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How To Select The Right Hooks For Fishing With Live Or Cut Bait

fishing hook sizes

Selecting the right hook is a very important factor that needs to be properly addressed for those who want to consistently be able to catch their target fish.

But the multitude of different types, sizes, and shapes of hooks can make the hook selection choice very confusion and intimidating.

So this post will help you understand which hook to use by addressing the following topics:

  1. Circle Hooks vs. “J” Hooks
  2. Pros and Cons of Circle Hooks
  3. Pros and Cons of “J” Hooks
  4. How To Determine The Proper Hook Size

Circle Hook vs. “J” Hook

circle vs j hook

Although there are a ton of different hook designs, the hooks used for live/dead bait fishing can be broken down into one of two main types:

  1. Circle Hook
  2. “J” Hook

The distinguishing feature of a Circle hook is in the unique direction of its point relative to the hook shank…

In particular, its point curves back in towards the shank which gives the hook a circular shape.

Unlike the Circle hook, the point of a “J” hook is more parallel to its shank which forms the letter “J” as shown in this video:

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Pros and Cons of Circle Hooks

Circle hooks are relatively new to the recreational angling, but their popularity is growing rapidly as anglers learn more about how their unique design enables them to be more environmentally friendly while also being very effective at hooking and catching fish.

The reason they are more environmentally friends is because they most often hook the fish right in the corner of the mouth which allows for effective catch and release fishing.

But the downfall of circle hooks is that they are less effective in hooking a fish when working a bait very fast in trolling or retrieving artificial lures because they require a little more time to slide into their proper setting position.

Pros of Circle Hooks

  1. Environmentally Friendly – hook typically finds the corner of the mouth
  2. High Hook and Hold Rate – when a fish gets hooked, it had a tough time getting off
  3. No Hook Set Needed – due to their design, an angler does not have to set the hook… just reel the line in

Cons of Circle Hooks

  1. Not Good For Fast Baits/Lures – hook requires time to slide into position, so not good for trolling or on artificial lures
  2. Hook Setting Issues With Larger Baits – if used with larger baits, it can be more likely to miss strikes because its point gets stuck in the bait vs. in the corner of the fish’s mouth
  3. Hook Set Mistakes – many anglers have a hard time fighting the urge to set the hook when feeling a bite… a quick/hard hookset will likely pull a Circle hook out of the fish’s mouth

Pros and Cons of “J” Hooks

Pros of “J” Hooks

  1. Great For Fast Moving Baits – top hook setting percentage for fast moving baits (trolling & and artificial lures)
  2. Easy To Find In Many Sizes – tackle shops seem to still carry more “J” hooks than Circle hooks
  3. Can Work For All Types Of Fishing – due to their basic design, “J” hooks can be used for all types of fishing needs… just not as conservation friendly or effective than Circle hooks in many forms of live and cut bait fishing.

Cons of “J” Hooks

  1. Higher Percentage Of Gut Hooking Fish – if the fish swallows the hook before the angler sets the hook, it can hook the fist in the stomach or gills which often leaves the fist unable to survive if released.
  2. Requires Hook Set – these hooks require the angler to set the hook to have the highest chance of hooking a fish.
  3. Requires Angler To Pay Attention – given that these hooks require a hook set from the angler and often hook fish deeper in the mouth, they require that the angler pays attention at all times when fishing.

How To Determine Proper Hook Size

After determining the type of hook you need (Circle hook vs. “J hook), the next step is to decide the proper size hook you’ll need.

And one issue that causes a lot of confusion is the hook size numbers from the manufacturers…

Many new anglers get confused about the hook size numbers on the hook packages that describe their size.

Because the actual size of the hook increases as its official size number decreases for small hooks (size 32 to 1)…

But then it changes for larger sized hooks which get a “/0” (pronounced naught) at the end… for these hooks, the actual size increases as the official size number increases for these larger hooks which have size numbers ranging from (1/0 to 20/0).

So a size 32 hook is smaller than a 6 which is smaller than a 2/0…

Most Important Thing To Know About Hook Sizes

The most important thing to know about hooks is that you need to match the size of the hook to the size of the bait you’ll be using… NOT to the size of the fish you’re going after.

The reason that bait size is more important is because putting a large hook on a very small bait will cause the bait to not look/behave natural in the water which will result in scaring fish from eating (ex. – if you’ve ever seen the popular TV show called “Wicked Tuna”, you’ll see that they often use relatively small hooks compared to the monster tuna which sometimes go over 1,000 lbs since they often are using fairly small chunks of bait.)

And putting a small hook on a big bait will often result in the hook point not being able to get set in a fish’s mouth once it eats.

Watch the short video below to learn about selecting the right size hooks:

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With the multitude of hook type and size options, it’s very easy for an angler to get confused.

But the most important thing to know about hook sizes is that the size of the hook used should be based on the size of the bait being used instead of the type of fish you’ll be targeting.

And for hook types, you need to know how to adjust your hook set based on the type of hook being used:

  • Circle Hook = No Hook Set… Just Reel Line In
  • “J” Hook = Set Hook Upon Bite

For conservation of our marine life and for overall effectiveness when live/cut bait fishing, we recommend that you use Circle hooks as often as possible.

I was slow to make the switch, but now I prefer Circle hooks whenever I’m live and cut bait fishing (even in tournaments) because I have found them to help me get the best catch-to-bite ratio…

And the added bonus is that a fish getting released after being caught with a Circle hook has a higher chance of survival compared to a “J” hook.

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2 months ago

What is the purpose of the swivel

2 months ago

What is the purpose of the sinker

2 months ago

What I need help what is the Hook used for in Fishing?

1 year ago

I believe it is pronounced, “aught.” The number scale works the same as gauge for wire or shotguns. They get bigger as the number gets smaller and past zero (0, 1/0, or 1 aught) you get double zero (00, 2/0, or two aught), triple zero (000, 3/0, or three aught), and so on.,

Howard Bessen
3 years ago

When you talk about problems using circle hooks with larger baits, what size baits are you referring to? Anchovies? Sardines? Mackerel?
Thanks, Howard Bessen

1 year ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

That’s called foul hooking. If you want to prevent the bait from getting caught up on the barb of a circle hook, hook the bait diagonally so that when you cast it out, it cannot spin around on the hook.

2 months ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

Hooks, sinkers, and swivels

Ralph Nicosia-Rusin
3 years ago

Great essential information for those of us trying to learn more about fishing. I have been bewildered by the variety of hook designs. I expect that in most cases there is an intended objective. Yet I haven’t found much information on manufacturer’s website explaining when to use one design or the other. This is the first explanation of hook size nomenclature and it clears up a lot of confusion.

In the future I would echo Tim May’s request for identifying when to select other geometric features, how to evaluate hook strength and match it, and any time fish species does dictate hook selection due to mouth size or other issues.

Many thanks for your ongoing interest and commitment to sharing your knowledge and experience.

Edward bloomer
3 years ago

Knotts used for on spectra line to mono and use of fluorocarbon leaders.

Richrd Meucci
3 years ago

I have some freshwater Rapala’s and such that have treble hooks. I want to change them to Owner xxx “J” hooks. What size hooks should I use?

Matt Haines
3 years ago

This was one of the hardest things to learn about when starting fishing – great article Luke! The video really helps visualize the presentation! Thanks again for sharing some great info!

Tim May
3 years ago

Great useful info as always ,thanks.Any thoughts on eye placement,straight or backbend ,also offset or inline .Myself I prefer straight eye and offset.Is there a time and place where one is better than the other?

Buddy Harrison
3 years ago

Excellent discussion! very helpful to those new to teaching their kids to fish.