Soft plastic baits catch plenty of bass, but they have an occasional drawback — they can be hard on the fish. The time lapse between feeling the bite and setting the hook often allows the bass enough time to swallow the hook.
The pros use a lot of plastics and frequently throat-hook their bass. But they don't often bring dead fish to the scales. That's not an accident, nor is it luck.
"There's only so many good bass. We've got to save every one of them if we can," says Elite Series pro Jeff Reynolds. "One way to do this is to properly remove the hook from a bass' throat. It only takes a second and isn't hard once you learn how to do it."
Reynolds makes the point that the majority of bass that do not survive throat-hooking are killed by anglers, not by hooks. "Too many guys rip the hook out by jerking on the line or by ripping it out with pliers. That's not necessary. There's a better way."
To execute his better way, Reynolds first positions the fish with his left hand so that the hook point is away from his chest. Then he places the middle finger of his right hand (he's right-handed) onto the inside of the bend of the hook. He then applies gentle, but firm, pressure against the hook. Think of it as pushing the hook away from your hand by straightening out your middle finger.
The pressure should not move the hook back and forth, up or down, left or right. The idea is to push straight back without trying to force the hook out of the fish's flesh. It's about pressure, not brute force.
Then, with the thumb of the same hand (right) on the eye of the hook, push it (the hook eye) out — and away — from your wrist. Again, think of it as straightening out your thumb.
"With a little practice you can coordinate the backward push with your middle finger and the away push with your thumb. Once you get this down, 90 percent of the hooks will pop right out without hurting the fish at all. She'll stay alive until the weigh-in and then live a long life after she's released.