Circle hooks and barbless hooks

My recent column about proposals for regulating fish hooks generated some reader response.


Pete Rosko, the avid fisherman and fishing guide who invented the Crippled Herring, Kandlefish and Sonic BaitFish jigs, thinks there ought to be a federal law requiring that all hooks being fished with natural bait be single and barbless.

Corey Wilcox wrote that he has been fishing with circle hooks for sockeye salmon for years. He claims that he rarely hooks a sockeye anywhere other than in the mouth, maybe one or two per season.

As anyone who fishes for sockeyes with hook and line soon learns, they seldom bite. This reluctance on the part of the fish poses a dilemma for anglers. To legally harvest a sockeye with sport-fishing gear in freshwater, it must be hooked in the mouth. Anglers catch most sockeyes by “lining”— pulling a line through the fishes’ mouths, sometimes called “flossing.” While trying to catch a limit, it’s common for anglers to snag several fish. I’ve had days when I hooked a dozen or so reds, and not one was hooked in the mouth.

“Some people have expressed concern they won’t hook as many fish with circle hooks, and I have to agree that they’re correct,” Wilcox says. “You won’t hook fish in the belly, back, tail, or dorsal fin, so yes, that’s correct. However, I haven’t failed to obtain a limit whenever the fish were present in decent numbers.”

Circle hooks don’t require “setting,” and tend to hook fish in the corner of the jaw. This is another good thing about them when used for sockeye fishing, he says.

“Because I’m not ‘setting’ the hook, there are less projectiles flying around the airspace on the river, which I believe is something we all benefit from,” he says.

After an incident that happened to him this summer, Wilcox has crimped the barbs on his circle hooks.

“I was a bit perturbed one afternoon when an adjacent fisherman netted my fish and then proceeded to crimp my barb without asking,” he said. “I indicated that I appreciated his assistance with the netting, but not so much his mutilation of my tackle. He insisted that I was going to like it once I tried it, and begrudgingly I had to admit later that I did.”

I see several obvious benefits of using barbless circle hooks for sockeye fishing, including:

■ fewer fish being mutilated or forced to wear an assortment of flies to the spawning grounds, and fewer fish becoming exhausted and dying from being “played”;

■ less gear lost to snagged fish;

■ no valuable fishing time wasted in laboriously pulling in snagged fish that have to be released;

■ going barbless causes less mutilation and stress to fish that for some reason must be released;

■ barbless hooks are easily removed from the mesh of salmon nets;

■ and barbless hooks are easily removed from human flesh, resulting in less pain and fewer trips to the hospital emergency room.

Wilcox says he typically uses a snelled 2/0 Gamakatsu “Nautilus” circle hook and a small-size Lil’ Corky for floatation.

In the past two years, more and more anglers have been using barbless circle hooks for sockeyes. Next chance I get, I plan to give them a try.

For more info, do a Google search for “circles for sockeye.” You’ll should get a hit on a thread on the Alaska Outdoors Forum that has everything you need to know, and more.

Les Palmer can be reached at