One of the biggest headaches with bait fishing is that trout love to swallow it. It is not uncommon for 3 out of every 4 trout to be gut or throat hooked. This is not really a problem when fishing for the table, but it can be detrimental when trying to release trout.
Depending on hook removal technique and water temperature, over 80% of gut hooked fish will not survive having the hook removed. Survivability does improve with barbless hooks, or even cutting the line but there is still a considerable amount of wastage.
So to prevent as many trout from dieing as possible, what are the best options for bait fishermen?
First some key points
- -Fishing flies or hard lures instead of bait results in fewer gut hook trout, (but that is avoiding the purpose of this topic. So I will be sticking with bait, and bait fishing techniques.)
- – Despite best efforts, some trout will always swallow the hook. It is about minimizing the number of hooks swallowed, it can not be eliminated entirely.
- – Removing the barb makes releasing fish a lot easier, I always recommend fishing barbless hooks or crushing the barbs down when practicing catch and release.
- – Trout will swallow a treble hook nearly as easily as a single hook. Treble hooks just result in treble the number of injuries.
- – Larger hooks are less likely to be swallowed, while tiny hooks will cause less damage. This is a compromise.
- – Setting a hook faster give trout less time to swallow it.
- – Drifting baits are also less likely to be swallowed than stationary bait. This is because the hook sets before the trout get a chance to swallow it.
Stock trout love swallowing dough and Powerbaits – Consider other baits.
I find stock trout are more likely to swallow Powerbaits than most other types of bait, I believe this is because the Powerbait balls remind them of the hatchery pellets they were raised on.
Meanwhile, trout are a bit more likely to spend some time ‘tasting’ other baits like worms, shrimp, corn, or cheese rather than swallowing them straight away.
This is not a foolproof method, because stock trout will swallow anything if they are hungry enough. I have gutted stock trout filled with stones, twigs, and leaves.
Use a slightly larger Inline circle hook
Circle hooks are designed to catch in the corner of a fish’s mouth, and for most species of fish, they work extremely well. Trout, are still a bit tricky, and on occasion, they still manage to swallow circle hooks, but nowhere near as common as other hook designs.
Not all circle hooks are created equal. I advise buying an inline-circle hook, and because stock trout have small mouths I like to use them in smaller sizes.
But, tiny circle hooks are almost non-existent, they probably do exist but I can not regularly find them. So I usually buy size 4 or 6 Gamakatsu Straight Eye Inline Octopus Circle Hooks. That is a long product name, but the hooks themselves are very high quality, and while stock trout have small mouths they can open them surprisingly far.
Size 2 is a fairly large hook size to use for stock trout, but I use this size for two reasons. Smaller circle hooks are nearly impossible to find, plus larger circle hooks seem to set more reliably. If stock trout are in a mood to feed, they will take a size 4. But, I accept it might cost you a few wary fish.
I normally do not care too much about knot choices, but when fishing inline circle hooks I prefer to use a Snell knot. Snell knots are excellent, not only are they extremely easy to tie they hold the line facing straight further reducing the chance of it getting swallowed
Some good circle hooks for trout fishing
Eagle Claw L7228, while I prefer straight shanks these still work extremely well and are available in size 8.
Gamakatsu Straight Eye Inline Octopus Circle Hooks. These are probably my favorite circle hook for trout, if lucky can be found in size 6.
Eagle Claw l702 Circle Sea Hook. I have never used these hooks, but apparently, they are available in sizes as small as 14. They also have a very long shank allowing for multiple bait presentations.
How to tie a Snell knot
- Start with a loose length of leader material.
- Thread about an inch of a leader through the front of the hooks eye
- Pinch the inch of the leader against the shank, and wrap the leader around both the inch and hook shank 7 or 8 times.
- Pass the other end of the leader through the back of the hook, and tighten the hook by pulling the leader tightly.
- If tied properly, there should be very little of the tag exposed.
Consider fishing beads rather than Powerbait.
Stock trout love eating Powerbait, they seem to swallow it down quickly. They think it is food, so have no reason to spit it out.
This one might be cheating because I am suggesting fishing a bead rather than bait, but beads are still commonly fished beneath a bobber so it shares a lot in common with bait fishing.
Also, this technique works equally well with both hard and soft beads. Some products like Jensen Eggs are basically bait anyway.
The bead fishing rig is simple, it basically involves securing a bead approximately three finger widths above the hook. The hook itself remains bare. There are various ways to secure the bead in place, but a squeezing a toothpick between the gap is popular.
What happens, is that the trout swims up and grabs the bead, and as it swims away the line pulls through hooking the trout in the side of its mouth.
Suspended and moving baits are swallowed less than stationary ones.
A bait that is moving through the water seems to be swallowed less often than one that is fished stationary. For example, floating baits beneath a bobber will likely be swallowed less than fishing on a dropshot where the weight is secured to the bottom.
In saying that, if the bobber is completely stationary in the water, chances are quite high that the bait will also be swallowed.
If a bait is getting actively trolled behind a boat or is driftng along with the current, trout will often not have enough time to actually swallow the bait, they will grab, and the forward momentum will either set the hook, or spook them enough to spit it out.
Does striking sooner help?
Some people say, just strike sooner. Strike before the trout have a chance to swallow the hook. Will, that is often easier said than done, and it also depends on how the trout are feeding.
Sometimes ravenous stock trout will dart in very fast and just smash the bait down. So by the time the bobber moves all the line tightens it will be too late.
In contrast, trout can be a bit cautious at times. They will swim up to a bait, sniff it, bump into it, and might give it a quick bite before spitting it out. Then they will cruise around again, sniff, and nibble before committing to taking it. If you set the hook on the first sniff or bump, there is a very good chance that the bait is not currently in the trout’s mouth and the sudden movement will just spook it.
So is setting the hook faster a good idea? It is, but only if you know the trout are currently eat it and not just playing with it.