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Controlling Your Hook Set
by North Alabama Guide Troy Jens

Controlling the Hook Set. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've heard stories about the line breaking during the hook set. Has it happened to you? Many of my fishing friends have told me how they have "broken off" on big fish while setting the hook. I've seen this done even on heavy twenty pound line especially on short casts or pitches. However, in all my years of fishing I cannot recall breaking my own line even one time on a hook set. I explained to a friend not long ago that I have never set the hook and broken the line even on a snag. My friend said to me "Boy, you ain't settin' the hook hard enough". His statement made me think that maybe I was onto something! I'd like to tell you about it, okay?

The most critical part of getting a bass to the boat is the initial hook set. Learning to control the amount of "power" I use to set the hook is another one of the most important lessons I've learned in fishing. Anytime force is applied something has to give. In the case of bass fishing several factors come into play. The main factors are the bend of the rod to absorb shock, the line stretch, the movement of the fish during the hook set or the movement of the hook through the flesh and bone of the fish. The risk of loosing a fish is greatly increased when any of the formentioned factors fail to tolerate the force applied.

Losing BIG fish. Many people wonder why it is that big fish seem to get away more often than small fish. Some think that since big fish are older and smarter they just know how to "outsmart" the angler. I however do not believe it has as much to do with the wit of the fish but rather, simple physics.

Take jig fishing for example. About 75% of my fishing consists of pitching a jig a short distance into heavy cover. Generally in my area we use seventeen to twenty-five pound line for this type of fishing. When a bass bites a jig it usually inhales the entire bait in one quick move and, the bait will usually be well into the mouth of the fish by the time the hook is set. Most pitching rods are stiff and have little play in the tip so there is little room for force to be absorbed in the rod. The amount of line involved in pitching is usually short. The shorter the line distance between the rod and the fish the lower amount of force that will be absorbed by line stretch.

Fish size is another important factor. Big fish absorb less shock then small fish. Why? Small fish will move or turn in the water when the hook is set. I've seen some small fish come right out of the water and over the boat during hard hook sets! Bigger fish however do not move as much on the initial hook set due to their heavier weight in the water. If, when the hook is set in a big fish, the line, the rod or the fish do not give much then there is only one other thing that can - the flesh and bone of the fish. I used to set the hook about as hard as I could. I noticed however that I lost a number of fish on a jig even when the jig was deep in the mouth of the bass. How did the jig slip out of the mouth of a bass that took the bait so deep? I observed that when I set the hook on a bass very fast and hard with a stiff rod, heavy line and on a short pitch the hook would tear a "slot" in the roof of their mouth. Hooks work best when they puncture a small hole and allow the barb to hold. To make matters worse, I observed that the weedguard on a pitching jig acts like a "spring" that when compressed, puts downward pressure on the hook area of the bait once the hook has been set. The down or outward pressure the weedguard creates is minimal and depends on the stiffness of the weed guard itself.

However, it does not take much pressure to cause a problem. If a big hole or slot is torn in the mouth of a fish and the bait slips back at all, the weedguard, which is continually pushing against the mouth of the fish, helps pop the hook right out of flesh or bone and the fish spits the jig. It goes without saying that if a bass takes a bait and is hooked in the side of the mouth then the bait can be torn right from the mouth with relatively little force. Again, a small fish may move or be pulled in the water enough to absorb the shock of the hook set, however, big fish are much harder to turn. The extra weight adds to the risk of loosing a big fish due to applying excessive force during the hook set or while working the fish to the boat.

You've heard the classic "swish" of a rod as it sings through the air during a hook set. Some people I fish with set the hook fast and hard enough to make a ninja hang his head in shame. The "point" is, that hooks in good condition and with good, sharp points on them do not require a ton of force to be effective. I have lightened up on my hook-sets considerably over the last few years and it has seemed to help when it comes to boating fish. Especially, big fish. I believe this is also true when I use barbless hooks. The bend in a barbless hook is all there is to hold it in place. If a hole is torn in the flesh of a fish then barbless hooks are that much easier to dislodge.

Obviously, not tearing a big hole in the mouth of a fish is better for the fish as well. I usually set the hook with just a firm pull rather than a quick Herculean snap. The size of my line, the action of the rod I am using and amount of line between me and the fish dictates how hard I pull and it also determines whether or not I "re-set" the hook additional times. Learning to use more controlled pressure when hooking and working bass to the boat has made a real difference for me.

Learning good hooksetting technique is a matter of trial and error and close observation of every fish you catch. If you are losing more fish than you think you should, then practice thinking before you set. During the critical moment a bass grabs your bait, consciously think to yourself about adjustments required to the force for an effective hookset. Just don't haul off and whack 'em every time. It may help you get more fish to the boat.

Don't forget though, the most important part of boating fish is making sure you turn them loose! Good fishing.

Author Information.

Troy Jens is a full time professional fishing guide as well as an accomplished tournament angler.  Troy's beeen fishing since his Dad first took him at three years old. Sharing the knowledge he's learned since then remains his one true passion. He most recently appeared in Bassmaster Magazine in the July/August 1999 issue and January 2000 issue.  On the web, Troy is a regular contributor at the Bass Fishing Home Page.

With over 10 years of guiding experience on many various waters, Troy is versitle and committed.  Troy spends over 250 days a year on the water and specializes in tournament tactics, big fish, and grass pattern techniques.  He guides on a variety of lakes in North Alabama and spends most of his time on Guntersville, Wheeler, and Neely Henry.  Troy is experienced in guiding beginners through full time pros and works hard to help others improve their fishing skills.  He continues to share fishing knowledge through guiding, published articles and published fishing reports.

Give Troy a call: 256-534-4359
Visit Troy on the web at
Email Troy at

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