by Rick Lawrence, November 05, 2017
Too many anglers have been told for years that the best way to handle a deep hooked bass was to cut the line at the hook eye and let it rust out, but the facts suggest that simply is not true. Those fish will retain those hooks far longer than most anglers think. I have for about the last 20 years never left a hook in a bass. I believe in that whole time I have only have killed one bass and that was because it got hooked in the gills and it tore the gills completely in two. Here are some of the latest scientific findings on hook removal.
Professional and TV anglers aren't the only ones to be slow in learning and applying the latest "word" from scientists, but they continue to advise anglers to handle fish using outdated procedures.
The recommendation that anglers cut the leader close to the hook when bass are "deep-hooked" is a good example. It is hard to find a publication on catch-and-release (C&R) techniques that doesn't pass on this poor advice. Yet, recent research on release techniques strongly suggests there is a better way.
Food coming down a bass' throat can get blocked if the hook shank doesn’t lie tightly against the side of the throat where the barb is lodged. Deep-hooked bass may even feel pain as the food rotates the barb and regurgitate the food. Recently these observations have been scientifically verified. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently did a study on striped bass at Chesapeake Bay. Their research used deep throat-hooked stripers between 16- and 28-inches long for observation in half-strength seawater so that hooks had ample opportunity to rust away. Size 1/0 and 2/0 stainless steel, bronzed, nickel, tin and tin-cadmium hooks were hooked in the top of each fish's esophagus, with an 18-inch length of line connected to the hook.
After four months, 78 percent of the hooks were still embedded. Cadmium coated hooks poisoned 20 percent of the fish, and production of these hooks has been stopped. Bronzed hooks were less likely (70%) to be retained than tin-cadmium (80%), nickel (83%), or stainless steel (100%) hooks.
In a second test, the line was clipped at the eye of the hook, as advised by most existing C&R guides. One-hundred percent of the stainless hooks were again retained, while 56 percent of tin, 76 percent of bronze, 84 percent of tin-cadmium, and 88 percent of nickel hooks remained. Fish mortality was greater when all line was trimmed.
Unfortunately they didn’t do a study to see how the removal of the hook faired with the survival rate on the fish, but this does show that the hooks do not rust out quickly like many anglers think they do. I firmly believe that the best method for treating deep hooked fish is to always remove the hook.
I have developed my own hook removal technique that has proven to be very successful over the past 20 years. The basic principle is to turn the hook around so it can be popped out with little or no damage to the fish. All you need for this method is a stiff wire on a wood handle with a small hook bent on the end, or an old crochet hook and a pair of needle nose pliers or forceps. Since this requires 2 hands to perform this task I hold the fish gently between my knees while I work on them. You carefully go in through the gill plate on whichever side the hook eye is pointing to and grab the line with the hook tool pulling it down through the gill and rotating the hook 180 deg. Then you simply pop the hook out with the pliers while holding the line tight with the hook tool so the hook stays pointing down. It is really quick and simple and far better than leaving the hook in the fish. This works best with the longer shanked worm style hooks but I have used it with great success on all types of hooks as well. Using this method I have not killed a bass in over 20 years that was gut hooked.