"Jerk it out; do it now."
That was Capt. Tricia giving orders. While trying to land an aggressive top-watered redfish, the silly thing torpedoed her and drove the front set of treble hooks deep into her waders below the knee. In trying to free herself; the second set of hooks found purchase in the first joint of her index finger. It was shanked so deeply that it looked like the tendons were pinned together all the way to her tip of her fingernail. Even more uncomfortable was having to blow bubbles on each wave due to the awkward position she was caught in.
If that had happened to me, and no help was nearby, I think I would have just rolled over, floated, prayed, and vigorously sucked my other thumb.
Our editor conducted a reader survey recently; not surprising was the number of requests for how-to content. Great, but personally, I have never been inspired to construct such. There are more patient minds out there and besides, half of the fun in fishing is figuring stuff out on your own. I'd rather, as a wise man once said, try to inspire more what-to-do thought, and then be amazed at human ingenuity.
That being said, topics do come along that are worth sharing and using single hooks on plugs is one of them. For those inquisitive souls among you, here is everything I know about it; the why, how, and what-for of it all. They work.
Treble hooks are just flat evil; in fish, in flesh, in landing nets and especially in floating grass. Beyond the obvious safety factor, by using single hooks we are able to get plugs on fish in conditions we had to walk away from before. A properly rigged topwater will negotiate most everything but a full-on grass mat.
After a couple years experience, we believe our hookup ratio is every bit as good as it ever was on trebles. In fact, the hook-set is so solid on singles that pliers are needed to get the fish unbuttoned most of the time.
I tried using single hooks several times over the years, mostly with marginal results. A group of our clients (John Regnier from Fishing Tackle Unlimited's Katy Freeway store and his friend Charles Sandford) brought us the right stuff and we never looked back.
Although there are no doubt other brands and styles that work, the Gamakatsu Live Bait hook seems perfect for the job. They are forged from heavy gauge wire and the weight seems to make up for missing barbs and helps maintain the lure's balance as intended by the manufacturer.
In order for a single hook to function properly in this application two rings are required. Otherwise, they will not align with the body of the plug. As for the hook itself, short shanks work best. Hooks with longer shanks can easily snag each other or wrap around the lure's nose.
Rigging can be frustrating at first, but with a little practice you can easily do it on the fly, even while wading. Split ring pliers are a must unless you have iron fingernails, and even those won't last long. Split rings should be opened carefully to avoid bending and springing; push them too far and they will not close properly, and some rings are better than others in this regard.
The best split rings are those cut square on the ends of the wire, rings with angular wire ends will inhale your line at every chance, especially if spread a bit. Fortunately, Gamakatsu also offers these hooks with a welded ring already attached. This feature makes everything easier but, as always, expect to pay a premium for convenience. Here are a couple of setups which work well but, alas, do feel free to be creative.
The get-down-nasty She Dog presentation. You know those days when the wind is oppressive and the water seems ripped beyond hope, where the floating grass looks like spinach garnish on a Yoo-Hoo chocolate shake? There are still good fish there, and banging them up with an obnoxious She Dog can be a good way to get at them. We can get these lures into areas where even using a tail is difficult. As in all plugs this size (Top Dog, Skitter Walk, etc.), a 3/O hook on the front with a 2/O on the rear seems fine. The smaller hook on the rear seems to loosen up the action. Facing the front hook forward gets through the grass quite well and hooking percentage is still high even when they just slap it.
Super Spook Jr. This little bait lends itself exceptionally well to single hooks and doesn't seem to have much of a bad side to it. With a 1/O hook mounted front and rear, the plug seems to always find the meatiest part of the mouth. Plus, these hooks will not straighten under the strain of a heavy fish as the factory-installed #4 trebles have tendency to do. The weak spot is the factory's split ring. We replace these with heavier gauge and slightly larger diameterjust enough to allow the hook to swing freely. Have no fear of loosing fish with single hooks on this lure.
Catch 2000. If there ever there were plugs built for single hooks this is one of them. Again, the hookups are solid, and because of its suspending action, it can be easily controlled in that clear zone just below the floating grass and above the growing grass. It can also be worked very shallow, handy for those windblown shorelines where grass can stack up. Same with the MirrODine & MirrOMinnow. For these, try 1/0 size hooks on both hangers. For the Catch 2000 & Catch Jr., a 2/0 on the front and 1/0 on the rear works well.
Corkies. The Corky Devil with a single hook is absolutely deadly. Being honest, we quit throwing this bait years ago when we knew we were on big fish. Due to its sleek design, big fish always seemed to take down to their stomachs and death rates were high. With singles, the hook almost always lodges securely in the corner of the mouth and releasing them alive is much more realistic. A number 2/0 does well here and the original Corky does well with the 1/0 size.
There are at least as many ways to rig with single hooks as fishermen have ideas. No, they are not for everybody, but if you fish in grassy areas they offer a serious advantage. The safety factor is also real, and I've seen more than one hairy-legged full-grown man faint like an ice princess after getting shanked.
By the way, after Capt. Tricia's encounter she shied away from topwaters for quite some time. Now she's back in there. Y'all have fun and catch what you've been missing.
"Jerk it out; do it now."