It is very common, especially in the modern world, for gimmicks and gizmos to catch on quickly without most folks really learning to properly use them. The current popularity of circle hooks for catfish is an excellent example of this. People hear that circle hooks are just the thing for big catfish and then spend the day watching the big lunker swim off with their bait while the hook gets reeled back in. By noon, the whole experience feels a lot more like feeding the fish than actually fishing. Here’s a list of the top 10 mistakes people make with catfish and circle hooks, so catch-and-release will be your choice and not the catfish’s.
1. Not Using Circle Hooks
Most really good catfishing spots these days are either catch-and-release or have limits on the number of fish you can take home. The circle hook is the only real option for releasing catfish with a reasonable hope of survival. Circle hooks set in the jaw, whereas most every other design sets in a catfish’s gut, so use the circle hook and retain the option of tossing the little guys back.
2. Too Tough of Bait
Whatever you stick on the end of your line when you go after catfish has to be squishy enough to allow the hook point and barb to become exposed. Sure, it seems like just about anything should get the job done, but things like bones in baitfish or even partially frozen meat can mess stuff up. Find a consistent bait and stick with it as best you can.
3. Too Much Bait
You want a big fish, so you’re using a big bait. Yeah, it makes sense, but keep in mind that the hunk of whatever you’re using has to be proportional to the size of the hook, too. If you hang half a chicken on a number 7 hook, the catfish will have to digest the thing before it finds the hook. Keep things in ratio and you’ll have much better luck.
4. Setting the Hook Too Hard
Circle hooks aren’t designed to work like the old-school hooks you learned on, especially with catfish. Catfish more swallow or gobble stuff than actually bite it. When you feel a catfish take your bait with a circle hook, less is more. You want to reel instead of jerk. Setting the hook is a slow process involving feel with a circle hook.
5. Holding the Rod
Maybe it seems a bit lazy. Maybe it seems like the kind of thing beer drinkers do more than fishermen, but there’s nothing wrong with using a rod holder for catfish. This is an especially good option when you’re learning the art of circle hooks. Leave the pole in a holder and you won’t be tempted to try setting the hook in an old-fashioned manner.
6. Too Small of a Hook
It can’t be said too many times that the size of your hook needs to be in proper relation to the size of the fish you’re looking for. Most folks use 7 or 8 for catfish, but the size should be gauged based on the local population you’re working with. Hey, if the bigger ones aren’t working, you can always admit defeat and go down in size.
7. Not Enough Net
In the old days, an angler would let a catfish gobble a big treble hook way down into its gut and a tow truck couldn’t get the thing off the line. Those days are over, though. Now, a lot of catfish action is catch-and-release, or has limits set on it. Circle hooks facilitate modern fishing, but don’t hook fish up quite as well in some instances. Keep the net ready or the catfish will decide when its time for him to leave.
8. Rough Handling
If done properly, a circle hook will set in the corner of a catfish’s jaw quite easily. It should come out the same way. Take it easy when you’re getting a catfish off your line in the boat. Whether you intend to release Old Moses back into the lake or into a frypan, take the time to learn the easy, non-invasive, method for getting a circle hook out.
9. Bad Knots
The knot holding the hook on the end of your line is the only thing that makes a circle hook set properly in a fish. Do it correctly and you’ll never have a fish get away. Do it wrong and you may have a very frustrating season. There are lots of ways to learn to tie knots properly; try one.
10. Bad Hook Gap
Hey, a hook is only a hook if it…well, hooks. Take a moment to check the gap on your hook over the course of the day. If the thing has gotten flattened down like a piece of wire, you’re not going to catch much on it. Yes, this happens even with fancy, shiny, new circle hooks. There’s nothing more embarrassing than discovering you’ve been fishing with no hook.
Maybe the most important aspect of using circle hooks on catfish is to remember to take it easy and keep calm. Everything about this type of fishing goes smoother if you take your time and learn the little nuances and subtleties of it. Done correctly, it can be as Zen as flyfishing.