Hooks catch things. In music, a good hook connects with a listener’s emotions. In sales, a good hook closes the deal. When ice fishing, a good quality, correctly sized hook gets the fish to the top-side of your ice hole.
This begs questions, what is a good hook, and what size hook is best for your ice fishing outing? Read on for answers to these questions.
Without a doubt, the fishhook is the single most important item in your ice fishing arsenal. Target species, mouth size, and bait are key elements that should influence choosing a good quality, properly sized hook. Learn how these all work together to help you choose the right-sized hook.
How do you know what size fishing hook to use?
Walk into any bait and tackle shop, and you’ll find a dazzling array of hook sizes and styles. In order to select the right hook size for ice fishing, it’s important to know how hooks are sized, and the intended use of available hook types.
What Makes up a Fish Hook?
A fish hook is more than a point. There is also the eye of the hook, the shaft, the bend, and the barb. The point is, of course, the focus of a hook. It is also the part where quality makes the most difference. Let me explain.
Department store hooks, like the Eagle Claw brand, catch fish, but if you want to be sure of good hook sets in game fish, spend a little more and buy high-end brands like Gamakatsu or Black Magic hooks.
These brands come at premium prices, but they’re worth the extra cost. Made of hardened steel, so they’re stronger and sharper to more easily penetrate the boney mouths of prized fish like steelhead and largemouth bass.
The barb is the next most important part of a hook. It’s a secondary point located slightly below the primary point. Its purpose is to prevent the hooks from slipping out of a fish’s mouth.
Barbless hooks are also available and required in many places these days because they minimize injuries to hooked fish while facilitating easier catch and release. Both barbless hooks and catch and release regulations are becoming mandatory in more and more places. Always be sure to check local, state, or provincial regulations before fishing.
You should know, barbless hooks are easier for a fish to throw once they’re on the line. To prevent losing your catch, try to maintain tension on your line once a fish is hooked.
Some hooks have secondary barbs on the hook’s shaft; these barbs should hold live bait better.
Next, there is the bend or curved portion of the hook. You want a hook with enough space between the hook point and the shaft to allow room for live bait.
After the curve, the shaft is the portion of the hook between the eye and the bend. Shaft length varies on hooks. Longer shafts are good for holding bait, and hooks with longer shafts fit in the mouth of panfish more readily.
The eye of the hook is where your line, and other gear like swivels, and leaders attach to the hook. Some hooks have an open eye and are typically used for repairing broken lures. Fishing pliers easily pinch the gap shut.
Types of hooks
Look around a well-stocked tackle shop, and you may find a dizzying number of fishhooks, each with a unique purpose. We’ll only be looking at four in our discussion on choosing the right hook for ice fishing. These are the standard J-hook, the circle hook, The Aberdeen hook, and jig hooks.
First is the J-hook. These are the hooks we’re all accustomed to. As the name implies, they’re shaped like a /J/. They work well for worms, cut bait, egg sacks, and on some lures.
With J-hooks, it is necessary to set the hook with a fair amount of force. As you see your rod tip bend, pull back, and begin reeling in line. Hooks will set anywhere in the fish’s mouth or in the belly if you allow your bait to be swallowed.
If you’re fishing where catch and release are mandatory, you might consider using a circle hook instead.
Circle hooks have a unique feature. A circle hook’s point is off-center. The design stems from the centuries-old fishing practices of Japan. The off-center point causes the hook to screw itself into a fish’s mouth.
This design is perfect for hooking fish in the corner of its mouth or in its lip. The hook’s spiraling motion creates hook sets secure enough to use barbless hooks without losing more fish.
Circle hooks result in cleaner hook sets, less injury to fish, and make the catch and release easier for anglers while increasing the survival rate of released fish.
When fish bite a circle hook, they more or less hook themselves. Don’t pick up your rod until it stays bent, and then begin reeling in line, being careful to keep the line tight.
Aberdeen hooks are similar to J-hooks, but have a longer shaft and use a thinner gauged wire. They make for easy hook removal and are easy to bait. For many anglers, these are the go-to hook for panfish.
Finally, there are jig hooks, which represent one of the more popular ice fishing techniques. Jigs are tungsten steel hooks with weighted heads and an eyelet to attach to your line. And are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
Jigs are dressed to resemble common food sources, while others have bare hooks to hold live or artificial baits. They typically have single hooks. When a fish takes your bait, they require a firm hook set.
Not all hooks are created equal. They come in different sizes and are measured on two different scales.
The first system is a number scale. In the number system, the larger the number, the smaller the hook with sizes ranging from 1 to 18. Hooks sizes 6 to 14 work well for many ice fishing settings.
The second system is the aught #/0’s scale, the larger the number, the larger the hook.
Sizes range from 1 to 0’s to 10/0’s. To give you a visual, a 10 /0 hook is the correct size if you’re fishing for sharks, and a 1 /0’s are good for bass or many ice fishing target species.
What size hook is best for ice fishing?
Target species is another factor in selecting a hook size, but not just because of the size of a fish, it also relates to mouth size
Species like Carp or Suckers have small, fleshy mouths, and make for easy hook sets, a number 6-10 hook will get the job done for most carp, and a number 10 to 12 will work well with a sucker’s smaller mouth.
In comparison, a 4-pound largemouth bass and a 4-pound steelhead trout are similar and have hard boney mouths. You’ll need a 2/0 to 4/0 hook to net the bass because of its large mouth size.
However, a number fourteen jig dressed with maggot will do the trick for the steelhead because of its smaller mouth.
Toothy species like Northern Pike will need a larger hook like 4/0 or a 5/0 and a steel leader to keep them on the line.
Whereas with panfish like bluegill or sunfish, a size 8-12 Aberdeen hook works well. If you’re using minnows, stay with a number 8 hook.
Crappies are the bigmouths of the panfish world. Because of their enormous mouths, you’ll need a number 2-4 Aberdeen hook not to miss bites.
The bait you use will influence the hook sizes you choose to use. This is true with live bait or artificial baits.
If you’re jigging with maggots, a chartreuse number 12 or 14 jig works well for lake trout, but if you’re fishing for walleye under the ice, a 2/0 or a 3/0 jig dressed with a shiner is a good choice.
A few suggestions follow for hook, bait, and target species.
Suggested Hook Size, Bait, and Target Species Combos
|10 or 12, Aberdeen hook
|Red worms, crickets, small minnows
|Bluegill, Sunfish, Perch
|6-8 J-hook, Circle hook
|Night crawlers, minnows, crayfish
|3/0 -4/0 Circle hook
|Shiners, creek chubs
|Northern pike, Muskie, Walleye
|2-3 Aberdeen hook
|Minnows, shad, small shiners
|10-14 single hook
12-14 treble hook
|Minnows, night crawlers, egg sacks
Frequently asked questions
Why are ice fishing hooks so small?
Small is a relative term. A hook considered small for walleye is gigantic for perch or bluegill, but the right size for crappies, because of their oversized mouths. Species characteristics like mouth size help determine hook size.
Also, many of the baits used for ice fishing like wax worms, red worms, or even smaller minnows need smaller, lighter wire hooks not to destroy your bait.
Don’t frown on small hooks. I’ve seen many big trout come through the ice with small jigs in their mouths.
What is a size 6 hook good for?
As hooks go, a size six hook is an all-purpose workhorse. It is big enough to catch a Walleye and small enough to catch bluegill. You can use it with minnow, crayfish, nightcrawlers, shiners, and artificial baits.
Wrapping it all up
For the ice fisher, choosing the right hook size is a pivotal decision. Factors such as target species, fish mouth size, and baits all help determine the optimal hook size.
Understanding species traits, conflicting hook sizing systems, and local regulations will help you choose the best hook size for a productive and exciting day on the ice.