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(For the week of April 13, 2009)
Use The Right Hook For The Right Fish
by James L. Cummins

Spring is upon us and thousands of anglers will take to Mississippi's waters to try their luck at fishing. Whether it is a seasoned angler competing in a local bass tournament, or a father and child spending a quiet afternoon catching bream on a farm pond, everyone who goes fishing wants to be successful.

A veteran angler will be the first one to tell you that in order to be successful you must have “the right tool for the job.” Just as bass anglers rely on certain lures to catch bass under certain conditions, anglers who pursue panfish and catfish rely on certain equipment as well.

One of the most important pieces of fishing equipment an angler can have is the hook. Certain hooks work best in a given situation, which is probably why there is such a variety of hooks on the market. There are literally hundreds of hooks for an angler to choose from.

According to Rob Ballinger, a wildlife biologist with Wildlife Mississippi, “The first thing to consider when purchasing a hook is the size of the mouth of the fish you are pursuing. Most panfish have extremely small mouths, so you will need a small hook. Hook sizes in the number 4 to 10 range will work best for panfish. With catfish, hook size is not as critical. The bait you choose for catfish will play more of a role in determining the hook size.”

Ballinger states that the next thing to consider is the length of the hook. “When pursuing panfish, a long-shank hook such as an aberdeen or carlisle will fit the bill. The long shank will be much easier to remove from the fish’s mouth by grasping it with fingers or pliers. A short-shanked, wide-gap hook, such as an o'shaughnessy, should do well on tough-mouthed catfish. Circle and kahle style hooks, which have been the favorite of saltwater anglers for many years, are good choices for catfish and should increase your catch.”

A final consideration should be the wire thickness of the hook. For panfish, a light wire hook has its advantages. The light wire will do minimum damage to baits typically used for panfish (minnows, redworms, crickets, waxworms). When fishing around brush tops and other cover where snags are common, light wire hooks will usually straighten out and can be pulled free without breaking the line. A heavy wire hook should be used for catfish as it will penetrate well for solid hook sets and will not straighten out on large fish.

There are other considerations such as hook color and specialized bait-holding hooks. In the end, it will come down to personal preference. Take this initial information and through experience you can come up with your own formula for success.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.