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Circle Hooks for Soft Plastics

By Russ Bassdozer

Many anglers have been asking about circle hooks. The reason for angler interest is that circle hooks are safer for fish due to the fact that the circle hooks very often slide into the jaw corner before penetrating the fish's mouth. There is less chance to deeply  hook a fish. Conservation-minded catch-and-release anglers like that! So far, circle hooks are becoming well-accepted for live bait applications. Why? Fish help hook themselves as they try to swim away with a bait, the hook is hard for a fish to throw during the fight, plus fish can be released with less damage to its mouth tissue. All very good! However, artificial lure fishermen are still wondering - can circle hooks be used with lures such as soft plastic baits?

The answer is a partial YES. I have used a circle style hook - the Yamamoto Crooked hook - with soft stickbaits, floating worms, tubes, and grubs. At least for these baits fished in the manners described below, the Yamamoto Crooked hook does work as desired - hooking fish in the corner of the jaw with only line pressure as they swim away with the bait! Mind you, these are mostly OPEN WATER or LIGHT COVER applications on a slack or semi-slack line where there is either no weight used or else the bait is separated from the weight by a short trace of leader line. I believe that the circle style Split Shot hooks excel in such situations.

In weeds, moderate to heavy cover, or for "dragging" bottom on Carolina rigs, I caution you against using circle style hooks. You are likely to pick up too many weeds or get snagged with exposed circle style hooks. In weedy or snaggy environs, you may want to stick with an offset shank rigging hook hidden in the bait when fishing weeds, snags, and for "dragging" bottom. But in this article, let's keep talking about these incredible little circle style hooks, okay?

Gary Yamamoto Crooked hooks. These are a special kind of rounded, short shank hook made exclusively for Gary by Gamakatsu. Very strong steel. In size and shape, Split Shot hooks closely approximate what's more commonly known as a circle hook. However, the bend of the Split Shot hook is much better designed for seating soft plastic baits properly on the bend of the hook. Why is the bend better? Because it is what I can only describe as "squarer" that a true circle hook bend. This allows the bait to poise much more comfortably nestled in the crook of the Split Shot hook as compared to a true circle hook.

Actually, "Split Shot" is a poor name for this hook because it does much more than just splitshotting. It is also a good hook for "wacky worming" and for nose-hooking trick worms, floating worms and soft plastic stickbaits, plus single tail grubs and other soft plastics. Let me tell you how I've used far!

Yamamoto Ika (solid-bodied tube bait alternative)  Yamamoto 5" Big Ika

1) Weightless Near Surface. You just insert the Split Shot hook crossways through the nose of the Ika, cast it out and start twitching it under the surface. Let it fall dead too. When a fish takes, you let the fish go down and swim away from you with the Ika. Don't worry, they won't let go. Just start reeling in line and the steady, gentle pressure of a slow sideways sweep of the rod tip causes the circle-style hook to catch in the corner of the jaw, hooking the fish without actually "setting" the hook!

2) Splitshot - Suspended. This is simply adding a light splitshot a few feet up the line from the weightless Ika with the Split Shot circle-style hook. You let it drift down through suspended fish - or engage the reel, thereby holding the bait at the depth that the fish are found. You can deadstick it or shake it. Click here for more information on the Ika.

Yamamoto Senko (soft subsurface stickbait)  Yamamoto 5" Senko

1) Wacky Rig. Gary Yamamoto's exclusively-made Gamakatsu "Split Shot" hook excels for this. In shallow water (0 to 6' deep) you can rig it "wacky" with the little Split Shot hook in the middle and unweighted. If you want to get deeper than this, stick a small piece of solder or nail weight right in the middle where you put the hook. Keep in mind that all Yamamoto baits are made of denser plastic which is slightly heavier and sinks faster than other plastics. With or without an embedded weight, just let it settle down to the bottom and shake the rod tip slightly from time to time during its descent. Hooked and weighted properly in the middle, the Senko should sort of flutter back and forth as it falls.

2) Split Shot Rig. You can stick the Split Shot hook straight through the nose about 3-4 ribs back, then pinch a few split shot two feet up the line to sink it quickly about 10 to 20 feet deep...then just deadstick it or start twitching it back through mid-water where your electronics mark suspended fish. Click here for more information on the Senko.

Trick Worms, Floating Worms (soft topwater stickbaits)  Gambler 7" Floating Wirm

1) Nose-piercing. I like to use big, buoyant floater worms about 7" long. I am sure many vendors make good worms to use... Zoom, Gambler Worms...many others. Simply pierce them through the nose! When nose-piercing, you can use an incredibly small size of Split Shot hook! Such a small size lets the worm float better and it avoids weeds/snags better.

2) Cuckoo Bird. To make this rig, simply pass the Split Shot hook through the bait - about 1/4 to 1/3 the body length back from the bait's nose. I use a larger size hook than when nose-piercing. Cast this quivering Cuckoo Bird weightless in open patches around cover for topwater twitching action. Rig it with a light splitshot 2 feet up the line - let it sink to the bottom in shallow water - and twitch it as it sinks, suspends and darts like crazy. My friend Eto invented this rigging as far as I know. Try it, you'll like it!

Single Tail Grubs Yamamoto 4" Single Tail Grub

If possible, I always prefer to rig 4" and 5" single tail grubs on an open hook jig whenever possible. Rig with the tail pointing down. But when weeds or underwater obstructions get a little bothersome, I may instead rig with a few splitshots pinched on two feet above Yamamoto's specially-made Gamakatsu "Split Shot" hooks. Just stick the split shot hook through the nose of the grub about 4 "ribs" back. You MUST make sure the hook point comes out on the same side as the grub's curly tail is pointing "up". If that gets hung up too much, I go to a fiberguard jig head for moderately heavy cover, and ultimately to Texas-rigged grubs for the worst possible cover. Click here for more information on single tail grubs.

Mister Twister Exude Fry (zipper style bait)  Mister Twister Exude 4" Fry

Have I saved the best bait for last? I think so, buddy. This one rules on a Split Shot hook! Use ANY method described above. The head is wide. Hook in the bottom, out the top so it lays flat. It has a central core spine along its length to get Wacky and do the Cuckoo Bird...and some of the biggest, softest protruding ribs of all zipper-style lures hang off this spine. The bigger ribs cause it to drop slowly and erratically. The bait's ridiculously soft. As if that's not enough, the plastic exudes molded-in salt, scent and flavors that create a slippery coat of fish-attracting slime when wet. Just add water! The bass will do the rest. Remember - use a soft-tipped rod and do NOT set the hook! Click here for more information on zipper worms.

Swivels. In the types of rigging described above, you may very often desire to use a small swivel and trace of leader line to prevent line twist. Personally, I prefer the light, streamlined and smooth-turning Super Crane swivels that are available from Barlow's Tackle Shop. Please note that the line twist is NOT caused by the circle hooks or by the specific brands of baits mentioned above. Line twist is a common occurrence with ALL hook styles and soft plastic bait models used with weightless, twitchy, slack line presentations. So, swivels always help!

Lots of room to experiment here! A Circle Hook (or the Yamamoto Split Shot hook) is an OPEN HOOK. It works best in OPEN WATER that's relatively weed-free and snag-free. If you keep that in mind, you should have no problem using them with many brands/models of floating worms, zipper style baits, and soft plastic stickbaits.

With any bait, you will need to test FOUR different ways to find which one presents your bait with the best action and the least line twist: 1) in bottom/out top, 2) in top/out bottom, 3) in right/out left, 4) in left/out right. That is all piecing the nose of the bait. In addition, you may want to explore for the best hooking spot to get "wacky" and to do the "cuckoo bird" rigging styles.

Just remember, IN COVER, you cannot easily use a circle style hook. You will need to use an offset hook rigged tex-posed for thin cover, tex-skin for moderate cover, and good ole' style Texas rigged for the heaviest cover.

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