Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tie one on….

July 27, 2010

On July 14th, the following notice (in part) was posted in the Bisbee's 2010 Tournament News: "In this 30th anniversary year, with valuable input from our Advisory Council, we are proud to set a new milestone by joining the growing ranks of conservation-minded tournaments everywhere that have adopted a "circle hooks only" policy when fishing with natural bait."

Before the ink was dry on the posting, irate emails protesting Bisbee's decision began appearing in my inbox from several participants of the annual Bisbee Tournament series. The litany was nothing new; “Can’t trust ‘em,” “I’ve tried but can’t hook the fish,” “I keep losing fish…it’s just too hard to get a good hook set…the fish are too large,” and finally, “we will never fish in their tournaments again!” You could almost see them rolling their eyes back and growling their disproval.

My, my! You would think that some of these folks have been on another planet or at least way out of touch with the mainstream of sportfishing and conservation.

The lists which have endorsed the use of circle hooks includes almost every major sportfishing conservation organization around. International Game Fish Association, The Billfish Foundation and many others conducted their own studies on the circle hook and based on the scientific evidence concluded that circles were much more practical from a conservation and catch perspective.

Regular J-hooks will imbed themselves on the first irregular surface they touch in the fish’s mouth, whereas, with a circle, the line comes tight and if the fish turns even slightly the circle hook travels through and slips until it catches on the corner of the mouth. Because of the unusual shape, the fish is seldom hooked anywhere other than in the corner of the mouth, which allows for a released fish that is virtually undamaged.

Are circle hooks a new technology? Hardly. Native fishermen hundreds of years ago began fabricating bone, deer or elk antler hooks by hand that looked suspiciously like today’s circle hooks. You only have to visit your local Natural History Museum to find displays of bone hooks that are virtually identical to today’s circle design. By the early-1900s, anglers in Southern California had discovered the merits of circles and were catching some impressive-sized billfish and tuna using them. About the same time, commercial fishermen discovered that they worked perfectly to catch tuna as well as bottom fish. Pretty soon saltwater anglers everywhere began to sing the praises of circles.

Captain Ron Hamlin in Guatemala, who has released thousands of billfish during his career, states that hook-up ratios are higher and lost fish are very, very uncommon. Ron continues that the old-fashioned J-hooks lose more marlin and sailfish unless you have no clue on how to effectively fish the circles. Just like always, people hate change and these “new” hooks require a big change in technique.

"Like any new technique, to master hooking marlin with a circle hook takes practice. Big marlin bites are few and far between, so it is virtually impossible for a team to tune up before tournament time. Their first chance to try it may very well come with a million bucks on the line." according to Rod Halperin, Tournament Director, California Billfish Series whose events changed to an all circle format several years back.

Instead of a standard hook set, when using circles, allow the fish to take the bait and swim away. Slowly increase drag pressure until the line comes tight. As simple as the circle hook set sounds, old habits die hard and it may take a few attempts to make the adjustments.

When comparisons are drawn between the more popular J-hook and the circle, the enthusiastic comments include “more user friendly,” “safer,” “higher hook-up ratio,” and “more attractive from a conservation perspective.”

Looking back at the history of sportfishing, anglers have repeatedly displayed the very human characteristic of resistance to change. Remember how long it took to convince the angling community to accept release and reduce the number fish brought to the scales? When fluorocarbon was introduced there was controversy. Need more? How about chemically sharpened hooks, or braided line. If you look at your tackle box you will find your own examples.

I should admit that I have been a member of the Avalon Tuna Club for two decades and it still expects its members to fish with only linen and Dacron line to receive recognition.

It is important to distinguish the difference between change and innovation. Forget the controversy over circles; just tie one on…they work.