When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you can have every aspect of fishing covered — the right rod and reel, good line, an effective lure and a solid pattern that will give your thumb the sandpaper look of a grizzled veteran — but without the proper hook, and a sharp one at that, you're not going to catch many fish. It's as simple as that! Trying to land a fish without a good hook is like trying to cut a steak with a butter knife.
Longtime pro David Walker of Tennessee is known as a power fisherman. Put a crankbait, spinnerbait or jig on the end of his line, point him toward shallow cover, and he's a fish catching machine. He can fish offshore structure if he has to, but Walker would rather be close to the bank around thick cover, pitching a jig, worm or tube or maybe casting a handmade crankbait.
To winch big largemouth out of logjams, treetops and from around stumps, Walker relies on a select few hooks for his soft plastics. Like many dedicated anglers, he'll try something new if he believes it might help, but his success and experience have caused him to narrow his hook selection to a few sizes and just two styles — a straight shank round bend model for worms and an extra-wide gap version for tubes.
"I try to keep it real simple," Walker says. "I have some XPoint hooks in 2/0, although not very many. Most of the time I use 3/0, 4/0 and 5/0 hooks for my soft plastics. I also have No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 D99 trebles for my crankbaits. That's all you need. I can take that box, and there's nothing I can rig up that I won't have right there."
The straight shank hook has been around for decades and is used primarily for worms. There is nothing fancy about it. With plastics ranging from a 4-inch centipede or finesse worm to a 12-inch monster, the round bend style lends itself to better hookups.
Two-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam uses straight shank hooks, too.
"Larry Nixon is the best worm fisherman I know," VanDam says, "and if the straight shank hook is good enough for him, then it's good enough for me."
Walker is of the same mindset. He said several years ago, when the offset hook appeared on the scene, many anglers tried it before realizing that while the offset may save a few worms from getting torn up, it also snagged more often on grass or cover. The straight shank hook doesn't snag because, as its name implies, it has no offset near the line-tie eye."I'm not worried about saving plastics," Walker said. "What I'm worried about is not staying hung, and this little offset sticking out will snag. I use a screw lock weight to keep the worm straight. That'll keep the worm up there better than anything — better than the offsets. Plus, the hookup percentage is so much better with a straight shank hook. I don't know why, but it is."
With thick plastics, such as a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait tube, Walker switches to the wide gap hook with a heavier-gauge wire. He uses the XPoint X25Z XStrong hook for his pitching and flipping. The heavier wire holds up better with powerful hook sets in close quarters and thick cover.
"I want that extra-strong wire because if you don't have it, you'll open the hook and lose fish," he said. "My main hook is probably a 4/0 or 5/0, and that's because I do a lot of flipping and pitching. I'll use the Daiichi lighter wire hook for casting worms, and I'll go down to a 3/0 and sometimes even to a 2/0 for a smaller worm, but most of the time I use a 3/0 hook.
"You don't ever use a light wire hook when you're flipping," he adds. "If you do, you're doing the wrong thing. You go up on your line size and hook depending on how close to the boat you're catching fish. If you're catching them close to the boat, you use a heavy wire hook. If you're catching fish a long way from the boat, go with a lighter wire hook."
Rigging a hook isn't rocket science. Walker has seen partners who thread the hook too far into the plastic, which creates problems such as backlashes caused by line twist when a crooked lure spins through the water. That translates into not catching fish.
"Use the barb on the hook as the guide for threading the hook in the head of the worm or tube," he says. "About the length of the barb is good. You're better off going through a bag of worms than picking out backlashes, and that's what you're going to get with a twisting worm. You'll spend all day fishing and not picking out backlashes if you thread it on correctly."
Finding the right hook for your specific tactics can be a trial-and-error experience. But start with the straight shank and wide gap models, practice around different types of cover and learn how they work. Also, be careful when you're threading a worm on one or removing a tube from a fish's mouth.
"They're fun to experiment with until you stick one in your finger," Walker says.
Getting to the pointSharp hooks mean more fish in the boat, and even with today's supersharp styles, a little help from a file can make a difference.
"Even though new hooks are sharp, if you want them to be extremely sharp you have to use a file," says David Walker. "When you're filing the point, don't ever go back on a hook; always go forward in one direction. Don't scrub on it. Give the hook an even pass on the file, and you'll see that shiny spot on the hook. Most hooks today have a coating on them, and when you give it a couple of passes, that coating will come off."
Walker gives his hook points a couple of passes on each side with a file to create an edge and remove any tiny bend on the point. Run the point over your thumbnail; if it's supersharp, it will hang and dig a little bit. Don't overdo it, though. Two or three passes with the file will be enough.
"You want that sucker to be sticky sharp," he says. "Just catching fish during the course of the day will knock the edge off it, so you want to keep your file handy. You might bend the tip a little bit, and it won't be as sharp, so check it and give it an edge."