Most of the successful catfish anglers I know use circle hooks because they understand how effective they are and how to use them correctly. Once you’ve learned to understand how circle hooks work and how to use them correctly you’ll understand why they’re so loved by catfish anglers.
I recently covered the three common circle hook mistakes that catfish anglers make when using circle hooks. It was a very popular article and video but it opened up a whole set of questions from anglers on how to use circle hooks.
With that in mind I’m going to cover:
- How the wrong gear will keep you from catching catfish with circle hooks.
- Why the type of catfish rod you’re using matters.
- The three ways to catch catfish using circle hooks.
- That you actually can set the hook with circle hooks (or some of them).
- How you can catch more catfish by correcting your technique.
Catfish Rods and Hooksets
Choosing the right catfish rod has an impact on catching catfish with circle hooks.
The part of the catfish rod that matters is the tip and how much flex it has in it.
The rod tip needs to flex for the circle hook to work well.
It’s possible to catch catfish using a rod with a very stiff tip but I’ve found (especially when fishing for smaller blue and channel catfish) that a really stiff rod tip results in a lot of bites with very few fish fish landed. Fishing for these very same fish using a rod with some flex in it produces great results.
If you’re fishing for trophy class fish the rod tip doesn’t matter as much (but it is still often a factor). For smaller catfish, you definitely need to have some flex in the rod tip.
You can learn more about choosing a catfish rod here in the Ultimate Guide To Catfish Rods.
Also be sure to check out my Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rods from Whisker Seeker Tackle. All models have been designed specifically to work with circle hooks. You can get more information here.
What To Watch For When You Catfish With Circle Hooks
So you’ve got the right rods, the right hooks, you tie them on the right way and use the correct technique for baiting the hook and you’re ready to start catching fish.
Rule number one is to keep the line tight at all times. The hooks work by having pressure applied to them so if you have slack in the line the hook does not work until it has pressure applied.
Keep the line tight at all times.
Once you start to get bites you have a few options.
It’s important to remember that not all fish bite and run away from you. Catfish will strike and swim away from you but they’ll also swim directly towards you and to the side as well.
If you’re sitting around waiting for the rod tip to bend with a textbook strike you’re probably missing a crap-ton of fish.
A crap-ton you say? How much is that?
It’s a lot, just trust me.
This is why you use hi-visibility fishing line like Whisker Seeker good-golly miss molly orange or Stren Catfish Monofilament. Regardless of which brand and color fishing line you use make sure it’s bright so you can really see it well.
This allows you to not only watch for the rod tip to drop down (fish biting and swimming away from you) but also to watch for the line to suddenly go slack (fish biting and swimming towards you) and watch for the line to move sideways (fish biting and swimming sideways).
You can respond accordingly based on what the fish are doing using one of the techniques below.
Just make sure you’re not missing a crap-ton of fish.
Here’s The Video
Here’s the video covering everything. Be sure to check out the article below also as there’s much more details.
Landing Fish, Where The Magic Happens
This is where the magic happens and exactly how these hooks work.
Pay attention though. You need to modify your technique based on what happens and how the fish bite.
Letting The Hook Do The Work For You
When a fish bites and the rod tip bends down you typically can pick the rod up and just start reeling. Typically I have my clients leave the rods in the rod holdeers and tell them not to pickup the rod until the rod tip bends down and stays down (this is called “loading the rod”).
Then you simply pick the rod up, reel in the fish and you’re done.
Some anglers will also give the rod a good firm tug partway through the retrieve just to make sure the hook is buried well.
This is the typical use, where the hook does all the work for you and you just reel in fish.
The Reel, Reel, Reel
In an ideal world all of the fish would bite, swim away from you, the rod tip would bend (the rod loads), the circle hooks would do their work and you would just reel in fish. That’s not always going to happen, fish do different things and swim in different directions.
So your line suddenly goes slack or starts moving sideways.,this is where the “reel, reel, reel” comes in.
It’s a horrible name for the technique. After years of fishing near many other guide buddies and hearing them yell “reel, reel, reel” to their clients when line has suddenly gone slack or moved sideways, that’s what I call it.
When the line goes slack or starts moving sideways you pickup the fishing rod and immediately start reeling as fast as you can (some anglers will even leave the rods in a rod holder and reel as fast as they can until they meet tension). The goal is to get all of the slack out of the line and get tension on the hook so it can slide, turn and set like it is supposed to. Then you catch the fish.
Thats the whole process, you reel as hard and fast as you can and through this process the hook will slide, turn, set and you’ll land the fish.
I’ve had some trophy class fish over the years make the line go slack or swim sideways. We’d get them all the way to the side of the boat only to see them open their mouth and the bait would pop right out. This happens because a fish bites down on a bait and has such a death grip on it with their mouth that the hook never slides and turns so it can set. It’s rare but it does happen now and then and is typically with the fish that never move the rod tip.
Regardless of which method you’re using to land catfish with circle hooks making sure the hook is set and buried well is key.
When you’ve had tension on the line a while and are sure the hook has set, you can give the rod a good tug just to make extra sure that the hook is buried (but never allow any slack).
Catfish have a thick hard mouth. They’re not look many other species of fish with paper thin mouths .That means it’s a little more work for a hook to penetrate.
Using a good quality hook that’s sharp will help to alleviate the majority of these problems but giving a good tug on the rod during the retrieve gives you a little added insurance to assure the hook is in good and is not going to come out easily.
You Actually CAN Set The Hook With Circle Hooks
But you can’t set he hook with a circle hook, right?
WRONG. You can set the hook when fishing with a circle hook.
If you do a Google search on circle hooks or setting the hook with a circle hook you’ll find countless articles, message forum posts and videos that all say you can’t set the hook with a circle hook or that you should not set the hook with a circle hook.
Contrary to what you’ve been told, you can set the hook with a circle hook, it just depends on the hook.
The “hybrid” circle hooks that are very popular with catfish anglers like the Daiichi Circle Chunk Light work well for this technique. There are a variety of other circle hooks that work the same way also. Making sure the hook has a good wide gap is key.
You just have to use a modified hookset.
This modified hook set works with a traditional circle hook as well but not near as well as it does with the “hybrid hooks”. The best advice I can offer is to experiment with the technique and different hooks. You’ll know pretty quickly. It works with the vast majority of the popular circle hooks for catfish that are of higher quality.
When most anglers set a hook they do so with a very quick, short jerking action. You’ve probably seen time and time again on television. Take what you’ve seen Jimmy Houston, Shaw Grigsby and Roland Martin doing on every TV show you’ve ever seen and forget it. If you attempt to set the hook with circles using this technique the fish will be gone, never to be seen again.
To set the hook with a circle hook, rather than using a short, quick jerk you use a long sweeping motion to set the hook.
My preference is to use this technique when the fish have a very specific bite.
If the rod tip goes down and stays down you let the hook do the work for you.
If the line suddenly goes slack or starts moving sideways use the “reel, reel, reel” technique and this will land the fish most of the time.
The last kind of bite is what I call one that “lacks conviction”. This is when the fish grab and bite and you see a slight pull on the rod. It’s not a monster earth shattering strike but usually a slow pull down. Sometimes the rod tip will go down and come back up, sometimes the rod tip will barely bend and stay that way.
In these situations the circle hook is not going to do the work for you and the “reel, reel, reel” technique usually doesn’t work as well. These fish are usually not moving much (or at least moving very slowly).
It takes some time learning to recognize this and missing some fish for many anglers to start recognizing this.
What these fish that “lack conviction” do this, this is what you do.
Pick the fishing rod up and slowly reel the slack out of the line. Sometimes this alone will start the fish running or swimming away and the hook will set it self. If it doesn’t then you can usually feel some slight tension on the line.
Keep the fishing rod level with the water or even angled down with the rod tip pointed towards the water.
Set the hook using a long “sweeping” motion, using a long and deliberate “sweep” of the fishing rod going overhead (imagine going from the 10:00 to 2:00 position on a clock). This is not the typical “jerk” you would use to set a fishing hook like a kale hook, j-hook or treble hook. The hook set must be a long sweeping motion.
If you’re using the right hooks, keeping the hook gap open and using the right technique, you’ll be setting he hooks with circle hooks in no time.
What About Using Bait Clickers With Circle Hooks?
The bait clicker function on a reel allows you to disengage the reel (push the button in) and leave the reel in “free spool”. The bait clicker is then turned on and when a fish bites and pulls the fishing line the reel makes a loud clicking noise to alert you.
Since circle hooks require some resistance allowing a catfish to swim freely with a bait is not going to allow the hook slide, turn and set in the mouth of the fish so bait clickers are generally not a good idea.
I’ve used them with circle hooks in the past and allowed the fish to run with the line and then engaged the reel. You’ll lose a lot of fish this way.
I’ve also experimented with letting the fish run, picking up the rod and engaging the reel and setting the hook using the preferred long sweeping hook set. You’ll still miss a lot of fish this way. My theory is suddenly engaging the reel and putting quick tension on the line is just like doing that short jerking hook set that doesn’t work for these style hooks.
Rather than using a bait clicker, you’re much better off using these hooks as they’re intended.
If you’re not sure what a bit clicker is or just want more information on catfish reels, choosing the right ones and how to set them up, check this out.
Which Circle Hooks Should You Use For Catfish?
To get recommendations on the best circle hooks to use for catfish as well as all of the other suggested catfishing tackle and gear check out the Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear.
This in depth guide covers everything you need to know to choose and use the right catfish tackle and gear and save money in the process.
Use The Right Catfish Rods
Check out my signature series catfish rods here at Whisker Seeker Tackle for a rod designed perfectly to work with circle hooks each and every time.
Get On The Fast Track
If you’d like to get on the fast track to catching more catfish check out the Catfish Edge products available here. These in depth guides cover everything you need to know to be successful and start catching more catfish the next time out.