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Article Published February 25, 2021

Crunch Time Has Come to Resolve the Circle Hook Dilemma

Questions and controversy loom over continued discussions concerning the use of circle hooks and bait when fishing recreationally for striped bass. The fine line that separates the teeth of law enforcement from incidental catches and the methods used is something that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is debating in an attempt to be fair, protective, and equitable to both fish and fishers.

For example, sights are focused on how to deal with unintended striped bass catches with gear meant to catch summer flounder (fluke), bluefish, and sea trout (weakfish). Most of these setups consist of J hooks and, according to the new proposed regulations, this would require the use of circle hooks. The more that the ad hoc committee delves into issues where stripers are not targeted, but are caught with miscellaneous gear, the more new instances surface.

The real question here has to do with incidental catches. Language proposed by New York reads: “Striped bass caught on any other type of hook baited with natural bait must be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury.” Is it fair for someone who unsuccessfully bottom fishes all tide for fluke with a bucktail (traditionally made with a J hook) and spearing, then unintentionally catches a legal 34-inch striped bass, to be told that it must released?

After all, circle hooks were implemented as per Addendum VI, Amendment 6 for striped bass in place of J hooks in order to reduce mortality.

Another piece of language discussed under the topic of “Methods of Fishing” came from Massachusetts. It states: “This shall not apply to any artificial lure that is trolled, cast and retrieved, or vertically jigged with natural bait attached.” This, of course, has to do with using active gear and foregoing the use of circle hooks, as well as when jigging with natural bait. It is recommended not to set circle hooks, but instead raise the fishing rod to pick up the slack in the line and then reel. Therefore, we can see how using circle hooks with the aforementioned gear can be problematic.

Expect another ad hoc meeting of the committee to be held, in addition to the one that took place on Feb. 19, before a final consensus is reached regarding circle hook uses and bait. These and other related issues will be discussed further by the states’ partners prior to recommendations submitted to the commission.

Disallowing exemptions to the circle hook regulation keeps things simple, except in certain instances related to enforcement. However, the simplest route is not necessarily the fairest, nor does it always accomplish intended goals. Using inline circle hooks does reduce striped bass mortality. We now can see that recreational fishers using them in conjunction with certain types of gear and baits opens up a can of worms that needs to be sorted out.

On the Ice

Suddenly, February has unleashed a cornucopia of winter events. Inland and marine water-related environments are apparently having a game of tug of war. Long Island Sound seas have been reacting to varying weather conditions, creating small craft warnings and gusty wind conditions, while inland lakes and ponds battle with a mix of snow, ice, and rain. Water temperatures in the Sound have been fluctuating between the low- to mid-30 degrees as ice formed in many of its colder key connecting waterways. The Connecticut River, for example, required the assistance of the ice breaker, USCG Bollard, to free up the channel from potentially damaging ice jams.

All of this atmospheric turmoil has left anglers in a state of uncertainty as to how to spend what free time they have. On one hand, fishers can sense the coming of spring and are starting to prepare for it as photo buffs peer through their lenses, capturing mesmerizing images. On the other hand, winter outdoor activities are gnawing at them to hit the ice and drill some holes. Unfortunately, the effects of the devastating snow and freezing weather that impacted the south have been felt here in the Northeast. Not only have fuel prices spiked, but frozen shiner ponds have interfered with live shiner distribution.

As a result, some ice anglers resorted to increased jigging activity at the expense of setting their usual number of tip-ups. By adding a piece of a worm, whole grub, or scented bait to a jig, the adjustment was nearly as effective, yet more hookups probably came from a variety of good eating panfish. In view of tamer weather that followed the last snowfall, exercising caution when walking on iced up lakes and ponds is prudent. While there are probably parts that have been iced over, there can still be intermittent hidden danger zones.

For the most part, ice fishers have been successful in their ventures. Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch, black crappie, sunfish, and northern pike have been pulled through the holes. There have even been a few small striped bass caught that took an interest in jigs. As the weather pattern takes a turn for the better and temperatures gradually climb in the coming week, pay more attention to the trout and salmon bite.

Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.

For all things fishy including reels, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.

Tight Lines,

Captain Morgan

twitter @captmorgan_usa