Fish hooks are arguably the most important items of tackle we use, yet their selection is often overlooked or placed well down the list when gearing up. A little common hook sense goes a long way toward improving your catch rates.
In its purest form, fishing is a simple business. All you really need is a length of line with a hook at the end. Sure, a bit of bait helps, as does having a reel to store your line on, and a rod to cast and control the rig, but none of these fancier items is truly essential.
Ancient fishers had no choice but to keep their rigs simple. Centuries ago, lines were fashioned by plaiting vines, plant fibres or animal hairs. At the end of these lines, ancient anglers lashed a piece of bone, a splinter of fire-hardened wood or a shard of stone. This device, called a gorge, was intended to jam inside the mouth of any fish silly enough to bite and hold on. In many cases, bait was unnecessary, especially if the gorge was jiggled about to imitate a kicking critter (obviously, fish were pretty dumb in those days!).
Anglers of old worked out that pieces of shell made the most successful gorges and also acted as rudimentary lures, thanks to their shiny colours. Eventually, your smarter-than-average primitive fisher realised that a curved or bent piece of broken shell was more likely to catch in the mouth of a fish. Thus the fish hook was born!
Interestingly, the Olde English name for this fancy bent or curved gorge was angle, hence the name of our sport today: angling.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since our Neanderthal whiz kid fashioned his first crude, curved lure from a shiny sliver of shell and out-fished everyone else in the village. With the coming of the various metal ages, making strong, sharp angles or hooks became easier and, for centuries now, metal has been the accepted material for making fish hooks.
Modern hooks range from tiny bits of metal intended to catch tiddlers up to giant contraptions that appear capable of stopping an ocean liner. Every size of hooks has a corresponding number that refers to the width of the gap or gape of the hook (the distance across the bend from point to shank) rather than the overall dimensions of the hook.
The most confusing part of the sizing system is the fact that the smallest hooks have the biggest numbers. For example, a No. 24 hook is a little bigger than the head of a pin, whereas a No. 12 hook is larger, and is just about perfect for catching yellowtail, mullet and garfish, while a No. 2 hook is significantly larger again and is excellent for targeting bream or various freshwater perch.
The seemingly backwards sizing system, with the hook gape increasing as the number describing it decreases, continues until we hit the No. 1 hook, which is a useful, all-purpose size for catching flathead, drummer and trevally in saltwater, or bass and yellowbelly in freshwater.
Hooks larger than No. 1 are described by an ascending series of numbers followed by a slash and a zero. For example, the next size up from a No. 1 is a 1/0, then comes the 2/0, next the 3/0 and so on. The biggest hooks — used for catching sharks, marlin and giant tuna — are in the 18/0 to 20/0 range.
As a matter of interest, Australians pronounce the larger hook sizes as one-oh, two-oh, three-oh and so on, whereas in America, the same sizes are called one-ought, two-ought and three-ought.
The vast majority of fishing situations encountered by Australian anglers are adequately covered by hooks in the range of sizes from 12 to 10/0. Hooks smaller than No. 12 are mainly used by trout fly fishers making imitations of tiny insects, whereas sizes larger than 10/0 are the sole province of heavy tackle game fishers.
As the variation in size between each hook number is small, you can easily skip sizes when putting together a basic collection of hooks. The following sizes cover the vast majority of popular Australian angling situations: 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 1, 2/0, 4/0, 6/0 and 8/0. If you only intend to fish in freshwater or estuaries, bays and harbours, you can also probably skip those 6/0s and 8/0s.Reads: 1192