Here, you'll learn everything you need to know about all the types of fishing hooks: sizes, parts, points, gauges, and styles.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Hook sizing is a bit arcane and old-fashioned, leading to some confusion. Worse still, sizing isn’t uniform, meaning that from one brand to the next, a size 3 hook won’t be consistent.
Standard single hooks have two size ranges: single numbers and “aughts.”
Fishing Hook Size Chart
In the single sizes, larger numbers mean smaller hooks, so a size 6 is much smaller than a size 1.
In the aughts, larger numbers mean larger hooks, so a 9/0 (pronounced “nine aught”) is much larger than 1/0.
The same pattern is repeated with treble hooks, so single sizes increase in size as the numbers get smaller, and aught sizes get bigger as the numbers get bigger.
Choosing a hook size is typically an exercise in common sense, and two general rules apply:
For offering nightcrawlers to panfish like perch or bluegill, I might run a #4 baitholder.
For crappie, where live minnows are the rule, a light-wire Aberdeen is perfect. But while these fish are typically no larger than bluegill, don’t take their nickname “papermouth” lightly; you’ll want to size up your hooks to avoid tearing them loose, and a #2 is typically a good place to start.
For throwing soft plastics to largemouth bass, I like a 2/0, 3/0, or 4/0 worm hook. They’re the perfect size to accommodate the lure and provide tight, rock-solid hooksets.
For inshore trolling for reds, I like 1/0 circle hook on my live bait, and this also cuts down on gut hooks. Similarly, for walleye, a #2 circle or octopus hook is a good place to start.
Tuna take the same hook, and depending on their size, you can run anything from a #4 to a 2/0 to even larger sizes.
For catfish, depending on the species, anything from a 2/0 to a monster 6/0 Kahle is great for cut bait. For treble hooks, anything from a #2 to a #8 is great.
As you can see, this isn’t an exact science, but it isn’t brain surgery, either.
Ask other anglers or take a look at our species-specific articles, and you’ll have a good sense of the right hook for your application.
It’s important to know the names of the various parts of a hook, not least because design changes in these elements yield different shapes and performances.
For instance, soft-mouth fish like crappie demand larger gapes and longer shanks, a hook style called the “Aberdeen” that we’ll discuss below. By contrast, lots of saltwater species need a short shank and extreme bend, creating what’s called a circle hook.
A hook’s eye allows you to connect it to your line or leader, and while this may seem elementary, there’s a lot more going on here than you might think.
Different shapes and offsets make a big difference for a hook, for instance, determining whether it’s attached via a snell connection or attached with wire rather than standard line.
We’ll discuss the most common designs below.
The shank is the length of the hook from the bottom of the eye to the start of the bend.
Varying this length, and the thickness of the material it’s formed with, dramatically changes hook performance.
The bend is the part of the hook that connects the shank to the throat.
The size of the bend and degree of its sweep are also critical to hook design.
For instance, Kahle hooks sport a huge, sweeping bend that creates tons of space for big chunks of bait. And like circle hooks, they bring the point back toward the shank, offering tight lock-ups and nearly certain hooksets.
Kahle hooks are favored by anglers using large chunks of bait.
A hook’s throat runs from the end of the bend to the point.
The deeper the throat, the more space for live bait, and the farther the point and barb can drive into a fish’s mouth.
The business end of your hook, sharp is everything here.
That said, there are a variety of designs that can improve penetration, increase holding power, or tear through tough tissue.
We’ll go through the most common point designs below.
The barb is the projection just below the point.
It’s intended to make the hook easy to penetrate but hard to remove.
As a consequence, it can cause a lot of damage to fish, and for catch and release, many anglers either use barbless hooks (which are sometimes required by the law) or file the barb off before use.
A hook’s gape is the distance between the point and the shank.
Large gape hooks place the point far from the shank, creating plenty of space for bait. They also work well on soft-mouthed species like crappie because they’re less likely to tear out.
And smaller gapes typically don’t offer fast hookups as the point can be crowded.
For that reason, lots of anglers like to run hooks with as large a gape measurement as they can.
Gauge is a measure of the thickness of the wire used to make the hook, with thinner gauges being more pliable than tough, unyielding thicker gauges.
Light-wire hooks have some advantages. First off, they injure live bait less, allowing it to live and swim for longer. And they’re also easier to free from snags as you can often bend the hook until it releases, putting it back in shape with a pair of fishing pliers.
But big, mean fish like blue cats require tough hooks and 2X, 3X, and even 4X hooks are available to meet that need.
Spear points are straight-line continuations of the mouth, offering a sharp, direct tip to penetrate deeply.
Needle points bend just slightly back toward the shank, and this tiny detail can increase hookup.
Rolled in points turn back directly toward the shank. They’re common on circle and octopus hooks, and help these designs automatically set themselves.
Hollow points have a shallow, slight curve to them, thinning the point dramatically toward the tip. Not as robust as other designs, they penetrate very well.
Knife edge points are sharp along their shank-facing edge, cutting and penetrating through tough tissue.
The back side of the point is wide and flat, making it tough for a monster to throw.
The first thing to note is that eyes come in a variety of shapes or styles.
Brazed eyes are by far the most common hook design, and with the exception of some very specialized hook designs, probably the only style you’ll run into.
A brazed eye is smooth and closed.
The reasons are clear: a brazed eye is completely closed and gently rounded, offering the least wear against your line or leader.
That translated into greater strength at the connection, something every angler cares about.
First off, most of the talk about “ringed” hooks isn’t actually about the eye design but rather about the addition of a ring to the eye to allow live bait to swim and move more naturally.
This is a “ringed” hook, common in offshore fishing with live bait.
A ringed eye, on the other hand, means that the material of the eye isn’t quite closed, leaving a tiny gap. If you look closely at the hooks pictured below, you’ll just make that gap out.
A ringed eye leaves a small gap that can cause trouble if not finished properly.
The second most common eye design, the only drawback of this style is that this tiny gap can cause big problems. If it’s not properly rounded and smoothed off, it’ll wear against your line, potentially causing a failure.
While not very common these days, you can still find old-fashioned hooks that don’t sport an eye at all but instead just have a flattened section where the eye should be. These hooks can be attached by snelling, a simple knotting technique that harkens to the earliest fishing tackle.
Flat eyes aren’t common anymore, but they were the dominant style hundreds of years ago.
Common on the wet flies that are tied for salmon and steelhead, you won’t find looped eyes used for other applications.
The looped shape tapers the eye material and brings it back down along the shank. This provides a better core for fly tying.
Looped eyes are perfect for wet flies.
Needle eyes are another offshore design for use with live bait and are popular with anglers who rig Ballyhoo and Mackerel.
Like a hook with an added ring, they allow fantastic action from the bait, but must be used with wire, never mono or fluorocarbon leaders.
The reason is simple: the needle eye will place more stress on the line, causing failure. If you want to run mono or fluoro leader to your Ballyhoo or Mackerel, pick a ringed eye instead.
Needle eyes are used with wire to allow live bait to swim more freely.
By tapering the eye - and sometimes the upper shank as well - of a hook, you reduce its weight, making it work better with dry flies. As a result, you’ll find this design commonly used by fly anglers.
Tapered eyes are ideal for dry flies because they reduce the hook’s overall weight.
Eyes can also be set straight or offset - that is turned “up” or “down” relative to the shank, affecting how the point moves under load from the line.
A straight-eyed hook can be tied with a standard knot or snelled, and when force is applied to the line, the point will follow the direction of that force.
The eye of this hook is turned down, meaning that it will demand snelling.
Offset hooks are designed for live bait and snell connections.
Indeed, an offset hook that’s turned down won’t work unless you snell it. If you just tie it off with a standard knot, as you pull on the line, you’ll lever the point out and away from the fish, decreasing the odds of a solid hookset.
Hooks with eyes that are turned up can work without snelling, and the direction of force will still be in line with the point, but they’ll perform more consistently if they’re snelled.
The eye of this hook is turned up, and it works better with a snell connection.
Shank length has a huge impact on hook performance. For instance, for bait applications like live worms, a longer shank allows you to thread a bigger worm onto your hook. A longer shank can also prevent bite-offs when fishing for species with sharp teeth.
And some anglers swear that long shanks yield easier hooksets by decreasing the angle between the eye and point and thus keeping the force applied by the point more linear.
On the other hand, short shanks give the fish less leverage on the eye, and being more compact overall, they work really well with a variety of live baits.
Shanks also take a wide range of shapes.
Straight shanks create the standard “J” shape that most people summon to mind when they think of a hook.
Baitholder shanks are sliced partially through to create barbs that hold worms and other live bait items in place.
Baitholder hooks are perfect for fishing with nightcrawlers, leeches, and other long live baits.
Curved shanks orient the point of the hook back toward the shank. Circle hooks are good examples of this design.
These curved shank hooks increase the odds that the point is driven home and are essentially self-hooking. In practice, this means that it’s actually counterproductive to try to set the hook yourself; instead, you let the fish take your bait and start reeling.
The vast majority of the time, the hook will slide into place in the corner of the fish’s mouth and drive itself home.
Offset hooks are designed to accommodate soft plastics, and their strange bend keeps the worm or creature bait flat and attractive while minimizing any metal sticking out.
Worm hooks are designed specifically for soft plastics.
Another offset design is the jig hook.
Jig hooks keep your live bait horizontal.
Because a bait rigged on a jig hook should be horizontal, the shank is bent 90 degrees just below the eye, creating a shape that’s perfect for jigging with live bait.
By varying the design of the eye, shank, bend, throat, and point, you get a nearly endless variety of hook designs.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common.
Typically made from light-wire to keep minnows alive longer, Aberdeen hooks feature a long, straight shank, a wide gape, and a barbed hook that’s often hollow in shape to provide for quick penetration.
Ideal for species like crappie, sunfish, and perch, these hooks are easy to free from underwater snags by bending them open.
My favorite Aberdeen is the Mustad Classic in extra-fine wire, specifically the #4 for crappie.
Circle hooks are typically robust and feature a curved shank and rolled-in point that gives them their characteristic shape.
Useful for live bait, circle hooks are self-hooking, and trying to do that job yourself with a hard pull of your rod is counterproductive.
Instead, simply let the fish take your bait, wait a second or two, and start retrieving. Chances are, the hook will imbed itself in the corner of the fish’s mouth.
This can reduce gut hooking - a critical issue for conservation.
The Mustad Classic comes in a nearly limitless range of sizes and works like a charm, every time.
Octopus hooks are less severe versions of circle hooks, offering a more gentle curve to their bend while accomplishing much the same purpose.
I’ve only one word to say about choosing an octopus hook: Gamakatsu! Sharp, strong, deadly - that’s what you get with these high-quality hooks.
A J hook takes its name from its similarity to the letter, and as you'd expect, you’ll find them armed with a long shank, a standard bend, and a medium-length throat. Their gapes are pretty standard, too.
A great all-arounder for inshore and offshore use, hooks like the O'Shaughnessy are ideal for trolling with live bait, offering a knife-edge point that really punches tough tissue.
There’s no better O'Shaughnessy out there than the Mustad Classic, and they offer a wide range of sizes to ensure that you find what you need.
Baitholder hooks are typically standard J hooks with a twist: by scoring the shank, small barns are created, and they hold live bait like nightcrawlers like they’re glued to your hook.
Eagle Claw’s 181F-4 Baitholder is the brand to beat.
Kayle hooks sport a really, really big bend, allowing you to rig a huge chunk of cut bait. And whether you’re fishing for blues or reds, cats or walleye, that can be just the thing to fill your cooler.
I really like Mustad’s UltraPoint, and the right sizes for everything from blues to cats are available.
Jig hooks place a 90-degree bend in the shank just below the eye, allowing your live bait to run horizontally from your leader or line.
Eagle Claw’s heavy-wire Aberdeen jig hooks are ideal for working minnows for big fish.
Worm hooks are tailored to the use of soft plastics like worms, senkos, and creature baits. To keep these lures flat and lifelike, the hook sports a radical turn in the shank and a wide, sweeping bend.
I haven’t found a worm hook that I like better than Gamakatsu’s.
Treble hooks are three separate hooks soldered in a single unit with just one eye.
Designed to increase the likelihood of a hookset, you’ll find them on a variety of lures, and they find use as terminal tackle for catfishermen.
One downside to treble hooks is that they catch everything: grass, weeds, logs, sticks, you, your gear, and yes, plenty of fish, too!
Owner’s 3-X #4 is my go-to for catfish.
We hope this article has answered your questions about hooks, though we know we’ve only really scratched the surface of hook design.
And if we’ve left out one of your favorites, or if you have a question we didn’t answer, we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.