Hogy Fundamentals: Hook Up Ratio and Big Soft Baits

By Captain Mike Hogan

Destination: Upper Cape CodMissing a fish that crashes your bait is perhaps the most frustrating moment an angler can experience. Unlike simply having a “slow” day, you actually see the fish, hear the fish, and may be even feel the fish if it gets a chance to rip some line.  What makes matters even worse is the fact that the missed opportunity can often be avoided. This month we’ll discuss hook up ratios and what you can do to increase yours.

Hook Up Ratio

The number of hits that get converted to landed fish. What’s yours?

Appropriate Rigging

Since we are talking about big soft baits here, appropriate rigging is extremely important for no other reason than you want to make sure there will be a hook where the fish bites the lure. Let’s take a look at some of our recommended rigging methods:

Tandem Rig

Although we know that striped bass, (and many other game fish for that matter) often aim for the head, we also know that there are many factors that impact where an interested fish will connect with your lure. For starters, you have the lure dancing through the water compounded with tide sweeping your bait, the wind blowing your line and meanwhile, the fish is accelerating on your bait.. Consequently, there are no guarantees where that hook will make contact with the fish when it hits.  Sometimes fish simply miss! That’s why on our longest baits, we strongly recommend tandem rigging where you’ll have two possible points of contact with the fish.

Texas Style

Using an appropriately sized hook is extremely important when Texas rigging a soft bait. We like hooks that come close to the mid point of the soft bait, allowing for a little leeway as to where the fish can be hooked.

Jig Heads and Swimming Tins

Hook size is equally important here. Many anglers seem to use jig heads with smaller hooks, which have very narrow “gap” – the space between the hook shank and the point.  Wider gap is important because it will allow the hook to properly seat in the mouth of the fish and is less likely to pop out during a headshake.  If you’re fishing with very large baits such as our 14″ and 18″ Hogys, a stinger hook will greatly minimize short strikes.

Sharp Hooks

You can have hooks in all the right places, but a dull hook can easily be the weak link between you and hooking that fish. That’s why we recommend pre-sharpened hooks wherever possible. You can be doing everything right, but a poorly sharpened hook can stop the deal in its tracks. Ideally, your hook set will land in the soft corner of the fish’s mouth. The one thing we know for sure is that a sharp hook will greatly increase your odds, wherever it lands.

Fishing with Braid

Several years ago, I switched from monofilament line to braid due to its low stretching properties. Why did this matter? The lack of stretch means that energy from a strike, subtle or otherwise, will be transferred via the rod much faster. Simply put, it’s far more sensitive. Consequently, fishing with braid will yield a faster turn around on a hook set, leaving the fish less opportunity to spit the hook. I guess the best analogy would to picture the difference between fishing with a 100-foot rubber band as opposed to traditional fishing line. If there is a bend or any slack in the line between you and the fish, the rubber band would stretch before driving all the possible energy to the fish. Outcome: A delayed response and a chance for the fish to spit the hook.

Secondly, the lack of stretch will help drive that hook home. Using the rubber band example, picture what is happening in the fish’s mouth. Without any stretch, that hook will penetrate with more energy and up your chance of success if the hook happens to find a tough spot in the fish’s mouth. What would you prefer?

Although we have done fine for many decades with monofilament, why not add another edge? Drive that hook home. Just remember, the less stretch in the line, the more immediately the hook will do its job.

Fishing with Appropriate Rod

I tend to use rods that are a little longer and a little heavier than average.

Longer Rods

Although a longer rod will usually cast farther than a shorter one, another advantage I see is that a longer rod will increase your hook up ratio as it will remove slack in the line with less effort due to better leverage. This is more important when fishing in a boat than from shore as most boat casting and spinning rods are in the 7′ range. I prefer at 8′ rod especially when I’m making long casts. The added length will help compensate for a rocking, drifting and/or spinning boat as it contends with wind and tide. In the surf  I like 9′ and 10″ rods.

Back Bone

I also recommend selecting a rod with adequate backbone. We’re talking big baits for big fish here and that means driving a hook home into a big and tough mouth. Back to the rubber band example… So you’ve read thus far, you have a properly rigged bait, sharp hooks and you’re fishing with braid. What would happen to your hook set if you were using a very soft or flexible rod? You might still set the hook, but why not tip the odds further in your favor? I’m not saying to fish with a broom stick, but just make sure that rod has enough back bone to drive the hook home.

The Crank and Set Method

OK, you’re armed with the right equipment, let’s talk a little about setting that hook. Basically, you’re goal is to drive that hook home quickly and with enough force to penetrate. As I type this, I immediately picture the largemouth bass television shows I watched religiously as a youngster. I would watch in amazement how hard the anglers would set the hook. Sometimes yanking the fish out of the water if it wasn’t so big… I guess by setting the hook with such force, they were guaranteeing themselves that all slack would be removed from the line and the hook would penetrate forcefully. Although I can’t hardly disagree, I will also say this hook up method is unnecessary.

Bringing me to my favorite hook set technique: The Crank and Set, which is accomplished by making small turn of the reel handle, basically a nanosecond before striking. This will take out slack in the line between you and the fish.  So when you set the hook, all your energy will be expended on purely setting the hook, not collecting line. An added benefit to the crank and set technique is how you can respond to a fish that is swimming towards you after picking up on the bait.  If you’re not experiencing pressure on your first crank, take another. Just before that the instant you feel any pressure, set that hook!

I saw a great demonstration a few years ago on hook set technique in which the speaker was showing the effect that slack line has on setting the hook. In hook set # 1, he had a young man hold a small stick, which was tied to fishing line. He then instructed the boy to hang on to it the best he could. There was a little slack, but not much. When the angler set the hook, he really laid into it. Sure the boys hand moved with the hook set, but he was able to hang on. In hook set #2, the same angler set up again with the same slack, same conditions. But this time, the angler took a quick crank on the handle and set with at least 50% of the force as before. The stick flew from the boys hand, demonstrating the power taking the slack out of the line prior to setting the hook had.

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