Why a small hook WINS for Great Lakes Steelhead by Roger Hinchcliff

Steelhead Fishing

The sport of fishing is a lifelong journey of learning...

...as we pursue our favorite fish species be it in rivers or lakes.

No matter what you're fishing for we all have one thing in common, the fishing hook. Whether fishing mono, fluorocarbon, braid, fly line, spinning reel or bait casting reel—we all differ on what hooks we like to use. 

great lakes steelhead lamiglas roger hinchcliff

Man invented fishhooks 20,000 years ago, and as years passed man kept perfecting the hook. Today, the avid angler enjoys the best fishing hooks of all time.

The manufacturing process kept improving over time and we now have hundreds of different styles for different types of fish and methods. 

In 2005 Forbes voted the Fishing Hook into the top 20 tools of all time that helped man.

Today manufacturers have many metal choices to make hooks. High carbon steel, steel alloyed with vanadium or even stainless steel just to name a few. A hook is still very soft after being manufactured. Then gets heated again and placed in oil, in a high-density oven for the hardening process.

Once the hooks come out hard and brittle they need to go into another oil bath but this time at 300 degrees for one hour to complete the tempering process. The goal is to end up with a hook that’s strong yet supple.

If hook factory workers aren’t on their game anglers could end up with hooks that are brittle and fail. For the record, I believe harder metals are more brittle than others. The harder the metal, instead of flex you could have a break. Hence, why the factory must get it right during the hardening and tempering process.

All metals and hooks will flex and break under a certain load. The good news is, advances in tempering and blending of metals have resulted in the strongest hooks to date.

Hooks today are coated with either a clear lacquer or with gold, nickel, Teflon, tin or colors for packaging. The world’s greatest fishing hooks are made from premium grade high carbon steel. For a great hook, you have to start with a superior material to get a premium product. Today's smaller hooks are stronger, lighter and sharper than ever.

steelhead great lakes fishing

What Hook Features I Look For

We covered the evolution of the hook and its manufacturing processes, let's delve into why hook and knot choice is so important to the angler. In this article, we will discuss my favorite hooks and knots for steelhead fishing and why. These opinions we will discuss are just that, opinions. But after thousands of fish many will agree with my results and reasons.

The eye of the hook can affect the hook’s performance. Today's hook eyes come in one of 3 ways—upturned, downturned or straight. Each eye design has a time and a place.

For steelhead fishing, here are the features in hooks that I feel are important. I want a small, light-wire hook for several reasons.

  • They prevent hang-ups, in clear water the fish do not see them as easy and they are perfect for light leaders.
  • The hook tacks to the fish’s mouth.
  • A lighter-wire, short-shank hook does not drag your bait to the bottom.

This allows the angler to present their bait with finesse. In stained water, I will use hook sizes 4-6 and in clear water sizes 8-12. For years anglers have had doubts about using short-shanked, light-wire hooks for steelhead.

The Benefits of using Smaller Hooks:

1. A smaller hook that has a shorter shank will have less leverage to work open a big hole causing the hook to pop out.

2. By nature, small hooks with a wide gap are difficult for the fish to throw once  buried. Use the largest hook gap you can get away with, without spooking the fish.

3. Light wire hooks offer better penetration with less resistance. This results in better hookups.

4. A larger barb on a hook will hold a fish better but always prevents a good hook set. The lighter wire hooks with a micro barb are best suited for Great Lakes steelhead.

5. An offset hook with a razor point is very important to your success. 

Is the Hook Vertical or Horizontal?

What happens when a fish closes its mouth?

When the fish closes its mouth, the hook rotates and lays flat and is no longer in a vertical position. The hook point is now facing sideways and horizontal. When you set the hook that’s when the offset hook bites and drives the hook home. Offset hooks are dynamite.

roger hinchcliff fishing steelhead

The hook should end up on the side of the mouth near the upper or lower jaw.

In this scenario, the hook-eye position would make no difference on hook-ups—if the fish’s mouth is closed, and the hook is laying sideways. You should get the same performance upon hook set with any style hook-eye and knot, right?

The answer is no because when fishing for steelhead and salmon I believe things are a little different from, let’s say, a bass.

Because steelhead and salmon are always opening and closing their mouths, I prefer a straight or upturned eye on my all my hooks. I love a turned-up eye hook that faces away from the hook point creating more space between the shank and hook point. This results in better hook ups, and is a great feature when using smaller hooks. Especially when fishing sizes 8-12 on larger fish.

roger hinchcliff steelhead

Knot Choice

I love a Palomar knot and use that knot a lot, but the knot I use the most is a snell knot when fishing bait.

A snell knot creates a direct line pull, because it’s tied to the shank of the hook. The hook point and line move in the same direction, resulting in better hook sets and penetration. Not to mention the extra leverage the snell knot provides when trying to fight these fish.

If you think about it, knots tied on the hook-eye move around while fighting a fish, creating friction. When you have friction, you will have line and knot failure. An upturned eye hook, tied with a snell knot, can handle a little more force when setting the hook. A light wire hook, with a micro barb and wide gap, is the perfect deadly combination for Great Lakes steelhead.

great lakes steelhead bead bait fishing

From a conservation standpoint, smaller hooks are better for the fish. You're less likely to hook eyeballs, the back of the fish’s tongue and gills. That’s always good for the fish when we can release them unharmed. When it comes to hook choices it can be overwhelming seeing how so many hooks are available today. Great Lakes steelhead are typically smaller fish than out West. Here, more of a finesse presentation is the name of the game when fishing for over-fished fish.

The light wire hooks do not slow or change my offering’s current speed. Instead they allow me to deliver that bait perfectly to the fish with a more natural presentation.

roger hinchcliff steelhead

Some believe a larger hook also has benefits and I would agree with that to a point.

At the end of the day getting more bites will translate into more fish. For me the smaller light wire hooks are the way to go for fussy steelhead. Little hooks make big things happen in the steelhead world!

- Written by Roger Hinchcliff

 

 

 



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