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The Anatomy of a Fishing Hook

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The invention of the fish hook changed history. More effective than spears or bare hands, fish hooks allowed humans to fish deeper water and opened the door for so many things, including, many centuries later, thick catalogs of fishing gear.

The first hook-type devices, called gorges, were used during the Stone Age. Gorges were small pieces of wood or bone sharpened on both ends, with a line tied to the center. When embedded in bait, the entire gorge could be swallowed by a fish, and when the line jerked tight, the gorge would lodge across the throat of the fish.

Later, the traditional fish hook was carved from bone. The invention of metal made for better fish hooks, and after centuries of progress, today’s hooks are sometimes chemically sharpened and surgical in their effectiveness. But the basic shape of the hook remains the same.

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Following are the most important parts of a typical hook:

  • The point is where tackle meets fish. As in many situations in life, the first impression is an important one. If you don’t have a good sharp point on your hook, you can have the most expensive rod in the world, but you won’t catch anything but weeds.

  • The barb is a type of a reverse point that is designed to keep a fish on the hook after the fish bites. Bigger is not better with barbs. Big barbs can make setting a hook difficult when the hook meets up with a tough-mouthed fish like a bonefish. Or big barbs can make too big a tear in the mouth of a soft-mouthed fish like a crappie. Many catch-and-release anglers fish with barbless hooks, although it is possible to release fish caught on barbed hooks, as well.

  • One way to help speed up the releasing process when you’re fishing catch-and-release is to debarb your hooks. Simply take a pair of pliers (needlenose work best) and crimp the barb against the hook’s tip.

  • The bend is the curved part of the hook, and all those fine-sounding hook names, such as Limerick or Sproat, have something to do with the bend. Actually, such hook names have to do with two parts of the bend: the throat and the gap.

    • Think of the throat as the depth that the hook penetrates.

    • Think of the gap as the width of the hook, from point to shank. A relatively wide gap may be necessary to hold certain bait, to get around the snout of a billed fish, or to dig in beyond the width of a thick jawbone.

      The wider the gap, the easier it is for the fish to bend the hook so that it can escape. When the hook straightens out, your hook is either too light (referring to the gauge of the wire) or too big in the gap for the amount of pressure that you (not the fish) applied.

  • The shank connects the bend to the eye. A shank can be long or short. As with gap, a longer shank means that a hook is easier for a fish to bend. So why aren’t all hooks short-shanked? The answer has to do with what goes on the hook: different-sized bait needs different-sized shanks to keep it held on securely. A longer-shanked hook makes it easier to unhook a fish, too.

    Sometimes the shank has a barb or two to help hold bait more securely. These are called baitholder hooks.

  • The eye of the hook (the loop through which line passes) may be turned up, turned down, or straight.

  • The gauge refers to the diameter of the hook’s wire. Heavier gauge hooks resist bending even when imbedded in the mouth of a big fish. Smaller gauge hooks are lighter and easier to hide.

  • The finish refers to the coating on the hook. Some hooks wear a finish to protect them from saltwater; others are finished in bright colors. It adds to the options you have in selecting hooks.


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