Circle Hooks for Striped Bass

Attention striper fishermen: Circle hooks must be used when fishing for striped bass with natural baits


Attention striper fishermen: Effective January 1, 2021, non-offset (inline) circle hooks must be used when fishing for striped bass with natural baits like clams, squid, mackerel, menhaden, seaworms, and eels. Using inline circle hooks significantly increases survival of released striped bass by reducing occurrences of gut hooking.

Why are circle hooks required when fishing for striped bass with natural bait?

Using non-offset (inline) circle hooks significantly increases the survival of released striped bass. Specifically, circle hooks are designed to reduce occurrences of gut hooking, which describes when a fish swallows a bait and the hook becomes embedded in its stomach or esophagus. Studies have shown that gut hooking is a major cause of release mortality.

What is a circle hook?

A circle hook is defined as a non-offset (inline) hook where the point is curved perpendicularly back toward the shank. This is different from a J-shaped hook, where the point is parallel to the shank. The term ‘non-offset or inline’ means the point and barb are in the same plane as the shank – in other words, when laid on a flat surface, the entire hook and barb should lay flat.

How do circle hooks work?

If a striped bass swallows your bait, the circle hook will slide out from its throat and catch on the corner of its jaw. The circle hook sets itself when the fish tries to swim away.

How do you use a circle hook for striped bass?

When a striped bass takes your bait, do not sweep the rod upward to set the hook. Instead, simply let the line come tight and fight the fish. The circle hook is designed to set itself as the fish tries to swim away.

What if I gut-hook a fish?

When using circle hooks, you may occasionally gut-hook a fish. If this happens, cut the leader as close as you can to the hook and leave it in the fish..

How do I snag-and-drop bunker (menhaden, pogies) for striped bass?

When you can snag a live bait on a snagging hook, do not allow the bait to swim on the snagging hook. Instead, bring it to the boat as quickly as possible and transfer it to a circle hook rig.

What size circle hook is best for striped bass?

The size of the circle hook you use for a striped bass rig depends on the size of the bait. For larger baits, like live menhaden (bunker or pogies), an 8/0 circle hook is ideal. For chunk baits and live eels or spot, a smaller 6/0 circle hook will work. Smaller baits, like seaworms, can be rigged on 2/0 circle hooks. For large baits, use a bridle rig when rigging for striped bass.

What else can I do to help striped bass survive catch and release?

  • Use barbless hooks or crush barbs down.
  • Replace treble hooks on artificial lures with single hooks.
  • Use appropriate tackle suited to the size of the fish and don’t fight the fish to exhaustion.
  • Keep the fish in the water when de-hooking.
  • If you must take the fish out of the water, use a rubber or soft-mesh landing net.
  • Avoid handling fish with dry hands or a dry rag.
  • Avoid dragging fish across dry sand or rocks.
  • Hold fish horizontal with support.
  • Avoid touching the fish’s gills or eyes.

28 on “Circle Hooks for Striped Bass

  1. Logic 1.0

    How Circle Hooks Work: need to change the word “will” to designed too. When circle hooks work as advertised then the hook is great. When it doesn’t the hook pins the esophagus of the striper closed which I am sure is a death sentence.

    1. Ric

      I Ihave been fishing with offset circle hooks for 20 years( illegal this year) and never gut hooked a Striper. I also found them to be very effective if you want your young children to hook fish all by themselves. 15 years ago when my son was 5 he could keep that 10 foot surf rod in the sand spike and reel in Stripers all by himself. I don’t know if anyone has had this issue- when I started using inline circle hooks for largemouth bass and shiners I almost always gut hooked them. I decided to go back to J hooks with only an occaisional gut hook

  2. Geoff Valley

    Too bad the commercial fishermen aren’t held to this same circle hook requirement that they’re forcing on us recreational anglers.

  3. MSL

    Released striped bass that die from gut hooking and mishandling outnumber those that are caught commercially. There is strong scientific data to support this claim. We need to do a better job releasing our striped bass. Circle hooks are one part of the way we can improve the survival rate of released striped bass.

    1. Logic 1.5

      I don’t fear the circle hook, have been using them for years. Have gotten sick of the dogma of how the hook works. I can tell you that fishing live mackerel approximately 1/3 of the stripers are hooked in the esophagus. In the 24 -27” range it has been closer to 50%. With worms and clams the circle hooks usually work as advertised. I love circle hooks for ground pounding for haddock, pollock, cod etc.

    2. Logic1.5

      That may be true but I have witnessed commercial fisher high grading their stripers, throwing back dead fish. There are good and bad actors in all walks of life.

    3. Tony

      Not to mention those choosing to use ultra light tackle for the job for ego purposes and basically turning their catch & release strippers into dead fish walking.

  4. Jeremy Gould

    Pretty soon they’ll have us out here fishing without hooks at all…

  5. APEX

    Don’t fear the circle. Most people who have had a bad experience were probably using offset circle hooks or are too jumpy to allow the circle hook to function as designed (don’t try to set the hook). My hookups increased when I made the switch to circles in the 90s. I know it can happen but I have never gut hooked a striper with a circle hook when using bait.

    I tie all my flies for use with circle hooks. They work just as well as J hooks and though I haven’t had a gut hook, I do occasionally get a gill hook. The hook rarely penetrates tissue. The circle just slides around a gill so with forceps, it is fairly easy to remove. Circle hooks with the barb filed off or bent down hold as well as a barbed hook maybe even better than a barbed J hook. The point is at right angles to the hook shank and it makes them pretty sticky. Even so, they are very easy to remove it you grip the shank and rotate the hook. Forceps or needle nose pliers help.

    1. Logic 1.5

      I don’t fear the circle hook, have been using them for years. Have gotten sick of the dogma of how the hook works. I can tell you that fishing live mackerel approximately 1/3 of the stripers are hooked in the esophagus. In the 24 -27” range it has been closer to 50%. With worms and clams the circle hooks usually work as advertised. I love circle hooks for ground pounding for haddock, pollock, cod etc.

    2. APEX

      Logic, I believe you but it is not my experience. I wonder if the difference is how you rig your mackerel. If you are not rigging it through the head it might not work as advertised. As far as I can tell most of the scientific studies of circle hooks comes out of the long line industry where they are commonly used. If those guys weren’t catching more fish with circle hooks you can bet they would not use them. I don’t suppose they care one way or another whether their catch is gut hooked or not but some smart people discovered that most were not gut hooked.

  6. Fishy Joe

    This article makes clear what a farce it is that ASMF is prohibiting fishing with Pork Rind in 2021.

    Circle hooks are clearly designed for the fish to take the bait and run with it: “The circle hook sets itself when the fish tries to swim away.” -In order to work properly the fish must be swimming AWAY from the angler. I just can’t imagine a striped bass picking up a bucktail and running with it long enough for the circle hook design to work. It might look like prey but that mass of lead, deer hair and pig skin cannot feel or taste like prey.

    The root of this issue is that a pork rind is categorized as bait. Deer tail and hackle feathers are not considered natural bait. It should be obvious to the ASMFC that the pork rind is serving the same purpose as these other natural materials: providing a visual/spatial presentation to the fish.

    The only silver lining is since Uncle Josh went out of business I only have one jar with a few mangled pork rinds left. It’s just really infuriating that ASMFC is so clueless.

    1. Your Judge

      Yes how dare they not consider this one obscure (you said so yourself with Uncle Josh) bait. There couldn’t possibly be any other combinations or exemptions that people might get upset about. Everyone else is obviously the problem when it comes to overfishing.

      1. Fishy Joe

        What do pork rinds have to do with overfishing?

  7. GoFishCraig

    The stated goal of requiring the use of circle hooks is to prevent/lower release mortality. My studies prove properly rigging j-hooks is more likely to prevent release mortality than improperly rigging circle hooks. Specifically, I am asking you to allow the use J-hooks with bait when then are attached by a 2” line perpendicular to the main line. Such as a high/low rig with 5/0 J-hooks attached to 2” dropper loops.

    For 25 years I have conducted my own extensive j-hook study surf fishing with bait. The problem is not with the shape of the hook but with the way the hook is rigged, specifically when the hook is attached to a long leader. My research finds the new provision requiring the use of circle hooks and prohibiting the use of j-hooks with bait is fundamentally flawed in several ways.

    First, circle hooks attached to a long leader are gulped into a fishes internal organs and subsequently ripped back out again before engaging in the lip of the fish. The provision requiring circle hooks incorrectly assumes success by observing the desired end result of a lipped hooked fish has been accomplished while completely ignoring the action of ripping the hook back out of a fishes internal organs. The action of ripping the circle hook back out of a fish’s internal organs after it has been gulped into them, is more likely to cause fatal injuries than if the hook never entered the fish’s internal organs in the first place. Use of circle hooks does not solve this issue. A better solution is one where the hook never enters the fish’s internal organs at all.

    Second, it ignores proper rigging of j-hooks always results in lip hooked fish and does prevent the hook from ever entering the fish’s internal organs. The problem is not with j-hooks but rather with attaching j-hooks to a long line that is gulped directly into a fishes internal organs. Use of a high/low rig tied with 5/0 j-hooks attached to two inch dropper loops should be allowed, because it is the best way to prevent fish mortality. This rig prevents a hook from ever entering the fish’s internal organs, because the main line catches on the sides of the fishes lips. 25 years surf fishing with j-hooks in this manner I have always had lip hooked fish and NEVER HAD A GUT HOOKED FISH REGARDLESS OF SIZE OR SPECIES (e.g. striped bass, blue fish, drum, trout, fluke, sea robin, sand shark, skate, star gazer, king fish, bunker, spot, etc.).
    I have even caught double header blue fish on this rig because they are lip hooked and chomping on the hook shank and not the monofilament line. On the other hand I have lost countless fish using circle hooks that fail to hook up. Those fish are likely injured, when the hook is ripped back out of its internal organs, without being caught with the chance of being kept.

    Third this provision completely ignores the use of treble hooks on plugs and metals. Treble hooks are nothing more than 3 J hooks welded together. It is unbelievable the use of 3 treble hooks on a plug is allowed when fish mortality is a concern and indicates how little thought was put into the circle hook provision

    Fourth, there is no consideration in this provision about when it will be undone. Will bait fishing with j-hooks be banned forever?

    I have not been able to find the actual 80’s and 90’s studies and papers that were used and are often referenced to justify the required use of circle hooks. However, I am confident those studies did not take into count rigging hooks on anything other than a long leader. Additionally, I am confident they did not observe the fish after release to see if they actually did live after being caught on a circle hook attached to a long leader.

  8. Gary Pringle

    It not the hook killing fish. It’s soft plastic baits a small chunk brakes off and the fish cannot process the plastic.


    Is this law valid in Massachusetts for 2021? So does it include tube and worm rigs? A lot of in state lure manufacturers are still using J hooks on tubes.

  10. Dan

    Tried circle hooks up here in Maine for several seasons, had quite a collection of hooks and bridles…nothing seemed to work. Then I went out with my son who fishes about once a year. He lipped hooked a succession of bass while I swore. Finally he said that the rod I was using, a St. Croix musky rod, was too stiff even if I didn’t set the hook. It wasn’t so much that I was gut hooking the fish it’s that I wasn’t getting many hookups. My son said you’re popping the mackerel out of the fish; you need to slide it out. I switched to the limber spinning rig I’d jigged the mackerel up with and…the skies opened and the angels sang, an even dozen perfect lip hookups with a 7/0 in line circle hook. The only problem I’ve had since is with fish that swim toward you. Let them go by you and snug up while they’re facing away from you. It works so well that it’s even much better that the “ole cross their eyes” hook set with J-hooks. ps use a soft, deep net and one of those plastic jaw grabbers…seems to relax them. circle hooks can be hard to remove but you will rarely see another bleeding striper.

    1. rrpostal

      You shouldn’t be “ripping” the hook back out of the fish if the swallow it. That’s kind of the whole point of the hook… for it to slide back out without “ ripping and shredding” anything. They aren’t perfect, and they work more or less with different species, obviously. I’ve had far fewer fish going back in bad shape.

  11. Rob

    I believe the new law says you don’t need a circle hook if you are using natural bail attached to a lure that is being jigged, trolled or cast.

  12. Joe

    Just stop commerical fishing for striped bass.Make it a game fish.

  13. Joseph Garyantes

    Make striped bass a game fish.NO COMMERICAL FISHING FOR THEM!!!

  14. jamesjoseph

    no big deal. just use my home modified automatic ar15 to shoot surfacing stripers when they are blitzing bait. no rules against that.

  15. tom

    I tried the circle hooks for the first time this summer. Over 75% of the hook ups occurred deep in their throat far worse than I observed with the old hooks. the circle hooks were also more difficult to remove when set deep. I gave the circle hooks a shot but I don’t believe they are any better. What I saw was worse than the J hooks

  16. John Neil Costa

    I have used circle hooks for over 20 years before they were prevalent in the America. They do work and have saved many a Striper to go back to the sea. Well worth the investment. Changed all my plugs from treble to circle hooks. No issues there either.

  17. Sp0rtsman

    I made the switch to circle hook. OMG, they work better than I expected. Self setting in lip!!

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