Circle hooks certainly get a lot of good press, but do they really help reduce catch and release mortality? And, do they really help you get a better set in the corner of the fish’s jaw? Unfortunately, years of experimentation has proven to me that despite what all the studies say, the answer in both cases is a solid “maybe, but it depends.”
I’ve tried circle hooks expensively on striped bass, black and red drum, speckled trout, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, white marlin, tilefish, and cobia. In all of these cases, two over-arching factors have made themselves clear.
The first is that using an offset circle hook – one with a bend from the shank to point, as opposed to having the point and shank line up exactly – is more or less no different from using a J-hook. Offset circles will lodge themselves in a fish’s gut with just as much regularity.
The second is that in order for a circle hook to work effectively, the fish has to be swimming away. Striped bass are an excellent example, because sometimes they grab a chunk of bait or a live baitfish, and just sort of sit there. In this case, you’re not going to hook that fish with a circle hook (whereas with a J-hook you’re lift the rod tip, and set it). At other times they smash a bait and run, and in this scenario, circle hooks work just fine. Now, consider a black drum. Often if it feels tension on the line or some other sign of foul play it will spit a bait. And, often these fish move around rather slowly. As a result, it’s common to have them eat a bait on a circle hook, but then reject it long before moving off and allowing the circle hook to set itself.
Am I an expert scientist, who’s spent decades researching nothing but circle hooks? Heck no. Are there biologists who know more than I do on this topic? No doubt. But often the scientific studies that take place are massively flawed because they only look at one fishery, one technique, or a single set of anglers who fish in a specific way. And after fishing extensively with circle hooks for decades, often side by side with J-hooks and usually with several different people aboard my boat, experience tells me that circle hooks may help reduce mortality, but it depends. And they may help you get a better hook set, but it depends.