One of the first and definitive moves that the authorities made in their policy towards sport fishing for billfish in Guatemala was the early adoption of circle hooks, and the banning of “J” type hooks for conventional fishing.This policy combined with a strict ban on killing billfish within the territorial waters of Guatemala has resulted in a renowned and sustainable billfish fishery off the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.
Although it is difficult to police given the resources of the coastal patrol vessels, it is peer enforced by both the sportfishing industry and the commercial fishing operations in the waters. The longliners operate outside the territorial waters and so are more difficult to enforce – but certainly the ban within the patrolled waters has given the fishery off Guatemala a distinct advantage over neighboring countries.
This was based on a substantial amount of data that has demonstrated dramatically lower mortality rates when using circle hooks (2%) versus standard J hooks (almost 50%). This data has held true also for Guatemala when studies have been done by the sportfishing fleet using circle hooks. J-hooks in the past have been utilized for conventional fishing – casting plugs, trolling and bait fishing.When fishing with these type of hooks, it is usually necessary to “set” the hook using a strong upward movement of the fishing pole which conducts a strong force down to the hook and so drives the point and the barb in to any available soft tissue.
As a consequence, if the fish has taken the bait past the bony elements of the outer mouth, there is a high probability of the hook catching and setting in soft tissue deep within the fish’s gut or even in or close to vital organs.In the case of circle hooks however, instead of “setting” the hook by jerking the rod, the angler must apply steady pressure to the line, bringing it in slowly but steadily. If the angler jerks the rod to set the hook, the hook will often pull out of the fish’s mouth and the angler will lose the fish. This is a technique that is somewhat counter-intuitive, and when faced with the thrill of a large billfish at close quarters is often easy to forget in the heat of the moment!
There are two basic types of circle hook available to fishermen and commercial fishing boats in Guatemala, the offset and non-offset. The latter have been used for over 20 years in the commercial Central America and Guatemalan longline industry – as obviously in the vast majority of cases the fishermen are not present when the fish is actually taking the bait, and so they found and developed a hook that was capable of self-hooking on a consistent basis in the rich fishing territory off the coats of Costa Rica and Guatemala. It was found that circle hooks and J-hooks displayed similar catch rates, but that 98% of fish were caught in the jaw with circle hooks.
Offset circle hooks however, carry a much higher mortality rate than non-offset circle hooks, as the offset itself leads to many of the problems associated with “J” type hooks – specifically having a propensity to catch and penetrate any soft tissue that it comes into contact with.A study by the Marine Resources Research Institute shows the deep-hooking rate of offset circle hooks is 23%, significantly higher than non-offset circle hooks and also have a mortality rate approaching that of “J” type hooks.
We have also moved away from “J” type hooks for our Guatemala fly-fishing rigs, essentially for the same reasons – now preferring to use beak hooks.
The “upturned beak” hooks have a little something in common with circle hooks that is worth mentioning here. Aside from the positive hooking mortality benefits that have made circle hooks so popular, they were also designed to pretty much work on their own in finding a soft spot to sink into, thus making hook setting not only unnecessary, but, counterproductive.
Using either style of hooks should always come with some very basic though counter-intuitive instructions (but it usually doesn’t).The hooks with the “upturned beaks” share the same flaws/advantages (glass half full or glass half empty) as their circle hook relatives. This is where some changes in hook setting technique are required.
Setting the hook, especially aggressively, with this style hook will almost surely make the hook slide and miss initially, and oftentimes into a place where it’s being firmly held by the strong grip of the sailfish and not embedded in the fleshy parts. It actually feels like you’ve stuck the fish well in most instances. However, a gradual tightening of the line with steady pressure almost always lets the hook find its mark. It’s the same with “J” style hooks, however, the advantage in sharpness out of the box goes to today’s upturned beak style hooks, and, they almost never straighten out based on the physics