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May 25, 2020
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Holden Ford (left) catches a Killingworth pickerel, while Liam Morrison and his dad Bryan, of Madison, look over their Hammonasset rainbow trout. Photo illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan

Holden Ford (left) catches a Killingworth pickerel, while Liam Morrison and his dad Bryan, of Madison, look over their Hammonasset rainbow trout. Photo (Illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan )


Striped bass schoolie action ramped up along the shoreline as Ed Ayers of Guilford (upper left) and Eric McConnell of Branford (right) put their fly rods and spinning gear to good use. Photo illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan

Striped bass schoolie action ramped up along the shoreline as Ed Ayers of Guilford (upper left) and Eric McConnell of Branford (right) put their fly rods and spinning gear to good use. Photo (Illustration courtesy of Captain Morgan )

Talk Resurfaces on J-Hooks vs. Circles

Published May 09, 2019 • Last Updated 02:19 pm, May 09, 2019

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Associates and friends of mine from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii have been not only been advocating the use of circle hooks, but barbless ones at that. It took a while for it to catch on with both the recreational and commercial fishers. After all, fishing in Hawaii is all about food, as well as protecting its valuable resourcse. Just ask Kurt Kawamoto, a biologist with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, who says, “We catch our food, not play with it,” while smiling at us New Englanders. Reading between the lines, you can find an element of truth to his words.

Barbless circle hooks are now being used quite extensively as more and more fishers embrace the concept. The concern of losing a 200- or 400-pound fish due to the use of a barbless circle hook is diminishing. More recreational fishing contests are also embracing their use and overcoming the mindset that they are not dependable in fighting and landing a winning fish.

Here on the Atlantic side, the discussion still continues. Are circles as beneficial to a fishery as they are purported to be? Do they actually help reduce fish mortality? In order for them to be effective, you have to consider the fish itself and how it eats.

A circle hook is meant to be partially ingested. Then as a fish (like a striped bass) turns and runs, it will slide up the side of its mouth, turn, and hook the lip without the use of a classic hookset. In fact, imparting a hookset will actually cause you to lose a fish as the baited hook is pulled free. In this sense, more fish will be set free without encountering the stress of internal damage and will, consequently, save more of a fishery. Remember, hook setting a circle hook is a big no-no. Better results will typically come if the rod is left in the rod holder, thereby avoiding the instinctive hookset.

On the other hand, a fish (like a bluefish) that tends to charge its prey will more apt to become gut-hooked. In this instance, a hookset using the customary J-Hook design would be best, especially when the fishing rod is hand held. Fish that slowly take a bait and do not move off after the hit are another candidate for the J’s. Regardless, when numbers of throwbacks are unavoidable, switch to circle hooks. As a result of shear numbers, that will save more fish in the long run.

As far as barbless circles go, they are very effective in reducing fish mortality simply because they allow for a quick release. Also, circles will not remain in the jaws and throats of animals since they are self-dissolving. Additionally, they are easier on protected species like turtles and seals. There are literally thousands of hooks to choose from and no single one can do an effective job on all species of fish. Circle hooks are not necessarily a catch-all, but they can be very effective in the right setting. How long a fish is fought and how carefully it is released can have just as much of a bearing on mortality as the hook that’s used.

On the Water

May began the way April ended: cool, wet, and windy with water temperatures in the Sound remaining in the low- to mid-50s. The result was a landscape that turned greener as estuaries filled with baitfish, egrets, and ospreys, as well as eager fishers beginning a new season. Hopefully, Mother Nature has watered her plants and filled her reservoirs enough to alter what has bees the wettest spring in more than 100 years and the second-wettest season on record since 1902.

It has also been an excellent start to striped bass fishing with schoolies spread out throughout the Sound and into the minor tidal rivers. Creeks flowing into the main channels are seeing bass staging below as the tide drops and forces baitifish, worms, and crabs down river and into their waiting mouths. Flood tides are also generating activity, from fish positioned to ambush prey from sub-surface structure and along the river banks. Lately, in both cases, schoolies have been favoring the lower part of the water column. Sandworms, small jigs, and soft plastics are hooking up, along with Clousers and deceivers. Larger fish are being caught as they make their way down the major tidal rivers. Some of these catches in the lower stretches are exceeding 40 inches in length.

Blackfish (tautog) season wound down in a flurry with fish caught from the inshore reefs and jetties, generally settling in the three- to four-pound range. The next opportunity to fish for these bulldogs will be from Monday, July 1 through Sunday, Aug. 31, when the daily creel limit drops to two fish at 16 inches. Meanwhile, porgy (scup) are piling up in the Sound as winter flounder continue to bite and the Connecticut black sea bass season is getting ready to open on Sunday, May 19 to a five-fish, 15-inch limit. Until then, try a few casts or drifts for a weakfish during their spring run.


Blue crab season opened on May 1 and runs through the end of November. The minimum size limits are five inches for hardshells and 3.5 inches for softshells, both of which are measured from point to point.

Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.

For all things fishy including clam supplies, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better...

Tight Lines,

Captain Morgan

twitter @captmorgan_usa

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