Anatomy of a hook for catfishing
by Daniel Kiazyk
There are those discussions where whenever you'll enter into them, you won't get out unscathed. So it goes when talking about hooks that work for catfishing. Most folks will have a favourite hook for catfishing for this or that application and it bears some responsibility on those who catfish quite often to offer a few ideas on what works for both the angler and the fish being angled. To start it is important that we work with a common set of definitions so that when we start to talk about hooks we are talking about the same thing. In this reflection I'll go through a variety of definitions and how these components in certain configurations make for a better hook. Certainly the better hook here will be a better hook for catfishing.
Hook medium; Let me get this (and perhaps the most controversial consideration) out of the way straight away. In general options exist, ferrous and non-ferrous compositions. Ferrous (attracted to magnets) and non-ferrous hooks will have a variety of gauges and compositional formulations. Too hard (too much carbon) and the hook will break too soft (in the case of brass) and the hook will bend. Too much iron = rust: all three can be negative depending on perspective. From the angler's perspective rust is not good but for fish who may have an angler's hook in their mouth such a hook will mean it will rust out more quickly. Too light a gauge and too much brass and the hook will bend too easily. I find that a saltwater model will usually have the proper gauge/strength but will often be made from stainless (still to some extent ferrous but in a reduced form because of production techniques that involve nitric acid the eats the ferrous component of the metal). It follows that s stainless hook will take a long time to break down ultimately meaning a gut hooked or gullet hooked fish is more than likely going to die before the hook breaks down.
"Eye"; Starting at the line tied end is the eye. Various styles exist (brazed, looped tapered) but for the most part I've only used eyes that have been ringed. The eye itself can be bent or straight. In my experience the eye bent away (straight and inward bends also exist) from the hook point is best as it allows for the hook point not to interfere with the line where it is attached. The only difficulty with the ringed eye is that the knot can get caught in the tiny opening of the ring and quite easily be cut if the angler does not check to see if the line needs to be re-positioned.
"Shank"; Shank length will depend on the style of hook that is chosen. The particular style that I'll use has a bit shorter of a shank than many styles available. Part of the reason I've chosen a shorter shank is because of the large amount of stress that a larger catfish is able to put on a hook and its bend. If the shaft is shorter the point of leverage that a catfish will have is reduced and as a result the chance for an opening of the hook bend is reduced. A last consideration for the shank is that it have a slight bend in it. It has been proven that a slight bend does allow for the hook to dig into the fish's mouth more efficiently.
"Bite/Throat"; This particular component in my opinion is crucial for an effective catfish hook. A lot of the baits that I'll use usually use require a larger bite/throat. This element is important because the deeper and larger that it is will usually help to retain the bait that will be used. A chunk of goldeye for example will often fly off the hook upon casting if the bite/throat is too shallow. In the case of using frogs the necessity to use two or sometime three frogs at a time will require a deeper bite or once again the bait will fly off when casting (remember that in Manitoba we do not have barbs which could assist in holding bait in place).
"Gape": This distance needs to be larger when larger baits are in use. To throw a curve ball into this discussion would be when we use shrimp. The gape needs to be somewhat tighter when we use shrimp. Baiting a piece if shrimp involves winding the shrimp around the hook bend*(another definition) and having too wide a gape tends to allow the shrimp to wash off the hook more quickly when fishing in higher current areas. The gape, however, needs to be wide enough when using larger bait. It is difficult to find a hook that can apply itself to both situations on all occasions. Ii might be suggested that the angler consider a couple styles to overcome the challenges previously discussed.
"Front Length"; This component in my opinion can be taken into consideration with the bite/throat. Many of the most effective hooks I've run into over the years have had a front length that is almost ½ the length of the shaft. It goes quite logically that the longer the front length the easier a time a hook will have to hook up in areas other than the corner of a catfish's mouth. I've seen many catfish hooked up by the lower mandible around the catfish's teeth. A hook with shorter front length would either not hook in this area or it would pivot out during the fight with the fish.
"The Point"; The last factor is of considerable importance. For the hook to have a chance to dig in when you set the hook it better be sharp or at least allow you to put an edge on it. With all of the types of hook points today an angler has the opportunity to choose a hook that is as sharp as we've ever seen. But I guess that's the point….a hook needs to have a sharp business end to do its job. Two types of point work well. Most hooks will come with a straight point. Some will come with a beak point (with circle hooks having an exaggerated beak point). Each seems to have its application. I will choose one over another as follows: firstly a straight point is great for an angler who likes to set a hook, the beak (especially in its exaggerated circle hook form) are excellent if an angler allows a fish to set the hook into itself.
Finally you'll have to make a consideration as to whether or not you are going to go with a J-style hook or if you are going to be using a circular shank styled hook. In my boat I'll anticipate the level of angling prowess and will go to the J-style hook if I know the guest has fished a lot. Circle hooks are great for novice anglers or for angling where the angler might want to leave poles in a rod holder. Each has its place and it really is a matter of how they apply to the angler and the type of angling that is being undertaken.
What hook do you use when catfishing? Well, hook styles are numerous and in my experience take some time to find out if they work for certain types of applications. To say there is a single "silver bullet" of a hook is not necessarily probable. It might be suggested that there are probably a few types of hooks that a catfish angler will need to hook up in an appropriate manner.