A Fisherman’s Guide to J Hooks – Variations and Their Usage

What do “J” Hooks Look Like?

A “J” hook is descriptively named. The shape of a “J” hook mimics that of the letter “J”. There is an eye to attach the hook to a leader line, a long and straight shaft, a rounded hook on the bottom, and a point that's parallel to the shaft. There are variations in hook color due to the coating used, and “J” hooks can be found with and without a barb.

As for coatings, you'll most commonly see black, tin, and red coatings. Black hooks tend to be superior for penetration due to the good strength to diameter ratio. Black hooks tend to be very thin in diameter which allows for easier penetration. These also tend to be sharper right out of the package and there's rarely a need to sharpen them as they are strong enough to resist dulling. For proper maintenance, just rinse with freshwater and dry after use. Tin coatings are typically superior for corrosion resistance. The sharpness of tin hooks must be maintained to ensure optimum performance, since they tend to be thicker in diameter than black hooks. Red hooks are a relatively new trend on the market and are intended to give the appearance of wounded bait. The idea is that the sight of blood will invoke the predatory nature of the fish and encourage the bite. Red hooks can also be a great choice for deep water fishing since red is known to be the first color that becomes invisible as the water depth increases. The only downside of red hooks, is that I've noticed the red coating tends to chip off pretty easily.

“J” hooks also come in barb and barbless varieties. The trauma to the fish is the most notable difference between barb and barbless hooks. As you might imagine, a hook with a barb is much more difficult to remove from a fish (or anything else you may have inadvertently hooked) than a barbless hook. When catch and release fishing, the faster the fish returns to its environment, and the less a fish is handled, the better its survival rate is.

Normally when you look at a “J” hook, with the point closest to you and the shaft lined up behind it, you'll see the circle part of the eye. This is the normal configuration of a “J” hook. An alternative is called an inline “J” hook, in which you'll see the side of the eye when you look at it this way. These inline hooks are most commonly used on hard plastic lures, in place of their original treble hooks.

What are “J” hooks used for?

“J” hooks have been used for centuries for all kinds of fishing. They can be a great all around choice for fishing. “J” hooks require the fisherman to “set” the hook, so they're best used when actively fishing as opposed to passively fishing (rod in a sand spike or other rod holder). Some fisherman swear by “J” hooks as they tend to have a great hookup rate. When “J” hooks are used with natural bait, which fish often swallow, a gut hook can occur pretty frequently. Gut hooks drastically decrease the likelihood of fish survival. This is why circle hooks are often advised as a better alternative when catch and release fishing. However, for the active fisherman who enjoys setting the hook, a “J” hook paired with an artificial lure can be a great option. Fish are less likely to actually swallow an artificial lure, so a “J” hook still has a pretty good chance of hooking the fish in the mouth.

“J” hooks are also a great choice when targeting a fish that doesn't typically turn away after a strike. For example, Mahi Mahi tend to continue to move forward after a strike. This results in the hook traveling straight through the fish. A circle hook wouldn't work very well on this type of fish as a circle hook relies on the fish turning away to successfully lodge the hook in the fish's mouth. Also, if you're targeting a slower eating fish with a “J” hook, you'll likely wait a bit before setting the hook, and this pause can also increase the likelihood of a gut hook. For this reason, a “J” hook is better used on a fast eating fish.

When to Use a “J” Hook

A “J” hook such as the Mustad 7691 is a trolling favorite. These hooks are sharp, strong, and deep which makes them an ideal choice for fisherman targeting big tuna, sailfish, wahoo, marlin and mahi mahi. They are known to hold up really well to fast moving big game fish. If using longer bait while trolling, some fishermen will opt for the Mustad 34007. Both of these Mustad hooks are “J” hooks and are trusted by many long time trollers.

When actively fishing using artificial lures, its best to use a “J” hook. Fish are likely to realize that an artificial lure is not real food once they put it in their mouth. For this reason, its unlikely that a “J” hook would result in a gut hook. There are also many fisherman who enjoy active fishing, when they have to “set” the hook. These fisherman should avoid circle hooks as a circle hook will just slip right out of a fish's mouth if the fisherman “sets” it.

“J” hooks may also be a good choice for young anglers learning how to bait a hook. With the wide gap between the point and the shank, baiting a “J” hook is much easier than baiting a circle hook. Its also much easier to keep fingers out of the way with the long shaft of a “J” hook. Consider this if you're taking your kid out for his or her first fishing trip and you plan to teach baiting.

When Not to Use a “J” Hook

Sometimes learning when NOT to use a certain hook, is just as valuable as learning when to use a certain hook. A “J” hook should not be used when passively fishing from shore, e.g. using sand spikes to hold your rod and watching the rod for twitching. This is because a “J” hook relies on the fisherman setting it. When using sand spikes, a circle hook is the best choice as you'll easily hook a fish just by relying on the fish turning away after catching bait. Species such as pompano and whiting, will turn away after a strike and are easily caught from shore while the rod is in a sand spike and the fisherman is sitting nearby drinking coffee.

There are also some regulations about using “J” hooks with natural bait, commonly for species of particular interest for conservation. Be sure to read through the rules and regulations for the fish you're targeting in your area to make sure a “J” hook is a legal option. For example, in Florida, a circle hook must be used with natural bait when targeting reef fish.

“J” Hook Alternatives

  1. Circle hooks
    • Characterized by the point of the hook pointing directly at the shaft of the hook
    • Best used when passively fishing or when catch and release fishing
  2. Kahle hooks
    • Essentially a hybrid of circle hook and “J” hook
    • Best used by fisherman who have a hard-to-break habit of setting the hook
  3. Octopus hooks
    • Similar to a circle or a “J” hook, but the eye is bent backward. The point of the hook is parallel to the angle of the eye bend
    • Best when you need a small hook size to make your bait presentation look more natural. These hooks are often used with snell knots on rigs with multiple hooks.
  4. O'Shaughnessy hooks
    • Similar to a “J” hook, but the shank is longer.
    • Best when targeting a fish species such as dolphin that takes the entire bait at once. A ballyhoo rig with an O'Shaughnessy hook will have the hook exit the ballyhoo in the belly. With a traditional “J” hook that has a shorter shank, the hook will exit the ballyhoo near the throat of the baitfish and works well for targeting tuna.

“J” Hook Recommendations

The most trusted “J” hook on the market today for trolling is the Mustad 7691. Its been used by fisherman for decades and has a long history of success with targeting 100+ lb tuna. Its a heavy gauge wire and sufficiently sharp to succeed when trolling. The only complaint I've ever heard about this hook is the price, but trust me, it beats losing a big catch to a bent hook!

We also recommend this unique hook from Owner: the Owner 5134 Trolling Jobu Hook with Rustop which features an anode specifically designed to rust out, allowing a fish to shed a hook after its returned to the water. Stainless steel corrosion resistance is normally a great feature, but it can eventually kill a fish if it prevents the hook from falling out. These Jobu hooks by Owner are strong and corrosion resistant, while allowing good corrosion if a fish gets away or for catch and release applications in which hook removal fails.

When using a “J” hook to replace treble hooks on a hard plastic lure, we recommend an inline “J” hook that's approximately the same size as the original treble hook. We've used VMC Inline J hooks to do this. Over here at Tight Lines and High Tides, we tend to replace the treble hooks on hard plastics to make everything a little easier when catch and release fishing. It only takes one time to realize how difficult it is to remove a treble hook from a fish's mouth, so we're more than happy to spend a few minutes swapping the hooks for these inline “J” hooks.

Common Rigs with “J” Hooks

There are a few common rigs that use “J” hooks that we can focus on. The first one I'd like to talk about is a ballyhoo rig. A ballyhoo rig typically uses the longer shaft version of a “J” hook, called an O'Shaughnessy hook. It is used to target tuna and dolphin when trolling offshore. This particular rig has the shaft inside the mouth and body of theh ballyhoo, with the point poking out of the bait's belly. There is typically a spring or wire also wrapped around the ballyhoo's mouth to keep it adhered to the hook. Matt, from The Tackle Room, has put together a great video about How to Rig a Ballyhoo for Offshore Fishing:

We also use “J” hooks with artificial lures quite often. We usually buy the hard plastic lures with treble hooks on them and go ahead and replace with inline “J” hooks. An inline “J” hook is one with the eye rotated 90 degrees. The primary reason we want to replace the treble hooks is to improve the ease of catch and release fishing. It can get pretty messy and difficult to try to remove multiple hooks from a fish, and the harder it is for us to remove them, the more harm we're doing to the fish. There are also some states that prohibit the use of treble hooks at all for certain species of fish, e.g. salmon in a river in Washington state.

“J” hooks are also used for bass fishing with dropshot rigs. Take a look at this video that shows step by step how to construct a dropshot rig, and also shows how it presents underwater at the end. Dropshot rigs are simple and effective rigs for bottom fishing.

A Texas rig is pretty simple as it is just an artificial worm bait on a “J” hook, or sometimes a worm hook. A worm hook is essentially a “J” hook with a slight notch near the eye which keeps the bait on. “J” hooks can be used in all types of fishing, so give one of these rigs a try!

If you're interested in hearing more detail about J hooks, check out our Youtube Video on the topic, here. Tight Lines, y'all!

Recent Posts