The Good oil on Reef Hooks
  |  First Published: June 2010

I love a good feed of prime reef fish. So while I’m not a gun regular reef angler, I do take it seriously.

In a couple of articles last year I covered the use of hooks for targeting pan-sized snapper and big snapper with bait.

This article is about which hooks to use when fishing the Great Barrier Reef in the north.

Every couple of years I also get up north for a session or two out on the Great Barrier Reef. Sometimes I get out there three or four times a year. I first visited the GBR when I was 12 and I’ve been a regular ever since.

The hooks I choose for the GBR are a little different to my southeast Queensland selection and I always expect to use (and loose) more hooks on a north Queensland reef trip than I do further south.

For this reason I like to use the bronzed French Viking style hooks whenever I’m in really rough bottom country. They are certainly a high quality but cheaper option.

The French Viking is the well-known 540 style hook with the turned down eye and French offset. These hooks work very well as a gang option, but I use them in rough country to keep costs down and using gangs would mean double or even triple the losses every time I get snagged. So I rig them singularly and cut my baits to suit.

Similarly if I’m using circle type hooks like the 7/0 Big Gun or the 8/0 Demon then I’ll cut my baits in a cube shape of a dimension slightly larger than the gape of the hook.

When baiting up with this hook I pass it twice through the bait so that the cube of bait sits in the hook’s gape with the hook point well exposed. For seriously heavy duty single hooks the Deep V is the go, this hook’s shape is designed to keep the gape free and thus they are suited to big baits and big live baits.

When using the longer shanked 540 style hook I cut my flesh baits in a longer triangle shaped strip and generally make the strip about twice as long as the hook.

To bait up, the hook is passed through the top of the strip and the hook is pushed through all the way so that the eye of the hook also passes through the bait. The strip is then twisted and the hook is again passed through the strip – this time at the middle or bottom end of the strip (depending on the length of the strip).

Rigged this way the strip will waft around tantalizingly as the paternoster rig sinker drags across the bottom.

Be aware though that when you quickly wind the bait to the surface, the water pressure will cause the flesh bait to pull down on the hook, over the eye and bunch up in the gape. Once this happens you may have to put on new bait.

I chose the ganged hook option when a lot of retrieving is expected, when I want to use a strip bait and particularly if I’m not expecting high hook losses.

I usually use two hook gangs where the top hook in the gang goes through the top of the strip bait, and the bottom hook goes through the bait about mid-way along the strip bait.

Rigged this way the bait is less likely to pull down. The bait also seems to last longer on the hook and even the pickers find it harder to strip your hook of flesh. Additionally you have more chance of keeping your hooks in a big fish when you use two hooks.

Triple hook gangs are another alternative, but I prefer gangs of just two hooks and a more wafting bait presentation. I presume triple hook gangs stiffen the bait so that it doesn’t waft as well. But if there are mackerel around then maybe a triple gang of 7/0 or 8/0 hooks will give you more chance of landing the macks (even better if you hook them on the tail hook).

For mackerel I keep a pre-rigged gang with about 30cm of wire in my tackle kit. If there are Spanish mackerel around, for example, to get the bait out quickly I just slip the wire trace onto one of the droppers, ideally the top dropper, of my paternoster rig.

Another option with gang hooks is to have a piece of copper wire tied to the eye of the top hook. This wire is then used to hold the bait in place so that it doesn’t get dragged down into the gape of the hook.

Using the copper wire trick reduces the number of hooks you need in the gang by one, but you still get your hooks placed further along the bait. Another advantage to copper wire is that when it’s used with a two-hook gang it keeps your rig within International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules if you’re that way inclined.

In most situations I feel the double ganged Tarpon 7766 is the go; it suits the strip bait size that I like and it also works well on pilchards.

Out from Brisbane I’ll use sizes from 5/0 to7/0 when using tarpons in a gang. Similarly, out on the GBR my preference is for 7/0s but I’ve found ganged 5/0s worked quite well too, especially when using squid baits where there is less flesh to bind up the gape.

As far as hook size goes my GBR bottom bashing preference is nearly always for the largest hook that I think the fish will eat.

Baits don’t bunch up as much in the gape with larger hooks as they may with smaller hooks. Thus you are more likely to have your hook point exposed and without your hook gape choked you are as ready as you can be to pin a fish.

But more importantly, catching bigger reef fish is about not getting distracted by the smaller fish. It’s inevitable that small fish will pick at your bait until Mr Worth-Filleting comes along. But if you get sidetracked by hooking a small fish because you used a small hook, then the big fish that was on its way over to your bait is one that you don’t get.

Another reason for my preference for a big hook is that I like to think that the large gape stands a chance of locking in around the large jawbone of a big fish rather than just skin hooking a fish. This is even more important if you are fishing from a reef charter boat where you may not always have the luxury of a landing net nearby.

Avoiding the small and undersized fish as much as you can means that you are impacting the fish population less because you don’t have to release (and vent) as many fish. As it is often a while between GBR trips I also prefer my bag limit of keepers has some quality in it rather than a bunch of just legal fish.

When fishing from reef charter boats and targeting big fish you are still likely to be using a bottom basher paternoster rig rather than a floater. The floater is best suited to fishing from a speedboat. When there are a dozen anglers at the rail on a reef charter boat then the skipper (and the deckies) will almost always prefer you to fish the paternoster with snapper lead rig in order to reduce tangles, especially if you are in the middle of the group.

If you do get the nod to fish a floater on such an outing it is a fair bet you’ll be given the spot at one of the two ends – either the bow or the stern corner when drifting.

When fishing the floater on a reef charter boat you are also less likely to have a livewell full of slimy mackerel or yakka…more likely you’ll be using a strip bait cut from iodine bream, Trevally or ideally a mac tuna fillet.

While I nearly always opt for a larger hook, one situation that sees me reaching for some smaller hooks is at the start of a trip when I’m keen to build up the boat’s supply of fish for cut flesh baits. Iodine bream is a good choice as their fillets make good reef bait, especially when cut to shape to fit your hook choice.

Choosing your hook to suit your bait and the fishing scenario is a great way to influence the outcome of your fishing trip.

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