Terminal Tackle - Pt 1

Terminal Tackle - Pt 1
Once again sheepshead are roaming the bays.

Accused of being over-prepared or carrying too much tackle aboard is nothing new to me. A dozen and a half rod and reel outfits and a 94-quart tackle storage compartment full of lures and terminal tackle is standard on every outing. You just never know exactly what the day may offer. Over the years I've found that you better have what it takes to get the job done, or stay close to the dock.

There are times when subtle changes in terminal rigging allows for a more effective presentation and gets more bites. The components at the end of the line connecting the bait can make a huge difference. The hook, swivel, weight and leader material may all be fastened in many ways. Certain methods of leader construction and makeup can increase your odds of success. Here in part one I'll discuss hooks that I use most often.

The Hook

Hook selection is the cornerstone of catching the first link in a chain of components between you and the fish. Choose wisely.

Three hook styles in a range of sizes catch 90% of my fish. These all-time favorites for the Gulf Coast are: O'Shaughnessy (J-hook), wide gap (Kahle type) and circle. These can sometimes be used interchangeably but, in general, a specific style and size will increase our success.

When shopping for hooks I look for several qualities and features:

1. Finish- The finish applied to a hook may adversely affect the survivability of a fish that is released with the hook left in it. Black nickel plating has become my favorite as it is a good middle of the road coating. Rugged and smooth, black nickel resists rust better than regular nickel or bronzed, but not as rust-free as tin plated.

2. Sharpness- If I look at a hook and think it needs to be sharpened, I'd just as soon trash it. Right out of the package the hook needs to be sharp enough to penetrate with minimum force. Hooks that are chemically sharpened are normally much sharper in comparison to ground points.

3. Value- It's difficult to put a value on each fish landed but you can sure put a price on not catching them. Cheap hooks will fail (break or straighten) more often and dull hooks score fewer hookups. The highest priced hooks increase your tackle costs, and sting the most when they are lost. Offer me good quantity at a fair price and I'm sold.

Over the years I have "fished around" with many brands but I always come back to Mustad. Mustad offers quality, value, consistency and a variety of styles to improve most any fishing situation. I reach for Mustad with the Ultra Point design when available. These hooks are made with a chemically-sharpened conical point designed for quicker penetration.


The O'Shaughnessy 9174NP-BN (J-hook) is easily my all-time favorite. It works equally well with live or dead finfish and shrimp. Variations include 3X Short, 2X Strong, forged and non-offset.

3X Short- The decreased shank length increases strength and is less prone to bending. The shortened shank also lessens the possibility of the bait getting "double hooked." When a fish eats, the bait is less likely to slide down on the hook shaft and allow the point to penetrate back into the bait.

2X Strong- As the name implies, the larger diameter wire greatly reduces the possibility of bending or straightening.

Forged- The sides of the hook shaft are flattened similar to a knife blade. The forging increases strength while reducing breakage, bending or twisting under pressure.

Non-offset- The straight shaft increases leverage needed to dislodge from the fish. In addition, the non-offset hook shank keeps the bait straight and minimizes twist and spinning in current.

MUSTAD 37160

The wide gap hook is known by many names. Croaker hook, shiner hook or Kahle seem to be most popular. The MUSTAD 37160 wide gap hook is what I use most often. This hook comes in several finishes, including but not limited to black nickel, red, tinned and stainless steel. I prefer the black nickel or tinned myself, the red finish is nice, but personally I have realized no real advantage. After a few fish the red wears off leaving a shiny silver hook. I prefer not to use stainless steel due its durability, taking too long to rust out should we wish to release a deeply hooked fish or the line breaking. The 37160 includes a turned up eye, slightly reversed twist and a wide gap for cradling the bait.

Turned up eye- The eye placement on this hook is important to keep the bait in-line with the hook. This helps in the presentation of live bait when free-lining or fishing in a current. The turned up eye is also convenient for snelling.

Reversed twist- The offset incorporated into the shank allows for a slight rotation when pressure is applied. The rotation helps bury the hook point into the fish upon hookset. The drawback to the offset is that it may cause twist when a bait is threaded onto the shank (dead shrimp) and fished in current.

Wide gap- The space between the point and shank bend is increased. This allows the live bait more wiggle room when pinned. In addition, the gap reduces the possibility of the hook pinning back into the bait and double hooking itself. Both tail and nose hooked baits ride well with this design, aptly named the croaker hook.

MUSTAD 39940 and 39941

The circle hook may be the best design ever for ease of hookset and catch and release fishing. There are many versions on the market today and after testing many of them I have found this Mustad design to be superior to all others. As with most circle hook designs it is best to just apply pressure to the line to set the hook instead of a hard sweeping hookset. Placing the rod in a holder and allowing the fish to hook itself probably works best of all. My experience while using these hooks with live bait is that fish are hooked in the upper lip or corner of the mouth 90% of the time. With dead or cut bait on other hook types we see about 25% embedding in the throat or gullet. Both the 39940 & 39941 Demon Circle come in kirbed, point curved in, and different strengths.

Kirbed- This designation tells us that the hook point is turned in pointing toward the shank at an approximate 90 angle. This downward angle focuses the hook point directly into the fish's flesh.

Point Curved In- The point is slightly offset as it extends toward the shank. This offset helps the hook dig in as it scratches the surface while the kirbed point finds purchase.

1X Strong (39940)- This hook is made from smaller diameter wire. I use sizes 1/O though 4/O when fishing with smaller baits. Live and dead shrimp pinned with the hook located in the center of the back is extremely effective for sheepshead. The sheepshead more often than not will pinch a shrimp in half with on the first bite. The circle hook catches them on the lip or near the teeth in the upper jaw.

2X Strong (39941)- The larger diameter wire from which it is made lends additional strength. I use this hook in sizes 6/O through 9/O on larger baits, live or dead. The increased diameter is occasionally needed when using braided line. I haven't had one of these bend or break yet.

Next month, Part-2 will cover swivels, leader materials and specifics on leader design.