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Mar 12, 2019 10:05 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

One Hook, Two Hooks, Three Hooks No More

Just one treble hook was enough to secure this large striped bass from a local beach last fall.
Mar 19, 2019 9:17 AM

This is tackle maintenance season, and so I’d like to ask all you anglers—surfcasters, especially—to hunker down in your basements or garages or sheds in the next couple of weeks and set to work changing the hooks on all your striped bass plugs.First of all, you probably need to do that anyway. But also, in thinking last week about some of the vexing problems that fisheries managers face in getting striped bass stocks back on the upswing after what has certainly been at least five or six years of “overfishing,” I touched on a couple of ideas that I think we all should implement immediately for this coming season. One was: Use just one treble hook on all artificial lures.

(Also, use circle hooks for bait fishing, leave your gaffs in the garage until you’re going tuna fishing, stop stamping your foot down on fish to hold them still while you unhook them, and do your best to revive a fish before tossing it back, especially in the summer and early fall when the water is warm … but I’ll get into those in future columns.)

Fisheries scientists estimate that 9 percent of all striped bass released by recreational anglers die later, from wounds or exhaustion. That is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million fish each year. No kidding.

Recreational anglers release about 91 percent of the fish they catch, so, quite literally, that number translates to as many fish dying for naught as are being taken home by anglers. And I would venture to guess that at least half of those fish that go to waste didn’t have to—if the angler who had caught them had been careful in their landing and handling, made an effort to revive them, and was using appropriate fishing tackle.

Getting rid of the rear treble hook on all of your casting plugs (for boat or beach fishing) will much more than cut in half the chance that you are going to hook a striper deep in its gullet or in its gills, and greatly reduce its chances of survival.

I started switching over most of my lures to just one treble hook on the belly and a single hook (or sometimes no hook) on the back several years ago, for two totally different reasons. I first did it on my pencil poppers, both because I feel the plug slashes better with only a single hook or no hook on the back, and because a bluefish usually will get the back hook, and a treble hook in a bluefish mouth is a pain in the ass. Then I started putting single hooks on the back of all my darters, because I think they dig and dart better and a little deeper with just the single.

Then, a few years ago, I started putting single hooks on the backs of all my minnow lures, like Bombers, Mag Darters and SP Minnows, because, with all the little rats we’ve been catching the last few seasons, it’s much safer for the sake of your hands to have one less treble flailing around when you are trying to unhook them.

The hookup-to-bite ratio is no different, since a striped bass almost always will attack headfirst and get the forward belly hook in its mouth first, and if it pulls, a single hook rigged facing down (the gap forward of the shank) will snag the outside of a fish the same way a treble would.

Yes, a single hook can snag in a gullet if the fish inhales the plug, but the chances of it doing so, and the amount of damage it does, are going to be less than with a second treble. Nothing is absolute, but we don't need absolute, we just need to reduce the number of fish that die unintentionally.

Give it a shot. White Water and East End Bait & Tackle both have the VMC single siwash hooks with the open eyes to put on the back of your hooks. I’m going to try putting two Owner 3109 singles on a few of my minnow plugs this year and see if there’s any noticeable difference in hookup rate. I’m guessing not. You should try it too, and let me know what you find.

Maybe next week we’ll discuss how you are a sissy who should just sleep in and go play tennis if you need a gaff to land a striped bass or have to stand on a fish to unhook it.

Until then, catch ’em up, and release them carefully. See you out there.

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