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A few years ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service mandated the use of circle hooks when trolling natural bait in Atlantic billfish tournaments. According to this story on, “Anglers and fishing industry observers have speculated about the possibility that circle hook regulations may be expanded to fishing outside of billfish tournaments — even when anglers are not fishing for billfish — to protect billfish species that may be caught inadvertently.” So North Carolina State University put together a research team with the aim of determining whether making circle hooks mandatory for all offshore species would result in anglers catching fewer fish, thus hurting the local recreational and charter fishing industries. And according to their results, the answer is yes.

From the story: The researchers looked at the relative effectiveness of circle and J hooks for three popular sporting fish: dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna and wahoo. “Circle hooks were roughly 60 to 70 percent as effective at catching these three species as J hooks,” [researcher Paul] Rudershausen says.The researchers found that the fish would still strike at the bait, but that the hook was significantly less likely to set in the mouth of the fish. However, when the hook did set, anglers were just as likely to be able to get the fish to the boat.

“The charter ocean fishing industry is economically significant in North Carolina,” Rudershausen says, “receiving approximately $65 million in for-hire fees in 2009. The concern is that circle hooks would drive down catch rates — which could result in fewer clientele for North Carolina’s offshore charter fishing industry.”

I have a few fishing buddies that I can hear saying: “I didn’t need a study to tell me circle hooks catch fewer fish.” I have met plenty of guys that straight-up scorn the things. As for me, I believe there is a time and a place for circle hooks, it’s just not every time and every place. In terms of their effectiveness offshore, they are terrific for chunking tuna that will grab a bait and take off. On the trolling front, I once fished a local billfish tourney where not one of the 7 white marlin raised managed to get the hook. I’ve used circle hooks for everything from stripers to catfish to sharks, and in my opinion, they need a little time to set. So when they’re being pulled behind a boat at 8 knots and a fish comes screaming in, a lot of things have to go right for that hook to work properly. It’s just not the kind of fishing they were desinged for.

Where do you stand on circle hooks? Would you like to see mandatory use expand to other fisheries? Do you think mandatory use could actually hurt charter industries?