“My hooks are plenty sharp. Sharp enough to catch a bass, anyway”.
But are they?
It was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned in bass fishing. And I don’t mean “hard” as in I lost a big-money tournament or a big bass because of a dull hook, although they both certainly happened. What I mean was that I was too hard-headed to take the time to inspect my hooks with anything more than just a perfunctory glance every now and again. It was hard for me to learn to take time and look closer at my hooks (especially new ones), and even harder for me to learn the need to sharpen them regularly. Even the new ones. Sometimes ESPECIALLY the new ones.
C’mon, we all know that hooks are plenty sharp, right? Even the dullest of hooks hurts like heck if you get jobbed with it, so it’s pretty certain that when a bass inhales that same hook that you’re going to stick him good with that sweeping he-man hook set. Right?
When a bass inhales or hits a lure (which are two very different acts) there are a myriad of items that happen all at once, and many of them have an influence on how well we hook a bass, and if that bass stays hooked. The angle of the hook, or more importantly the point of that hook, and where it’s facing when you try to get it set into the bass, is everything. And for the most part, we can’t control this. How do you reckon it is that a bass can clobber a crankbait, with six hook points hanging every which way, and then come off on the first jump, or maybe not even ever be hooked at all? And then you have your Texas-rigged plastic worm that has just ONE hook point, and heck, we BURIED it into the worms’ body to make it weedless. How in the world do we ever catch these smelly fish?
Well, it can be a mystery. Or maybe we just do our best to keep our hooks as sharp as possible all of the time and put some odds back into our favor. When that bass clobbers that crankbait what he gets is a hard-shell surface that he can’t get much of a grip on, unlike the Threadfin Shad that he THOUGHT he was chowing down on. When that bass gets that lure into his mouth the bait can be facing any number of directions, depending on how he hit it, the size of the lure, the size of the bass, how fast was the lure being retrieved, and the list goes on. We can’t do a thing about any of this. Not really.
What we can do is get those odds back by making our hooks so sharp that many of those other variables become less important, if not insignificant. Okay, rod choice can also play a big part in successfully hooking bass on a regular basis, but without extra sharp hooks then the point (no pun) is probably moot. You’re going to miss opportunities.
Years and years back I won a bass club tournament in March, catching bass on jerkbaits. It was quite a derby and I’m sure that I caught more than fifty bass during the day. But what I also did was lose and miss a bunch more. Including several good fish that would have helped my stringer immensely. Bass would bite, hard, then come unbuttoned halfway to the boat, or more importantly not get hooked at all. I say “more importantly” because missing the initial hookup can be a sure sign of a dull hook. But I was, to tell the truth, stupid and a little lazy. It took a while, but over the years I learned.
Treble hook baits are probably the most critical for needing sharp hooks, although after all these years I believe that every hook is critical. But bass many times will just make a “pass” at a crankbait, jerkbait or a topwater instead of actually getting it in their mouth.. Extra sharp hooks will increase your catch rate astronomically on a jerkbait in cold water, and on the days that happen too often that they’re just swiping at a topwater plug, those needle-sharp hooks can be a game changer. Crankbait bass many times will “inhale” the lure (instead of “hitting” it), and they can easily expel it before the angler feels them. If those hooks are very sharp, the plug might just hang up enough in the bass’ mouth to make a difference. In fact, I am certain of it.
Large, single-hook lures get the same treatment from me- I want them sharp. But nothing may be as important when it comes to being sharp with those big-hook baits as it is with the topwater Frog. These hooks are notoriously dull from the manufacturer. Horrible in fact. You give those things a few swipes with a decent file, and you’ll have pictures to take instead of sad stories to tell.
And about those files and how to sharpen a hook properly? Well, you’re not getting that info from me here. It’s not that I don’t share, but that would require another article (or two) and it would be a highly-opinionated article (or two) at that. Simply put, a good file, no matter your choice of style, and a few GOOD passes (there is an art to it, kind of and practice makes perfect) and your hooks can be made better. I suggest looking online for hook sharpening info- YouTube alone will provide you with some decent intel on how to get the job done.
I will say this- on those big hooks, I don’t mess around. I use a big ‘ol Bastard File and I knock some metal off. On all of my hooks I generally, and it will depend on what I’m up against as far as the hooks’ condition to start with, will make about three passes up (or down, lots of conjecture here) on each SIDE of the hook, then about the same down the TOP of the hook, aiming everything towards the same imaginary point out in front of the hook. Repeat as necessary, then get the net ready.
When checked, if a hook point will not immediately grab your fingernail when it’s gently applied directly onto the nails’ surface, then it isn’t sharp enough. I don’t mean pressing a pound or two- it needs to GRAB HOLD with almost no force applied at all. It’s a wonderful feeling when all of your hooks catch on like that. You just KNOW that you have more than a fair shot that any bass that grabs your lure is going to get hooked. Solidly.
You new guys, in fact ALL of us that love bass fishing have it made compared to the “old” days. New hooks, straight from the factory, can be very very sharp indeed. It’s this fact that can lead us to complacency however, because no hook stays sharp forever, no matter how dangerous it was to start with. Learning and being willing to use that file, or at least keeping spare, sharp hooks on hand, can truly save the day.
A couple of years ago I gifted my buddy a custom-made jerkbait. We were fishing a winter derby that day, and I’d made up several just for that event. I had also sharpened the brand-new hooks especially for him. He set the bait aside and we commenced to fishing.
A few hours later he grabs his plastic bottle of Mountain Dew, and the durn thing is leaking. Because he had put that jerkbait in a cupholder, then later set the bottle on top of it. That’s what SHARP hooks do, right there! It’s very simple- get your hooks sharp(er), and you will catch more bass. Learn this and your catches will improve, for sure.