Circle Hooks or J Hooks for Dolphinfish?

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fishing dolphinfish

Is that a J hook or a circle in the fish's mouth?

Which is better when fishing for dolphinfish: circle hooks, or J hooks? This is a question I’ve gone back and forth on for years, but have finally been able to draw some solid conclusions.

fishing dolphinfish

Is that a J hook or a circle in the fish’s mouth?

  • When you’re catching “chicken” dolphin (in the three to 10 pound range) or “peanut” dolphin (smaller fish), circle hooks don’t work incredibly well. Quite often the fish get hooked up but soon shake free. It seems like the barb may not go all the way through their jaw in some cases, but whatever the reason, quite regularly you’ll fight a fish halfway to the boat and then it falls off. So for small dolphin, J-hooks (and a solid hook-set) are the way to go.
  • When you’re catching big bulls or cows with light tackle, if you use a J hook there’s a fair chance the fish will swallow it deep and then chaff the leader with its teeth. In this case a fish of 20 or 30 pounds hooked on a relatively light rod may take 10 or 15 minutes to bring within gaffing range. If you have 30 pound test leader, there’s a good chance of a break-off before landing the fish. But circle hooks usually grab the fish right int he corner of its jaw, so its teeth are grinding against metal, not monofilament. So in this scenario,  circle hooks are the better move.
  • When you’re fishing with heavy gear and/or able to use heavy leaders in the 80 pound class and up (which the fish will sometimes avoid, forcing you to use lighter leader) the fish isn’t going to chaff through in any case. So in this scenario using J-hooks works just fine.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the larger circle hooks tend to get a more solid hook-up than small ones. While a 6/0 may pull free with some regularity, a 10/0 it likely to get a better bite. But – there’s always a but – mahi-mahi will often avoid striking a bait on a large, exposed hook. You may see them swim right up to it, and at the last moment turn away.

So taking all of this into account, which is better for dolphinfish, circles of Js? Both. You need to carry a selection of each, and be prepared to choose the best hook for the specific situation.

Lenny Rudow

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