Tackle for Piers — Hooks, Sinkers, Snaps and Swivels

Ken Jones

Staff member
I need to revise the following and would appreciate any thoughts you might have how to make this better. Thanks in advance.

Terminal Tackle For Piers — (Hooks, Sinkers, Snaps and Swivels)


Hooks. When I first began to fish, I almost always used treble hooks. The reason was simple, I thought the more points on the hook the better the chance to latch onto a fish. The only problem was that I wasn't catching too many fish. Although my reasoning seemed sound, something was wrong. Today, I rarely use treble hooks, but I catch a lot of fish. A direct correlation? Perhaps, although just one of many reasons why I didn't catch the fish (the main one being that I simply had not yet learned the ART Of Fishing). Still, hooks are important and using the right or wrong type of hook can affect your fishing success.

The Parts of a Hook

Unfortunately, new anglers are confronted with a plethora of different styles and brands of hooks and the variety increases each year. The selection is almost guaranteed to lead to confusion. Luckily, most pier anglers only need to concentrate on a few types of hooks. The largest determinant for hooks is the size and type of bait you will be using. Some hooks are best for certain types of bait, some for other types. Differences occur in the length and shape of the shank (the long length of the hook extending from the eye to the bend), the gap between the point of the hook and the shank, the direction of the eye, and the barb or lack of barbs at the point of the hook. Together with which hook is best suited for which bait, is the traditional concern of which hook is best suited for different types of fish. This second question has not been as important for pier fishing since most pier fish are mid-sized and fairly similar, thus only a few styles or sizes are needed. But an increasingly important question has arisen in the past decade as the number of fish has dwindled and catch-and-release has become a mantra for many anglers. What hooks are best for catching the fish but also can be removed easily without harming the fish?

Just to answer the question that some pose, “how did we come up with the various hook sizes?” It’s not clear but some say it goes back to the 1600s, the time of Izaak Walton’s famous fishing book The Compleat Angler. Someone (who knows who) decided there would be two size classifications, one for freshwater and one for saltwater. The freshwater sizes start at #1 and then go to #2, #4, #6, etc. with each size being smaller (and they go down to the incredibly hard-to-see #32). The hooks designed for saltwater are designated with an “O.” They too start with a #1/0 (one aught), but then go up to #2/0, #3/0, #4/0, #5/0 etc. with each size being larger (and 20/0 is as big as they get at this time).

Baitholder Hooks. For most pier angling I use baitholder hooks. They work well for frozen bait and cut bait and are adequate for several types of live bait. They are a strong hook and have a shank long enough to use with most types of bait. Included in this group are Eagle Claw Baitholder #181F, Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp #L181G, Mustad Bait Gripper 92641 or 92642, and GamaKatsu Baitholder hooks. The Eagle Claw is probably the most commonly recognized brand and style because of the barbs on the back of the shank designed to better hold bait and fish (like an eagle's claw). Of course that can also be a deterrent if you desire to practice catch-and-release. Several types of hooks are very close in appearance and probably can be considered baitholder-type hooks including the Sproat, the Limerick and the O'Shaugnessy when bought in their mid-length versions; they do vary slightly in strength/thickness of the wire used in the hook, gap distance, and placement of the eyes. You can get a variety and test them all out but for most pier conditions the cheap old bronze baitholder hooks work just fine (as pointed out by Songslinger in a Message Board discussion).

Kahle Hooks. When fishing with live ghost shrimp, I prefer a hook with a longer shank and a wide-open gap; the Kahle hook fills that specification. This allows me to extend the hook through the body of the shrimp, from the tail to the head, and allows a good cast without fear of losing the bait. My favorite here is a Eagle Claw Kahle (the best) in 1/0 to 2/0 sizes. Other hooks to use with ghost shrimp are worm hooks: Eagle Claw Aberdeen #3214, Mustad Worm Hook #33645, or GamaKatsu Rubber Worm, 1 to 3/0 sizes. Owner, GamaKatsu and UltraPoint by Mustad all make Kahle or Kahle-type hooks.

Live Bait Hooks. For using live bait fish (especially anchovies and smelt), I've generally preferred the strong, short-shanked, live bait hooks popularized by the southland party boats. These hooks are strong yet effectively hook the baitfish and allow it to swim in a normal manner. They can be used in sliding leaders but are perhaps best used with trolley riggings or situations (from close-to-the-water piers) where a small split shot or float is all that is used with the bait. Most commonly small hooks are used -- size 8 to 4. Octopus-style hooks are virtually identical (although some types have a thinner wire) and are used in many, many situations. The smaller, thinner hooks can be used effectively with sand crabs, larger, thicker (steel or black chrome) octopus hooks are frequently used for the bigger species. Almost every leading hook manufacturer makes a variety of live bait and octopus hooks.

Circle Hooks. One of the main recent tends, at least as far as hooks, is the wide acceptance of circle hooks. Originally used by tuna fishermen, they have become the mandatory hook for most salmon angling and the hook of choice by many catch-and-release anglers (as opposed to catch-and-eat anglers). They seem to hook fish well (or, more accurately, the fish hook themselves well) and the hook can usually be removed with little harm to the fish (anglers reporting up to 95% of the fish being hooked in the lips). On the Pier Fishing in California Message Board they were essentially voted the favorite hook by the respondents. Favorites brands included Owner, Gamakatsu, and Eagle Claw with the Owner Mutu Lights 5114/5314 seeming to be real favorites. Remember, a key with these hooks is to let the fish hook themselves.

Questions — For any of these styles the prime considerations remain the same: (1) Does the hook hold the bait securely? (2) Is the hook large enough to allow the point to be outside the bait? (3) Is the hook appropriate—and legal? For example, as mentioned, salmon anglers today generally must use barbless hooks or even, depending upon the type of fishing, barbless circle hooks. (4) Is the hook of a saltwater type that will resist the effects of saltwater. (5) Is the hook sharp? A sharp hook is one of the keys to successful angling. You should check every hook you use including when you first take it out of the package. If the hook doesn't feel sharp to you, then it isn't sharp enough. Buy a small hook sharpener, learn how to use it, and then sharpen your hooks. Luckily, many of the new generation of hooks—such as Gamakatsu and Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp—are very sharp right out of the package and do not require sharpening.

Mortality Rates —

One day we had an interesting discussion about hooks and mortality rates on the Pier Fishing In California Message Board:

Date: March 18, 2001
To: Pier Fishing in California Message Board
From: Ken Jones
Subject: Hooks and mortality rates!

Snookie sent me an interesting article from the L.A. Times (dated March 9). Titled: Bait-and-Switch Can Be a Real Lifesaver in Fishing, the article describes a study done on hooks and fish done at June Lake last year. Some conclusions:

• With barbless artificial flies, the hook lodged most frequently in the mouths of fish and the mortality rate of unhooked fish was nil.

• Circle-C hooks lodged in the mouth 70% of the time. However, those fish hooked in the esophagus suffered a 27% mortality rate. The mortality rate was lowered if the hooks were left in and the line cut. Overall mortality rate = 9%.

• Standard "J" hooks lodged in the esophagus 65% of the time. Of interest (and I don't have an explanation for it), none of the 150 fish hooked in the mouth or esophagus with "J" hooks perished during the 3 weeks or longer observation period.

• Treble hooks lodged in the esophagus 63% of the time and the hooks were not removed. The mortality rate was only 2% (again I can't explain it), but their use by catch-and-release anglers was not recommended. If the hook is beyond the mouth area cut the line.

• The Shelton Release hook (made by Bay Area resident Bill Shelton) was also tested and showed a mortality rate of less than 2%.

In some ways, this study raises more questions for me than it answers. Your thoughts?

Posted by Songslinger

You are absolutely right: it does raise more questions than answers. Worse, I have yet another question: is there any study that compares fish mortality with fixed rigs versus sliding rigs? My own experience suggests that more fish swallow the hooks on sliding rigs, but I'd be interested in others' experiences.

Posted by Ken Jones

Songslinger, I haven't seen any information on your sliding rig question but my own anecdotal observations would agree with yours -- more of the fish do swallow the hook.

Posted by Leapin Bass

My first thoughts are... They need to add another dimension to the study. Whether the fish were caught on bait or lures.

One of the many reasons I use artificials 95% of the time is the fact that the fish, most of the time, have a much better chance of living when caught with an artificials than with bait.

Posted by Ken Jones

The test apparently was done, in part, "to see if recent bait, tackle and technique innovations would allow bait anglers to join artificial lure anglers in the catch-and-release fraternity."

The study was done by "fisheries scientist Tom Jenkins, Friends of Sierra Trout, and the city of Bishop." Fish were caught using various techniques and then kept in pens for various lengths of time (but a minimum of three weeks).

The concluding paragraph states: "You can't go digging down in their throats with [pliers or hemostats] and expect them to live. This study points out that if you use certain techniques with bait and follow certain guidelines, you can let fish go and expect a low mortality rate."

As said I'm still a little confused by the information. (1) Even though the Circle-C hooks lodged in the mouth more often (70% of the time) the overall mortality rate was higher than J-hooks. (2) Even though J-hooks lodged in the esophagus 65% of the time NONE of the fish studied perished during the study. (3) Even though treble hooks lodged in the esophagus 63% of the time only 2% perished. Strange, strange, strange.

And I wonder how applicable the study is compared to saltwater fish which tend (in many species) to put up a stronger, more sustained fight. Do the saltwater fish die more often due to their greater loss of lactic acid (some studies seem to indicate just such an occurrence)? And, will the hooks rust out/corrode out faster in saltwater thus minimizing the danger from the hook? And, how does a pier-caught fish, especially one dropped from one of the high off-the-water piers in the southland, survive the additional shock to the system? Questions, questions, questions...

Posted by Mola Joe

I think far more fish are lost due too mishandling than to the type of hook your using. It's simple, if you're going to release your fish and the hook is down the throat, just cut the line. Also, do not grab the fish with a rag or put your fingers inside the gills to hold the fish. If at all possible, wet your hands before handling the fish. I cringe while watching people throw fish back after seeing them slammed on the pier and hooks torn from their throats. I'm sure we all have had fish go belly up on us from time to time, but a little common sense goes a long way when handling fish, whether your using trebles, circles, or whatever. I know my hooks I use in saltwater rust a lot quicker when left in the bottom of my bucket than hooks left out in my freshwater box, so it makes sense that they will rust out of a salt fish faster than a fresh water fish. I fish stocked trout a lot at our local lakes and find all kinds of hooks in them when cleaning the fish. Even found a 4-inch, double-hook, plastic worm in a trout's stomach last year that had the hooks all rusted to the point of them breaking real easy. The fish seemed very healthy up until the time I threw him in the ice chest, after that, he didn't look so good.

Posted by baitfish

In general circle hooks have a larger diameter than J type hooks, that might be constricting the flow of oxygen and food...

Posted by got_em

While using live and dead bait last year exclusively on circle hooks, I had no fatal deaths. All were lip hooked. I am sure I may loose one some time, but I know the odds are near 50-1. My study was done with actual fishing time and practical use of circle hooks. Might I add, I do not use a sliding rig because nearly 95% of fish caught on a sliding rig will be gut hooked. I do not believe in seeing an undersized halibut, white seabass, or other 'legal size' fish be gut hooked and undersized. I believe in releasing such fish to continue on with a generation and parent another generation. I have found artificial lures and circle hooks fished in there respective ways to be near identical in catching fish in the lip 90% of the time. Rarely, even my lure gets gut hooked too! I'll stick with the majority rule and stay with artificial lures and circle hooks. Good luck everyone.


Different type sinkers are designed for different conditions but all must do two things: get your bait to the area you want to fish and keep it there. And hopefully, they will not hang up on the bottom (since the cost can add up quickly). Whatever the condition, use as light a sinker as needed to hold bottom. However, wind conditions, current, tackle you are using (and the type and size of fish you are seeking) will dictate the weight of your sinker, anything from a small 1/8-ounce sinker to one that weighs six or more ounces. The bottom conditions influence the type of sinker you will need.

Oceanfront piers typically have a sandy surf area. Desirable sinkers for the surf area are designed to grab the bottom, anchor the line, and allow the pounding surf to pass over them with a minimum of disturbance. You may also face cross currents and wind but the following sinkers should provide optimum performance.

Pyramid Sinkers. The best sinker for the surf area is a pyramid sinker. These sinkers will generally hold the bottom despite the pounding of waves and the currents in the area. They are designed to cut into the sand when hitting the bottom and are angular, allowing water to pass over their surface without dislodging the sinker itself.

Claw Sinker: Another good sinker in the surf area although it will not anchor the line the way a pyramid sinker will. It will often allow a little drift but that's usually o.k. for most of the surf fish. However, a drifting line is rarely desirable on a crowded pier.

Midway out, or at the far end of the pier where tidal influence is not as strong, you can use any of several types of sinker — spoon-shaped sinkers, dollar sinkers, bulldozer sinkers, pyramid sinkers, torpedo sinkers and even egg sinkers (depending on the number of anglers) — as long as the bottom isn't rocky. Just be sure to use a sinker that will keep your line from drifting and remember that currents can be strong in the deeper waters found out at the end.

Spoon Sinkers. These are flat-sided and ideal for fishing the sandy depressions between the pilings. They may drift slightly but that's o.k. when you're seeking out those big halibut.

Dollar Sinker. A type of spoon sinker but more round and typically thicker. Another good sinker when seeking out hallies in the depressions between the pilings. These sinkers may also drift slightly (depending upon their weight) but can be used successfully in fairly strong currents.

Bulldozer Sinker. A generic type of sinker that can be used in mud or sand. When you pull on this sinker it should burrow into the bottom.

Spider Sinkers. These sinkers are used at the Pacifica Pier (the only place I've seen them used) by anglers seeking out salmon and other large species. The fairly heavy baits have several soft copper legs that bite into the bottom at the time of the cast but which will pull out of the sand-mud bottom upon retrieval.

Rocky area sinkers must either be able to avoid being “grabbed” by the rocks or be “expendable” via a low cost for the sinker itself.

Torpedo Sinker. This is a sinker to use when you're fishing a rocky area or in areas with lots of vegetation -- eel grass, kelp, etc. They are not particularly good for holding bottom but may avoid obstructions that might grab most sinkers. I also use them when I am fishing bait rigs or similar riggings although at such times I prefer the shiny chrome torpedo sinker. Some anglers attach a hook to the bottom end of chrome torpedo sinkers and use them as an additional lure on their line.

Pencil Sinker. These are very slim sinkers made of soft lead which simply have a hole at one end; they hang up less often than almost any other type sinker. Of course, that also means they do not do a good job of anchoring your line so sometimes the hook itself may grab on the rocks. But they're worth a try if you're having trouble losing sinkers to the rocks. The only problem is that I have not seen them in sizes exceeding a couple of ounces. (Similar sinkers are the Flex-O-Sinker and Flex-O-Drop Sinker from Cabela's.)

Tobacco Bags. Although harder to find than once was the case, small tobacco bags can be filled with sand, tied off, and then be used as sinkers. Typically these are used in rocky areas where you expect to lose your sinker. They're cheap and expendable. I do suggest tying them on with a short leader of lesser pound test line; when the bag hangs up the light line will break before the main line.

Spark Plugs. There was a time when almost everyone (at least most males) tended to fix their own car engines. Spark plugs were readily available and the 2-4 ounce plugs could be used as sinkers. Cheap, expendable and good to use as sinkers in rocky areas (not as good for sandy areas since they tended to drift). Today you probably need to know someone at a local garage.

Some sinkers are designed as sliding sinkers, they're more useful in the cast than in holding bottom. The main sinkers fitting this description for pier anglers are egg sinkers although I've also used torpedo sinkers with a high/low rigging to "drift" for perch and flatfish.

Egg Sinkers. These sinkers are shaped like an egg with a hole through the middle of the sinker. Typically they are used with "fish finder" rigs where the line is run through the sinker and allowed to drift. When the bait is picked up by the fish, they don't feel the weight of the sinker and thus are more likely to take the bait.

As a final note, it's becoming apparent that at some point in time the entire nature of these sinkers may change. Some areas are now beginning to ban lead sinkers because of their affect on the environment; I noticed that Vermont even offered a free sinker exchange program for anglers. Today there are only a few alternatives to lead sinkers -- zinc sinkers, tungsten-nickel weights, and steel sinkers. As a rule they are more than expensive than current sinkers but I imagine as the market and demand increases their costs will go down.

Snaps and Swivels

Snaps and Swivels. Used to connect lines to sinkers or leaders, the main purpose of snaps and swivels is to prevent line twist. Swivels also make it easy to change equipment; it is faster and you do not need to cut your line. Swivels can come by themselves or attached to a snap, but most commonly used is a snap-swivel combination. Two types are carried in most tackle stores. The first is a safety snap-swivel which generally works fine, although some of the smaller snap-swivels can be hard on your fingers at times (if they gets bent). The second type is a ball-bearing snap-swivel which is higher quality, costs a little more, and also seems to work just fine. In either case the cost is little when compared to the rest of your equipment.

Lures and their use with snap-swivels deserves a special mention. Some lures work better without snap swivels. However, just to confuse the situation, some work better with a snap-swivel. The latter include some spoons and walking-style topwater plugs (rarely used on piers), especially if they do not have a split ring. Practice will prove what works best for you.

Remember, as a general rule, that the less hardware an angler uses on the line the better. Therefore, only use a snap-swivel when needed to prevent line twist. Also, keep the size of the snap-swivel to a minimum; far too many anglers use snap-swivels that are too large.



Well-Known Member
I have read this argument somewhere against treble hooks used for fishing larger fish with hard mouth.

We all have experience of failed hook setting where a nice one gets away while fighting it. A hook has to penetrate and puncture fish’s hard mouth tissue to make a proper hook set to avoid the above incidents. Ability of a hook to do this is proportional to the force per area applied through tip(s) of a hook(s). Force comes from our arm, rod, then line. Area is at the contact of the hook and fish, meaning at the tip(s). Sharpening the point reduces the contact area thus increases the force per area. Now if we use a treble hook, imagine two points are contacting fish at the time of hook set. Using the same hook setting work by your arm/rod, the force per area decreases to half with respect to using a single hook of same point size. Three points in contact inside a closed mouth, then the force per area gets to awful one third, probably worse than a rusty single hook at the bottom of your tackle box for years… So while a treble hook may increase a chance of making any tip contact, actual chance of making a proper hook set with a good puncture decreases. So more lost fish during the battle.

All these depend on knowing proper hook setting technique with particular rod used. And it may be less relevant to most of small to medium target fish by us pier anglers because they come with pretty soft mouth structure.

Ken Jones

Staff member
I do not use treble hooks and have not for years. Even on lures I recommend removing the treble hooks (blasphemy). The main reason I do not use treble hooks is because I release probably 95% of my fish and I've just seen too many fish that have had their mouths torn up by the use of a treble hook. I recetly watched a young man catch a couple of barracuda at a pier using a lure with treble hooks and though he released the undersized barracuda both were very bloody and unlikely to live. Just my 2 cents.


Well-Known Member
Sure, Ken. I agree and practice the same mostly. My comment above was just a response to a part of your post here:
... Although my reasoning seemed sound, something was wrong. Today, I rarely use treble hooks, but I catch a lot of fish. A direct correlation? Perhaps, although just one of many reasons why I didn't catch the fish ...
Sorry I forgot to add this reference.


Well-Known Member
Thanks for the input! I wonder how many use treble hooks? I didn't even mention them.
Many lures come with treble hooks. Some I change to single hooks and other I keep them as is. Only other treble hooks I use is for planter trout fishing with powerbaits. I have not tried to change the little floater treble with single or circle hook. Maybe I try it next time to see if it change hookup rates significantly.