How to set the Hook

Before we talk about “how”, we need to talk about “when” to set the hook. The old theory is to let the fish run until he stops. This is when he is supposed to be turning the shiner around, in his mouth, so he can swallow it head first. When he starts to move again is when you set. NOT!

Florida’s Wild Golden Shiners

Florda Wild Golden Shiner

First let’s look at the bait. The shiner does not have a spiny dorsal fin or any other defenses like the blue gill or crappie. When a bass eats a shiner, he does not need to turn it head first to swallow it like he does with a blue gill or crappie. When he takes the shiner in his mouth he crushes it to death. He can then swallow it head first, tail first or side-ways. If it is a small fish, trying to eat a large shiner, he almost always swallows the bait as soon as he gets it in his mouth. Smaller fish run in schools so when one of them eats a shiner the only way he can conceal his prize from the other fish is to swallow it immediately. This will often result with the smaller fish being hooked deep. As long as any portion of the shiner can be seen protruding from his mouth, the other fish in the school will give chase and try to take it away. This competition for food causes fast strikes with a burst of speed, peeling line off the reel, as he runs from the school. A large fish will eat his prey as described earlier by crushing it first. So if you set as soon as you detect the bite, you have a better chance of catching the fish and releasing him unharmed without gut hooking him.

Setting the Hook

Now we can talk about “how” to set the hook. I would tell my customers to try to break the rod…some have. When you think of what that shiner must look like in the fishes mouth, all wadded up, you can understand why you need to set hard. Don’t think about needing the power to drive the point through the bass’ jaw but how you’re going to get the point and barb to rip through all that meat and bone (the shiners body) and still have enough travel to penetrate the bass’ jaw for a good hook up. Many times I’ve seen someone reel in their line, after a missed fish, only to see a shiner all balled up on the hook with it turned around and stuck back into the shiners body or skull, guarding the point from doing its intended job of sticking a fish. The harder you set, the less chance there is of this happening.

There are two theories on how to set the hook. One is to reel up any slack in the line while holding the rod at about the 10:00 o’clock position. When you’re sure you have all the slack out of the line, reel down until you’re almost pointing to the fish, then set with a sweeping motion over your head. The other method, and the one I use, is to pull the slack out of the line and stop at the 10:00 o’clock position. When I get to this position, I drop the rod down, throwing slack in the line and immediately snatch the slack out. You can do this back over you’re head, or with the rod butt planted on your hip, snatching sideways and horizontal to the water. I feel that by snatching the slack out of the line is like driving a nail. If you press the hammer against the nail head and push, nothing happens. However if you raise the hammer up and smack the nail on the head, then you can drive it.

Circle Hook The circle hook is another animal altogether. The biggest difference is you don’t set. It’s also better to use a softer rod than the heavy action extra fast tip flippin’ stick you use with a kahle. You need a medium heavy rod with a strong butt. You still have to be able to horse the fish out of heavy vegetation. Since a circle does not come weedless, it’s not recommended around cattails, reeds or kissimmee grass. You use it in open water and around hydrilla.

When the fish strikes, you let him have some line. If he moves towards you, don’t jerk, instead put a little pressure on the line and tease him into thinking the shiner is trying to get away. This will cause him to turn against the pressure and move away from you. When you’re sure the fish is moving away from you, only then do you want to put enough pressure on the line to drive the point home.

Let’s do this step by step in a perfect scenario:1) You know a fish has picked up the bait.2) He swims off putting pressure on the line3) With the reel in free spool, pull your rod back, horizontal to the water and 90° from where the line points to the fish.4) Engage the reel.5) As the fish keeps moving away and pulling slack out of then line he begins loading the rod.6) With the rod loaded, follow the fish until you’re almost pointing to him and then sweep the rod back, DON’T SET!

What happens is, as you sweep the rod back on a tight line, and the fish is moving away in the opposite direction of the pressure it causes the point to catch the corner of his mouth as it’s exiting. As you continue to put pressure on the line the fish will eventually turn towards you causing the to rotate around his jaw bone. Almost 90% of your hook-ups will be around the tough boney part at the corner of his mouth.

Another way to look at it is try to imagine the hook stationary with the eye pointing directly back towards the rod tip. You can do this by laying it on a flat surface in front of you with the eye pointing towards you and the bottom of the throat pointing away. Now picture, in your mind, a fish swimming away from you with the hook in the corner of his mouth. The line and eye are already outside of his mouth and the throat and point are bending around to the inside of his mouth. He is still not hooked but at this point it is virtually impossible for him to spit it. Then, with the line tight and not moving, he turns completely around 180° facing you as you apply the pressure. This is when the point penetrates and wraps around his jaw plate. Actually the fish is doing the rotating and hooking himself.

I have read articles from some top magazines that make conflicting statements confusing the circle with the kahle. A kahle has an extra wide gap which is ideal for shiner fishing. The big difference is the point of a kahle is aimed towards the eye while the circles point spirals all the way around and aims back at the shaft. Kahle Hook

Circle Hook

If you followed the directions of some of these articles and set as they describe while using a true circle hook, you would miss 99% of the strikes.

Example: My family got a group together and came to Florida to visit me for a fishing trip. The first day of fishing was great we caught a lot of good quality fish except for one of my cousins. He came to me and said he couldn’t catch a fish. After inspecting his equipment, I discovered he had a circle hook tied on. Someone had told him about them but failed to tell him how to use them.

Those that get it, like them because the fish does most of the work. When you get hooked up, he’s not coming off. In fact it’s not an easy task unhooking your fish. Those that don’t get it want to jerk and they’ll miss the fish every time. I know because I’ve had them in my boat. They see the line going out or feel the pressure and get excited and they have to jerk. The only thing I can do with them is put a kahle on their line and let them jerk away.

Definition of a Fisherman: “A jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other”.

Return From Setting the Hook to Shiners for Trophy Bass