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How to Set a Fishing Hook: Everything You Need to Know

Written by: Pete D
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As an angler new to the sport, you may not know much about setting the hook on a fish, and truth be told, it takes a bit of practice to get it right.

There’s more than one way to do it, depending on the hook you’re using and the specifics of the lure or bait.

That may sound complicated, but it’s not - and we’ll teach you everything you need to know in this article.

If you want to know how to set a hook properly, keep reading!

Also Read: 

Hook Basics

We’ve written a complete guide to hook types and designs, and if you want to take a deep dive on this subject, check out this article:

Types of Fishing Hooks: Everything You Need To Know

It will get you up to speed on fishing hooks, but for learning how to set a hook, it might be more information than you need.

Instead, let’s discuss very basic hook design and the most common types of hooks you’ll be using as a new angler.

These are the basic parts of a hook.

parts of a fishing hook

Chances are, you’re going to be fishing with one of three hook designs: the J-hook, the treble hook, or the circle hook.

J-hooks

J-hooks are what you probably think about when you read the word “hook.”

They feature a straight shank and a point that’s parallel to it. Typically, but not always, they’ll also sport a relatively long shank.

O Shaunessy hook  

baitholder hook

Despite some design differences, the O’ Shaunessy hook on the left and the baitholder hook on the right are both “J-hooks.”

This is a very common hook family used for live bait, and from big saltwater O’ Shaunessy hooks designed for redfish to tiny baitholder hooks you’d pitch to panfish, their overall design philosophy is very similar.

Treble hooks

Treble hooks are named for their triplicate design. Offering three sharp points and three secure barbs, they increase the odds that a fish will get stuck on one (or more) of them.

treble fishing hook

Treble hooks come in a wide variety of sizes.

They’re very common on lures of all kinds, where they’re typically attached to the tail or bottom.

rapala shadow rap review

This lure wears three treble hooks, and it’s very hard for a fish to strike it without getting stuck somewhere!

Treble hooks can also be used with live bait, especially when fishing for catfish.

Circle hooks

Circle hooks are designed with a very long bend that brings the point back toward the shank. 

This design does two things. First, it allows plenty of space for live bait, and second, it creates a self-hooking mechanism whereby the fish drives the point and barb home on its own.

circle hook for bass

Circle hooks are a popular choice for live bait in fresh and saltwater.

There are many, many more types of common hooks, but as a new fisherman, you’ll probably be using one of these three.  

If your not sure which hooks to get check out our guide: Best Fishing Hooks For All Techniques

Preparing to Set Your Hook: Keep Your Line Tight

The number one rule of fishing is to keep your line tight.

You’re looking for minimal slack between the tip of your rod and your hook. Your line doesn't need to be laser-straight, but line resting on the water is probably a bad idea.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but for a novice angler, you want to keep your line tight.

This will accomplish several important things:

  • It will improve your ability to feel what’s happening to your bait and hook
  • It will improve your ability to set your hook

A tight line with very little slack will transfer the movements of your bait and hook to your rod and hands. By contrast, a slack line will absorb some of these vibrations and motions, deadening your capacity to feel them.

And when it comes time to set your hook, a tight line will transfer your motion directly to the hook. A slack line will absorb that energy until it’s taught and only then exert pressure on the hook.

The next two points are critical for good hookset form.

Keep your elbows close to your body.

While not critical for tiny fish and hooks, larger hooks and bigger fish may require some real power. Remember, tough bone and tissue isn’t going to yield easily on a 10-pound bass!

Start with your rod tip low.

If you have your rod pointed skyward when you start your hookset, very little can change. Instead, have your rod tip pointed no higher than horizontal, and your hookset will gain real authority.

When to Set Your Hook

The wriggle of a big lure as you pull it through the water can feel like a fish on your line, and that’s also true of wave action or current. And from time to time, small fish may bump your hook or bait, even tearing into it and causing it to dance and tremble.

But none of these is the real thing.

When a fish hits your bait or lure, you’ll feel more weight applied to your line and rod. Your float or bobber will submerge completely, and your line may even take off in a new direction!

The key in most situations is patience. 

Pausing just a second to let the fish get your hook fully into its mouth will increase the odds you’ll hook it. Waiting too long, however, can let the fish swallow your hook, almost certainly killing it.

With practice, you’ll learn to get the timing just right.

How to Set Your Hook

The moment of truth has finally arrived, and a fish has well and truly hit your lure or bait.

What you should do next depends on the type of hook you’re using, and we’ll discuss the three common designs we described above.

J-hooks

With a j-hook, you’ll want to raise your rod tip overhead in a sharp, powerful motion

The smaller the hook, the less force you should use. For instance, with the tiny hooks you fish for crappie, a pop of your wrist might be all it takes. But for a redfish, you may need to pull both arms overhead and really snatch your hook to drive it home.

With time and experience, you’ll learn just how hard to pull your hook for each situation.

Treble hooks

Treble hooks are designed to grip like mad, and, as a result, they’re very easy to set.

With a sweeping motion to the side, drag your hook into place. For more power, you can rotate at the hips. That will drive one or more of the points home, and the barbs should catch.

Circle hooks

As we mentioned above, circle hooks are designed to set themselves.

All you need to do is keep your line tight and start reeling. The hook will slide into the corner of the fish’s mouth on its own, almost like magic.

Final Thoughts

There’s more to this subject than we’ve discussed here, of course, but this covers the basics and should help you get started with your fishing adventures!

As always, we’d love to hear from you, and we’re always available to answer any questions you might have.

So please leave a comment below!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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