Circle hooks catch fish
By: Kirby Desha for The News Messenger
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With the salmon action slowing down, Bass Jack Naves and I traveled down to the Sacramento River side of the Delta to get in more of the incredible striper action that’s been lighting up the region for months.

On this trip, we eschewed trolling in favor of bait fishing on anchor. Our choice of bait was that lowly loner of meat departments everywhere, chicken livers. Although many old timers use chicken livers for catfish, we also know that they are favorites for striped bass.

The relatively new twist on this old standby is the use of circle hooks on the business end of the line. Jack has mastered this technique and the results are incredible.

Circle hooks call for a drastic change in the usual approach to hooking fish, but once the technique is learned, they can be a deadly addition to the angler’s tackle box.

One of the biggest challenges to bait fishing for stripers is knowing when to set the hook. Many times swinging too soon for a hook-set rips the bait out of the fish’s mouth. The point of a circle hook curls in on itself and it looks like there would be no way to set the hook, and that’s the whole point. With circle hooks, the angler either lifts the rod or just starts reeling in the line slowly and that allows the circle to slide into the corner of the fish’s mouth.

It’s incredibly easy and effective. Once the fish is hooked, just start fighting them as one normally would.

To tie up a circle hook rig, start with a 4/0 to 8/0 circle hook with a straight eye. Use a 3-foot piece of 20-pound mono line and tie a snell knot so it comes out the eye on the same side as the hook. This forces the hook to point toward the line.

Use a long, limber rod that will show the bites and allow the fish to take off with the bait. If a striper feels too much resistance on the line, they will usually drop the bait.

Use the usual sliding sinker setup and enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom. Any type of bait will work, just tie it on with magic string and leave the point of the hook exposed.

When using chicken liver, tie on a good-sized chunk. It’s helpful to have several leaders baited up to make it easy to put on fresh bait and don’t skimp on the livers.

We carried at least 20 1-pound containers that day. When the action gets hot, there is little time to tie on bait and we wanted the lines out as much as possible.

We anchored in the middle of a channel, with a flat bottom in water that was around 25-feet deep. Within minutes of setting our lines, we started getting bites and soon we were reeling stripers that went from undersized dinks to a few in the 10-pound range.

We landed and released at least 20 legal-sized fish and kept enough for fish tacos. Be aware that Delta stripers can carry unhealthy levels of mercury. Limiting consumption to not more than a few times per month is recommended.