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Going gangbusters
  |  First Published: August 2005



The ganged-hook system was started as a specialist fishing technique for targeting tailor along the east coast and Western Australia using garfish and WA pilchards.

Even though this system is now used throughout Australia, its common use is still restricted to the area where it originated. But for any fish that has the capability to bite through a leader or trace with its teeth, you should be using ganged hooks.

Even as a kid of six I can remember my father sitting down at the table in the back room making up endless sets of three or four-hook gangs with Mustad 4200 Kirby pattern hooks with offset points. These gangs would then be stored away for when the family would head north for a couple of weeks’ holiday to chase tailor.

As a kid I used to watch everything that my Dad did when it came to fishing. Constructing ganged hooks always seemed to me a very time-consuming task. Slightly open the eye of one hook, push the barb and point of the other hook through it. Close the eye and straighten out the barb.

Once this was mastered I had to learn how to bend and twist the gang to get it to sit straight and true in the bait. At first, I found this a bit daunting, but the extra time spent rigging the bait correctly reduced the number of bite throughs, and thus, the number of lost fish.

Ever since those early days I have always used ganged hooks when spinning or skipping pilchards and garfish for tailor, salmon and kingfish. I have also used them for flathead, snapper and bream while drifting or feeding baits down a berley trail.

Back in the late 1960s Mustad released the 4202 hook that was specially made for ganging together. It was based on the 4200 Kirby pattern and was aimed at the surf and rock-based pilchard and garfish tosser.

This new pattern made it so much easier and quicker to make up gangs of hooks. The only problem I found with these was the turned-down eye on the top hook that would cause the bait to spin a little.

So after some trial and error and talking to other anglers, I overcame the spinning problem by attaching a swivel to the top hook or by using a Mustad 4200D that doesn’t have a turned-down eye.

FREE SWIVELLING GANGS

I’ve conducted fishing classes for a number of years and have come across quite a few anglers who gave up using ganged hooks because they found it too hard to get them to sit correctly in the bait.

Rigging can be made easier by fixing a swivel between the eye of one hook and the bend of the other. This makes it much easier to twist and manoeuvre the hooks into the bait.

There are other advantages to linking the hooks with swivels: fewer problems with hooks jamming up; easier and faster baiting up; fewer hooks in each gang and reduced leverage from improved flexibility. I certainly get a better hook-up and landing rate.

BAITS

Years ago, the main bait used when ‘bait spinning’ for tailor and salmon from the beach and rocks was sea garfish. This changed with the growing popularity of the WA pilchard. In the early days, when pillies were plentiful and cheap, buying them in frozen 2kg blocks became so popular that the use of garfish became very limited. Many anglers think that you use ganged hooks only for pilchards and garfish but this is far from the truth. I also use whitebait, frog-mouth pilchards, bluebait, strips of mullet, tailor, pike, flathead, whiting and squid on ganged rigs.

WHAT SIZE?

Which is the best hook size to use for ganged hooks?

This depends on what fish species you are going to target and what type and size of bait you will use. For example, if I am going to use whole WA pilchards from a frozen block, I find that they are often not a consistent size. I may well have to use three or four-hook gangs in a range of hook sizes from 3/0 to 6/0.

However, if I am using pilchards imported from Indonesia, I find that they are all of a consistent size and will fit three or four size 4/0 hooks.

When I drift whitebait or bluebait for flathead, I tend to use only two smaller hooks ganged together. But if I’m using strips of fresh fish or squid I’ll need to have a range of hook sizes from no.1 to 6/0 and vary the number of hooks in each gang to suit the different lengths of bait.

Quite often I’ll anchor up over a reef or drop-off and fish for kingfish, mulloway and snapper by feeding a lightly-weighted bait into a berley trail.

With this technique it’s important that the bait works its way down through the berley as naturally as possible, despite containing a hidden set of hooks in it. This is when you use a lighter gauge hook.

When feeding out a pilchard into a berley trail I prefer to rig the bottom hook into the eye of the bait so that the pillie acts as if it’s swimming down the trail as you feed it out.

If I’m casting a pilchard, garfish or other bait from a boat, the beach or rocks, I prefer to have the pilchard facing the rod so that when I’m winding it back, it swims towards me. Sometimes, it’s worth trailing the last hook clear of the bait. If the fish are striking short, it’s usually this free-swinging hook that will secure a hook-up.

BRANDS AND TYPES

Over the years I’ve tried many different brands and hook patterns for ganged hooks. Throughout Australia, it seems there are many different types of hooks used. Some localised rigs even use some unusual hook patterns that most anglers wouldn’t think of ganging together.

Some anglers prefer a heavier, stronger hook like the Mustad 7766D Tarpon while others opt for a straight, non-offset point like the Mustad 8260 D Limerick.

With so many different styles of hooks available for ganging and so many ways you can assemble them, there really is no excuse not to experiment with how ganged hooks can effectively present common baits. 

ARTIFICALS

Ganged hooks aren’t only used in baits. They can also be used in soft plastics and saltwater flies. At the last trade tackle show I watched Mick Hall tie some very interesting flies, using ganged hooks, for salmon, tailor, mulloway, kingfish and flathead.

There are so many types of plastics on the market and just as many ways to rig them. I’ve used Slug-Go plastics rigged with a gang comprising a Mustad 4/0 4202D as the bottom hook and a 4200D as the top hook. I can jerk, tweak and skip this rig all over the place for tailor, salmon and kingfish.

No matter where you live in Australia and no matter what sort of fish you target, you’ll never know how effective ganged hooks can be until you’ve tried them.

Facts

HOOKS TO GANG

BrandModelStyleSize rangeHook point
MustadOpen Eye Kirby4202D 1/0 to6/0Standard
MustadClosed Eye Kirby4200D 1/0 to 6/0Standard
MustadClosed Eye Kirby419010 to 8/0Standard
MustadNeedle Tarpon7766NPNR6 to 7/0Needle
MustadLimerick8260D10 to 10/0Standard
MustadTarpon7766D6 to10/0Filed
VMCPerma Steel open eye8755PS2/0 to 5/0Needle
VMCPerma Steel open eye8755RD3/0 to4/0Needle
YouvellaKendal Kirby closed eye42414CEB1 to 6/0Standard
YouvellaKendal Kirby open eye42414BOB1 to 6/0Standard
YouvellaKendal Kirby straight eye42414SOB6 to 6/0Standard
GladiatorKendal Kirby open eyered high-carbon1/0 to 6/0V Point
GamakatsuOffset, open, turned-down eyeGangster 4 to 5/0Chem. sharpened

Facts

RIGGING UP A WHOLE PILCHARD

• Select a bait of a size suitable to the gangs you have on hand or a gang suitable to the bait size.

• Lay the gang along the bait so that the bend of the top hook is at the tow point, usually the eye.

• Mark where the bend of the last or bottom hook of the gang lies on the bait. Fairly close to the tail wrist is good.

• Insert the last hook into the bait so that the point and barb show on the opposite side.

• Lay that hook straight against the bait. Insert the next hook into the bait just below where the eye of the lower hook lies and bring that hook though the bait. The second and subsequent hook insertion points should be where the bend of that hook lies so that once you’ve set that hook through the bait, the hook is embedded to the bend. This way, all the hook shanks lie snug and straight against the bait.

• If you’ve calculated everything correctly, the top hook should pass easily through the eye.

• If rigging a bait for berley drifting, pop the bottom hook through the bait’s eye and work back from there.

• Practice makes perfect. Check how your bait swims or drifts through the water.

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