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Bonefish, Tarpon, and other Obsessions Turquoise water, silver demons on the fly

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Topic Review (Newest First)
04-03-2009 02:56 PM
formula1 I don't think circle hooks are any better for flies for tarpon, in fact I think they are worse. Bait fishing certainly yes but not flies. All my guides have at one time or another tried circle hooks and reported that they just do not work as well as J hooks. I've been doing this for more than a decade now and I talk with good tarpon anglers any chance I get and all the good fly anglers I know prefer J hooks. With many of the good hooks out there I don't see a reason to even consider circle hooks - my hook to landed ratio is somewhere in the vicinity of 40-50% with J hooks.

Just an FYI, I've hooked tarpon solidly in other spots than what you've noted Juro. When they're hooked well in these other spots, they are hooked very, very well - it takes a lot of reverse pressure to pop the hook out of these areas of the tarpon's mouth.
03-08-2009 07:28 AM
petevicar
Quote:
Originally Posted by juro
I'm far from being an expert but I'm starting to put together some limited intel and I do know this - there are only four places on their mouths where a hook can penetrate - (1) the cleft between the two upper jaws, (2) the cleft between the two lower jaws, (3-4) the corners on each side. If you can pierce the flaps over either corner like a lip-ring that would probably work but let's just call that a corner hook up for the purposes of this discussion. The four main jaw plates are practically impossible to hook never mind hold through the inevitable acrobatics.
Tarpon also have a sort of tongue which a hook can penetrate.
I have not studied this as closely as Juro but if this is true then it probably explains why more fish are lost than landed.

With regard to the take I find that there a number of different scenarios based on how the fish are behaving.

1. Fish cruising the edges of the mangroves.
This happens in my experience everywhere that tarpon live. Florida, Bahamas, Mexico, Cuba, Los Roques etc. These are usually baby tarpon up to 40lbs and are residents.
These fish are looking for food and will snap at a fly and swim off as if stealing something.
2. Schools of tarpon cruising the flats in a circular movement, not daisy chaining but working an area of the flat over an area of maybe several hundred yards. These are normally smaller fish and take like in 1.
3. Laid up fish.
This normally happens in the Keys in the backcountry when there have been a few days of flat calm and warm weather, it can be anytime of year. There the fish bask in the sunshine and quite often just lie there like logs. These fish can be very big, 150+.
A fly placed maybe 3 - 4 ft in front of the tarpon's head and just twitched will normally make the tarpon move very slowly to the fly, come up and suck it in and then very lazily go down to its normal depth. This is when you have to really strike. But the take etc. is soooo exciting.
4. Migrating fish.
I have seen this in mostly in the Keys where pods of fish move up and down the coast. They do not seem to stop but just follow the coast line school after school all on the same line. These are also usually large fish. These fish have normally seen all sorts of flies and lures and bait as there is usually a line of boats trying to catch them but early in the season it is possible to hook these fish. They swim past, if the fly is in their path they may take it and just keep on swimming.

I am sure that there a few situations that I have missed out but with regard to successfully hooking and landing a tarpon I think that there is considerable luck involved in keeping the fish on the hook as in most cases the fish hooks itself.

On one trip to the Keys a few years ago in February we came across a school of laid up tarpon. In one afternoon I hooked and jumped 14 but got none of them to the boat. We went back the next day and I landed 3 fish up to 150lbs. I was totally exhausted.
I am not sure what was more fun.

As far as I am concerned it is great to land a big tarpon every now and again but it is very tiring. I suppose it is important to prove that you can do it.
However I believe that one of the most exciting situations in fly fishing is casting to a big laid up tarpon, seeing the take, trying to get a good hook set and then seeing this fish that is bigger than you are jump out of the water a few feet away from the boat.
It is quite horny.
03-07-2009 10:06 PM
juro I've done tarpon several times now all with J hooks. I'm far from being an expert but I'm starting to put together some limited intel and I do know this - there are only four places on their mouths where a hook can penetrate - (1) the cleft between the two upper jaws, (2) the cleft between the two lower jaws, (3-4) the corners on each side. If you can pierce the flaps over either corner like a lip-ring that would probably work but let's just call that a corner hook up for the purposes of this discussion. The four main jaw plates are practically impossible to hook never mind hold through the inevitable acrobatics.

Sean, my experience has been that although tarpon do often glide toward the fly as you mention the actual take is usually followed by a vicious swipe or glide away and in every case but the one where it trails directly toward you after the grab there is a very strong increase in tension after the take. They don't sit still when they have taken a fly - I think every tarpon angler would agree to that.

My thinking was that the circle hook would find it's way to the most secure cradle in the armored mouth - the near corner, and apply it's point perpendicular to the curve of the hook which would be better than a straight point during the chaos.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Swalt
This is only a small sampling but between the 2 of us we hooked 8 and landed 5. The circle hook was always in the or near the corner of the mouth and under the bone there. You don't strike. You just let the fish take the fly, turn and let the line come tight. These were tarpon ranging from 20 to 60lbs.
Swalt's experience is precisely what came to mind based on my own experiences with tarpon to 60#, all on j hooks.

Personally I have much less interest in tarpon over 100# although I'll try it if the opportunity arises what the heck!
03-07-2009 03:05 PM
Swalt My 2 cents and I am far from being an expert on hooking tarpon. I have fished for them 3 times and the last time we did use circle hooks and smaller flies. I had read something very similar to what striblue quoted and used the same methods described. This is only a small sampling but between the 2 of us we hooked 8 and landed 5. The circle hook was always in the or near the corner of the mouth and under the bone there. You don't strike. You just let the fish take the fly, turn and let the line come tight. These were tarpon ranging from 20 to 60lbs.
03-07-2009 08:38 AM
jfbasser Chemically sharpened hooks brought on the popularity of the slow set. It works with J hooks as well as circle hooks, so there is no need to buy circles except possibly for use with bait. If we did not have todays hook technology the hard set would still be in vogue.
03-07-2009 06:38 AM
petevicar I don't know why you would want to use a circle hook for tarpon. I understand that circle hooks are used to stop the fish swallowing the hook.
I have caught a lot of tarpon and have never had one swallow the hook.

I think John's post is very interesting.
The last time I fished for tarpon in the Keys my guide told me of a "new" technique for hooking tarpon. I tried it and it worked.
When the fish takes do not set the hook immediately. Loosen the drag and let the fish take almost all the line, nearly into the backing and then set the hook. The idea is the the fish does not realise that he is hooked and the hook slowly works its way into the fishes mouth. When you strike quickly the fish feels the hook and jumps and most often throws the hook.
On that occasion I was rewarded with a 130lb tarpon.
Unfortunately tarpon often take very strongly and feel the hook straight away and jump.
If the fish does not jump then I think there is a better chance of getting a good hook set.

I also agree with Vtloon idea that when you try to set the hook on a small tarpon the weight of the fish is not sufficient to be enough resistance to get a good hook set. That is largely down to good luck.
I find I tend to land proportionately more larger fish that I hook than smaller fish.
03-06-2009 11:22 PM
striblue
I understand that the use of circle hooks is very popular for flies for Tarpon. This is from those I know who have used them and them saying they are extensively used from those they know. I have no personal knowledge so I can not even speculate as to how they work myself. Mark Sosin has stated in his web site.."Jack Callion prefers J-hooks over circle hooks for tarpon. I don't totally agree with him. It's not so much concern over gut hooking the fish as it is the number of hookups and the ease of "setting" the hook (which you don't really do with a circle hook). You can gut hook a fish on occasion with a circle hook. They are not foolproof.

As you know, the mouth of a tarpon has the consistency of a poorly crafted cinder block. There are only a few places where a hook will penetrate. Keep in mind that I respond and react to a strike with a J-hook or a circle hook the same way. Without moving the rod, I begin reeling until the line comes absolutely tight and the fish is on or I missed it. I use a loop knot with a circle hook because the hookup ratio improves. The fish has to set a circle hook by swimming away.

After a lifetime of fishing, I have finally learned that regardless of the style hook you use, the less you do to set it, the more fish you will catch. "
03-06-2009 09:25 PM
Smcdermott Juro,

Absolutely no experience tarpon fishing circle hooks or not. Did you get a chance to ask Andy Mill at the Bear's Den show Sat? I haven't had good experience with circle hooks in general fly fishing. I get using them for bait since the fish tends to swallow the bait and the circle hook has a chance to do its thing. Many of the takes I have seen on video in tarpon fishing have the fish coming up from behind the fly and eating it. They don't seem to swallow and close that big mouth on it which seems like the circle won't have a chance to get set in the corner of the mouth. With that said I see more missed strikes than an advantage. Especially if the fish runs at you and you need to strip like mad to get tight. Curious what your logic is on them? I know some guys use them for tuna/albie flies with success but I haven't had luck with them myself.

Sean
03-06-2009 04:41 PM
vtloon From my experience I like the circle hooks better for the smaller (say, 5 -30 lb) fish, but like an Owner Aki for the larger fish. I try hard to use a good hard strip strike; for large fish I use the two hand rod handle straight back (if I have time). Often this is followed almost immediately by having to bow (more like a deep-knee bend) to the fish and push the rod forward with full arm extension when the fish jumps.

My unproven theory is that with small fish the strike will often move the fish through the water instead of the hook into the bony mouth parts. The mechanics of the circle hook seem to overcome this better.

I would estimate my "stay stuck" ratio has been about 50% with the smaller fish, but probably 80% with the larger fish. Of the fish that did not stay stuck, at least 50% were off on the 1st jump.
03-06-2009 01:53 PM
juro
tarpon on circle hooks

Putting 1+1 together I am thinking the right circle hook may be a good option for tarpon. Even when I've had them blasting the fly consistently such a small percentage (one in 10 hookups?) come to hand because of those rock-hard mouths.

Anyone have experience with circle hooks and tarpon?

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