Bottom Fishing Hook Size and Style

Bottom fishing is one of the most common offshore fishing methods. In bottom fishing, bottom dwelling fish are targeted and reeled back up to the boat from deep waters. These fish congregate near bottom structure such as reef and ledges.

When bottom fishing, the ideal hook size is between a 7/0 to 9/0 size. Reef fish such as grouper and snapper do not have large mouths and do not need exceptionally large hooks. Reef fish are currently protected, so a non-stainless steel circle hook is usually required when using natural bait.

This article will discuss the recommended size of circle hook based on the target species. A smaller hook can be used for smaller reef fish, and a larger one for larger fish. Read on to also see why a non-stainless steel circle hook must be used, and sometimes a non-offset law is in place.

If you need to start with a high level, overall guide to bottom fishing, read my summary article here.

Here’s Why You Need a 7/0 Hook for Bottom Fishing

The size of hook for bottom fishing depends on the size of the fish. For smaller fish, such a vermillion snapper, you’ll be okay with a 4/0 circle hook. I’m usually targeting grouper at least 20 lbs in weight and you’ll need a 7/0 hook for that. When targeting big amberjack, you’ll want to upsize somewhere around a 9/0 or 10/0 hook.

To learn more detail about the species you’ll encounter when bottom fishing, read my article on bottom dwellers here.

It is always difficult to estimate the actual size of a fish you’ll reel in, so you’ll need start with a recommended hook size and change it if you notice the fish aren’t biting. If the fish are smaller than you expected, they’ll have a smaller mouth and you’ll need a smaller hook. Likewise, if they’re bigger than you expected, they’ll have a bigger mouth and need a bigger hook.

The table below shows a good starting point for circle hook sizes when targeting common bottom fish. If you choose to go with artificial bait and a J hook, I’d recommend sizing down by about 2 sizes. J hooks have a wider opening for flesh to fit in, so it’s often unnecessary to have a large sized J hook. Usually, I bottom fish at reefs or ledges at least 100 ft deep off the East Coast of Florida. I’ll usually go with a 7/0 or 8/0 hook, but I keep a variety of sizes on hand. I try not to overthink it. If I have pre-made rigs with 7/0s and 8/0s, I’ll just grab one and use it.

If you need to learn how to rig a circle hook for bottom fishing, you should click this link and read my article on bottom fishing rigs. The article also discusses how to find and select pre-made bottom rigs.

Bottom FishCircle Hook Size
Vermilion Snapper4/0
Red Snapper5/0 – 8/0
Cubera Snapper 10/0
Gag Grouper 7/0 or 8/0
Mangrove Snapper 5/0 to 7/0
Black Grouper 9/0
Tilefish 8/0
Recommended Hook Sizes for Common Bottom Fish

Another feature to consider is the wire gauge of the hook. As the strength of a hook increases, so does the wire gauge. Keep in mind what strength is really needed for most of the fish you’ll catch. A circle hook with an ultra sharp point and thin diameter will penetrate a fish’s mouth with ease. Thin hooks will give you the best hookup ratio with a small risk of losing a big one to a bent hook. It's a balancing act to choose the thinnest gauge that’ll work without being too thin.  

The instant strike isn’t too hard for most bottom fish, but the rapid fleeing back into the reef structure can put some stress on your terminal tackle. To get a bottom dweller in the boat, anglers will need a fast retrieve right after strike. You’ll need to be fast to avoid the fish succeeding at burrowing into the reef. Once they do this, they can use structure to cut your line and free themselves. These fish are very good at this survival tactic, so your technique and tackle needs to withstand it.

When using natural bait, the bait should be rigged in such a way that the hook stays upright with the bait. For example, if using a live bait, put the hook up through the bottom of the jaw and all the way out the top of the head. This will keep the hook from flipping around too much and will keep the bait alive. You may need to upsize the hook when using bait so that it can reach through the head and still have the hook point exposed. If you’re new to bottom fishing with bait, you must read the guide I put together for the best bottom fishing bait.

The Circle Hook Law Explained

When using a circle hook, the hook normally sets in a fish’s mouth as the fish turns to swim away. It’s unlikely for a circle hook to gut hook a fish because the point of the hook can’t catch on anything as the hook slides up and out of the fish’s belly. The hook points perpendicular to the hook shaft, so it can only catch when something, like a fish’s cheek or lip, slides in between the hook point and the shaft. There is no need to set the hook, and in fact, setting the hook could rip it out of the fish’s mouth. This is vital to remember when fishing with circle hooks to avoid losing your catch.

Because of the way a circle hook’s point faces the hook shaft, it also becomes difficult for the hook to snag on structure. When bottom fishing around reef or structure, a hook that’s more resistant to snagging in the environment could save you a lot of frustration.  This, combined with the fact that you shouldn’t set a circle hook, makes circle hooks easier for novice anglers to use. When someone is first trying out bottom fishing, it’s more important to focus on getting a sense of what the bottom or a strike feels like, rather than being worried about setting a hook.

Reef Species Gear Laws in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida

When choosing a hook for bottom fishing, be sure to check local regulations. Often reef fish such as, groupers, snappers, amberjacks, triggerfish and tilefish, are protected and care must be taken by recreational fishermen when targeting them. When you catch a fish that doesn’t meet the slot size, you’ll have to throw it back. It’s key to remember that we want the fish to survive when we toss them back so that the next generations can enjoy the fisheries as well. There are federal and state regulations in the Gulf of Mexico waters, as well as the Atlantic coast waters. Anglers will need to be aware of the laws governing their area. State waters are defined as waters within 3-9 miles from shore, depending on your location. Federal waters extend beyond that.

Below you’ll find a table showing the hook regulations for different states and Federal regions for reef fish. Reef fish such as grouper, snapper, and amberjack are typically targeted with bottom fishing tactics. In some state waters, there are no regulations. In other state waters, the laws match the Federal laws of using non-stainless steel circle hook when fishing with natural bait. In one instance, Florida state waters on the gulf side, the state law is stricter the federal law and requires the use of non-offset circle hooks.

AreaWhen fishing with natural bait, non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks are requiredWhen fishing with natural bait, non-stainless steel circle hooks are required  None
Gulf Federal Waters [Source] X 
Florida-Gulf State Waters [Source]X  
Alabama state waters [Source] X 
Mississippi state waters  X
Louisiana state waters [Source] X 
Texas state waters  X
Atlantic Federal Waters North of 28deg Lat [Source]X  
Atlantic Federal Waters South of 28deg Lat [Source] X 
Florida-North of 28° North latitude [Source]X  
Florida- South of 28° North latitude [Source] X 
Reef Fish Gear Rules

These laws were created after studies proved that circle hooks are an effective method of reducing lethality in fish. Circle hooks most often get the fish in the corner of the mouth. When an undersized fish is caught, the hook is removed and the fish is returned to the water. A fish spending too much time out of the water can also cause damage to the fish, so another key factor was reducing the de-hooking time. It’s much easier and faster for fishermen to dehook a circle hook from the mouth, than dehooking a J hook from the esophagus or cutting off a J hook.  

It may seem odd to see a material requirement as well. In most saltwater fishing gear, you’re trying to minimize corrosion and the use of stainless steel helps that. When it comes to protecting a species, non-stainless steel is the better choice because the hook can degrade and pass through the fish’s body faster. Non-stainless steel is required because of the chance that you could still hook a fish in an area where you cannot realistically remove it and must leave it in the fish.

An offset circle hook is one in which the tip of the hook points in a direction perpendicular to the shaft but is off to one side. This can be favored by anglers because offset hooks can increase hookups because they can catch on more areas of the fish’s flesh. In the interest of maximizing the survivability of the fish after a catch, offset hooks are a bad choice.  

The law also explicitly applies when using natural bait. Natural bait is anything that is or once was alive. Examples would be live pilchards or cut bonito strips. The law is written this way because fish can mostly identify artificial baits as soon as its in their mouths. A fish will usually reject it at this point and not swallow something like a jig or swimbait. Since a fish is unlikely to swallow an artificial lure, there’s a much smaller chance that the J hook on your slow pitch jig can gut hook a protected fish. On the contrary, fish will swallow live baits and cut bait, so we need to decrease the chances of a gut hook in some other way, e.g. requiring the use of circle hooks.  

For non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks, I like to use the Mustad Ultrapoint Demon circle hooks in black nickel. These hooks are considered 1X strength with fine wire, perfect for small bottom species such as vermillion snapper.

Another option for larger sizes of the non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks is the VMC Tournament Circle Black Nickel Hook.

If you’re looking for something stronger than fine wire, take a look at the Mustad Duratin Circle Hook. Duratin is quick to rust, just like nickel, so it meets the requirements for targeting reef fish.

J Hooks are Allowed When Using Artificials

A J hook can be used in some areas for reef fish, and it has some advantages and disadvantages. When using a J hook with natural bait, the fish is more likely to swallow the hook and bait. Once a J hook is in the stomach of a fish, it’s likely to be a gut hook. A gut hook is far more likely to kill a fish than a mouth hook. There is an important distinction, though. When using a J hook with an artificial bait or lure, the fish is likely to realize it’s not something worth swallowing. Anglers who enjoy feeling the bite and setting the hook should avoid using natural bait for reef species.

Bottom fish can be targeted with slow pitch jigs. In slow pitch jigging, the lure falls horizontally to the bottom, is jigged up a few feet, and falls horizontally again. These lures are designed to turn horizontally and wobble on the way down to imitate a dying bait. These lures are frequently pre-rigged with J hooks and a strong cord to withstand bites. The size of the lure is primarily based on the depth of the water, about 100 grams for every 100 feet. The size of the attached hook is primarily based on the size of the lure. The hook shouldn’t be wider than the lure and when rigged with a cable, it should hit about midway down the jig.

Tight lines, y'all!

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