Joe Urbanek
11 months ago

Tony, another great video as usual. Question… Have you guys ever used Bait Runner style reels? You talk about leaving the bail open and I do that method but over the years have bought a few bait runner reels. It makes using circle hooks very easy, if you want to fish passively. If I’m fishing live bait with a Bait Runner, I just have the second drag set extremely light and can set it in a rod holder if I need to. If I’m fishing actively, I can still use the Bait Runner and let the fish take the bait before clicking the drag to the main drag, which then sets the hook.

I have not ever seen anything on Bait runner reels here and was just wondering what your thought on them were.

Thanks again, I always learn something patrolling the Salt Strong site.


Matthew Lovenshimer
10 months ago
Reply to  Joe Urbanek

Joe, I do the same thing all the time with live and natural baits, both fresh and salt water. In fact, if I have the bait handy I’ll soak one on the live drag while I’m fishing a soft plastic.

James Tarver
11 months ago

I am also a big fan of the octopus hooks. I generally am an active fisherman with Redfish and speckled trout as the main targets I have had the best luck when using a Snell knot with the bent hook eye. Would you do a video showing the easiest way to tie Snell knots? I usually fish on the near shoreline of the Texas Gulf near Freeport and have had the best luck fishing from the Gulf fishing toward the beach outside the breakers with the bait in the white water of the rolling surf.

Thanks for the good quality posts.

11 months ago

Planning on a trip to Mosquito Lagoon in the next couple weeks and haven’t been able to find any restrictions on hook type for targeting both reds and trout while I’m down there. Happy to fish either hook style, just not sure on the legal rules for that area of water. Anyone know the rules and willing to share? Thanks!

Last edited 11 months ago by Zachary LaPointe
11 months ago
Reply to  Tony Acevedo

Tony, thanks for the info, always nice to have such knowledgeable guys “on the inside!” I’m gonna catch and release for sure, just looking for a memory of a monster (or two)! 🙂

10 months ago
Reply to  Zak

There are rules regarding the use of treble hooks in conjunction with live or dead natural bait for certain species. Use single hooks and you are ok!

Mark Schreur
11 months ago

Tony, Great info as always. A couple of additional points: 1. It’s important to differentiate between offset and non-offset circle hooks. Offset circle hook will behave pretty much the same as j-hooks in terms of deep hooking fish and in my experience removing a circle hook from a deeply hooked fish is more difficult than removing a j-hook in the same location. 2. The Law….certain species and locations require (usually non-offset) circle hooks. 3. Species targeted. I’ve noticed that species such as flounder which don’t turn to either side after they attack their prey (or bait) don’t have as high a success rate with hook ups using circle hooks as those who grab and turn away causing the hook to be pulled into the side of the jaw and set. Keep up the good work.

rick hale
11 months ago

your right . I use circle hooks and have learned to wait till the fish hooks his self when holding the rod. The urge to set the hook is hard to break.

Bryan Bonacci
11 months ago

I don’t use live bait often but usually I use croaker hooks. They are lightweight to free line shrimp on and large enough to use on fin fish. My only concern is it’s might straighten out on a bull red because of how lightweight it is. But I’ve caught my PB seatrout and red on it no problems.


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