Circle Hooks for River Smallmouth Bass
By Jon Dever


Have you ever heard of anyone using circle hooks to catch River Smallmouth's?  If not, you're missing the boat.  A couple of years ago, I was fishing with my 11 year old daughter out of Whites Ferry on the Upper Potomac in June.  The action was good, almost too good as we were casting  4" Case Magic Stick's with a 2/0 Offset Shank Worm Hook Texas rigged with no weight. The Smallmouth's were in such a feeding frenzy they were literally inhaling and swallowing the magic sticks before we could set the hook.  This resulted in hooks penetrating the Smallmouth too deep and made it difficult to recover the hooks without doing harm to the fish.  I happen to have some #2 circle hooks in my tackle bag that I traditionally use for minnow fishing and decided to give it a try with the Case Magic Stiks.  I rigged the Magic Stiks by simply inserting the circle hook through the nose of the bait and casting it out with no weight.  On my daughter's first cast a Smallmouth grabbed her offering and started to swim away from the boat.  I instructed her  to hold her rod at a 90 degree angle to the fish and start reeling keeping steady pressure on the fish.  Her rod tip bent and the fight was on.  The feisty 15" Smallmouth made three acrobatic jumps out of the water before finally surrendering and getting scooped by the net.  The hook was firmly lodged in the corner of its mouth.  Throughout the day the results were amazing.  Ninety five percent of the time we hooked the fish right in the corner of the mouth, the other five percent, the fish got away unharmed.  I have since experimented Smallmouth fishing with circle hooks and will share the baits I use; as well as, where and when to use them.

I have found that circle hooks are a great option when fishing soft plastics in open water or light cover situations especially when fishing with kids or inexperienced anglers because they don't have to set the hook or maintain constant contact with the lure in order to detect a bite.  If a fish takes the bait, you simply watch your line, wait for the fish to swim away from you, hold the rod at a ninety degree angle from the fish and start reeling.  The hook does the rest of the work, usually penetrating the fish in the corner of the mouth.  I have also been successful using circle hooks with split shot rigs.  A couple of things to keep in mind when using circle hooks.   You don't need an extra heavy rod when fishing with them as you're not executing a violent hook set as you would with a Texas rigged worm or fishing a jig.  Using a Medium action 6' Gator Rod with 8lb test Suffix Siege in Camo is a perfect setup.  I usually use a 1/0 - # 4 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle hook.

The soft plastics I like to use are, 4" Case Magic Stiks, Case Jack's Worms, Case Ring Worms,  5" Mizmo Doodle Worms , and 4" Mizmo Grubs.  For these baits, I usually nose hook the bait and do not use any weight.  The less action you give these baits the better and usually have the person fishing from the back of the boat throw this set up.  Simply cast the bait perpendicular to the boat and let the current carry it down river.  Here's the important part...DON'T DO ANYTHING!  Let the bait stay in the middle of the water column and wait for the Smallmouth to come up from behind and eat it.  If I'm not getting bights with the nose hook rig, I will sometimes try wacky rigging the worms which provides a little different action.  I have found that the wacky rig works best in slow slack water or behind current obstructions and is not as effective in current.  Let the fish tell you what they want and experiment with different colors. 

For drop shot rigs, I prefer using a smaller hook and smaller baits.  I typically use a 3/16 or 1/4 oz weight depending on the river flow, a # 4 or # 2 hook and small plastic baits ranging in length from 2-1/2 to 3-3/4 inches.  I have found the Scorpion worms from Mizmo work great for drop shot rigs as it imitates minnows or small forage often sought after by hungry Smallmouth's.  I will utilize the drop shot rig along weed edges or ridges that run parallel with slow current as I can bounce the weight on the bottom and keep it in the strike zone hoping to catch the attention of any opportunistic  Smallmouth just inside the weeds or under the ledges.

Circle hooks have a distinct advantage to the conservation minded angler.  Smallmouth that fall for a bait rigged with a circle hook are far less likely to get hooked deep, making  it easier  to release them with minimal damage and stress.  This also makes it a no brainer for those fishing with kids or very inexperienced anglers.  The bottom line is that adding circle hooks to your arsenal will catch River Smallmouth Bass and help sustain the populations of this exciting freshwater species we all love to pursue.