Circle hooks are arguably the best thing that’s happened to sailfish fishing since fishermen started flying release flags. Studies show that fish released on circle hooks have a much higher survival rate than fish released on J-hooks. Circle hooks are standard gear in sailfish tournaments and widely used by recreational anglers, as well.
Rod selection is an important aspect of successfully integrating circle hooks into your strategy. Fishing circle hooks is all about finesse. You’re not trying to “break his jaw,” as the old saying went. Instead, the goal is to twist the hook into the corner of the fish’s mouth without him knowing there’s a hook anywhere in that delicious ballyhoo.
Captain Jonathan Wright, sales manager for Blackfin Rods in Stuart, FL, says circle hook fishing is all about slowing things down. “What you’re looking for is a soft tipped rod that loads slowly,” said Wright. Blackfin recently introduced three new rods designed especially for circle hooks. They have a new 16-pound-class rod, largely for sails and mahi, a new 20-30 rod designed for white marlin, and a 30-50 model for blue marlin trolling and tuna chunking. “The ultimate goal of a sailfish rod is to be parabolic, meaning it bends throughout the glass,” Wright explained. He went on to say there seems to be a preference toward longer rods of 7 feet along the east coast of Florida whereas the Carolina boys prefer the 6-foot, 6-inch variety.
Rob Crowder of Crowder Rods, also based in Stuart, has also seen an increased demand for rods built for circle hooks. He agrees that a slow-loading tip is mandatory but he warns that the bottom third of the rod needs plenty of lifting power.
“Ultimately the reason why billfish fishermen changed to circle hooks is to increase the survival rate of released billfish,” Crowder said. “One of the leading causes of mortality in released fish is exhaustion caused by too long a fight. Whereas the soft tip is necessary for twisting the circle hook into the corner of a billfish’s mouth, it’s imperative the rod has enough lifting power to finish the fight quickly. Not only because it gets the fish released in good shape, but the faster you finish one fish off, the sooner you can get a bait in front of the next one.”
Spencer Marchant of Shimano has spent his career building rods. He has watched the evolution of fishing rods from solid glass to E glass and graphite. He has also spent plenty of years following the South Florida sailfish circuit. Marchant says, “The goal of fishing circle hooks isn’t setting the hook. The goal is to drag the hook into the corner of the fish’s mouth. That’s what we mean by using a rod that ‘loads slowly.’ That means that the rod bends all the way from the tip to the bottom third of the rod. Thus it doesn’t jerk or set the hook, it drags it into the sweet spot.”
Offshore rods are generally made from one of three different materials. Fiberglass rods are solid glass in the tips and hollower farther down the blank. They are virtually indestructible and are “parabolic” which essentially means they bend equally throughout, generally in the shape of a rainbow.
E-glass has become very popular with just about every builder. Essentially it is the combination of different kinds of glass, making it possible for the rod to be hollow all the way through. They are lighter than solid glass and the diameter of an E-glass rod is smaller than solid glass.
Graphite is the strongest, lightest, smallest diameter rod material. It is, however, brittle, and more subject to getting nicked and breaking. It’s generally the most expensive rod material, but get one in your hands and it’s hard to put back down.
A Note On Guides
Have we seen the last of the roller guides on light to medium trolling rods? None of the new light to medium circle hook rods from Crowder come with rollers, and Blackfin only puts a roller on the blue marlin rod. The quality of today’s ceramic guides from companies like Fuji and Aftco is so superior, roller guides are slipping from the light to medium tackle angler’s arsenal.
Archie Gandionco from Strike Zone Fishing says there are more decisions to be made once you’ve decided to go with ceramic guides. “Hardloy is a very good choice of material for ceramic guides, but they are not as dense a material or as heat resistant as more expensive silicon carbide. The top of the line when it comes to guide material is Torzite. Whereas it can cost up to $100 per guide, it has superior heat resistance, and shock resistance because of the density of the material.”
First published Florida Sportsman January 2016