Top carp angler Kevin Haddocks is at the front of modern carp fishing, pioneering hair rigs and out-barbs. Here he discusses the thinking behind modern hook design and shows how to get the best from hooks.
The most important things to remember about a carp hook are that it must be very strong and sharp. The carp is a powerful fighter and reaches at least 20lb (9kg) in many waters, so don’t even consider a hook unless you are certain it’s strong enough.
It took Kevin a number of years to select a hook he was happy with. A similar problem faces most carp anglers. Some types are simply not strong enough. When using mass-produced hooks it’s vital to inspect each one before use.
Remember that any hook failure is the angler’s fault. You should never suffer any problems if you choose a strong enough make and model, check every one for any visible defects and test the strength of every one with your fingers.
Size is important!
The size and model of the hook you choose depends on several factors – the main ones being the size and the type of bait that you are using.
Use the large sizes of hooks when side-hooking baits such as boilies. Size 2 and 4 hooks are the strongest. The carp don’t seem to be put off by large hooks, even when the angler is using small side-hooked baits. In fact – in sharp contrast to the ideas carp anglers once held – Kevin believes it is debatable whether carp are suspicious of hooks in any way.
With paste-type baits, use size 2 hooks; for larger particle baits such as broad beans, choose size 4s. For the smaller, seed-type baits, it is necessary to use a smaller hook such as a size 8, since the thick, heavy wire of the larger ones makes mounting and presentation difficult.
Your choice of pattern depends on what type of fishing you are doing, or even on the way you play your fish.
For hair rig fishing – that is when the bait is not put on the hook, but tied to it by a short piece of line – a specific type of hook is necessary.
The bait and hook are often sucked in and blown out by the carp. This means the hook needs to be small, light in weight, very sharp and with a straight or out-turned point.
When Kevin first invented the hair rig in 1978 he felt there was no hook available that had all these qualities and yet was strong enough to land a big carp.
He approached a tackle company to produce a hook especially for the job. Several prototypes were extensively tested and finally a range of effective hair rig hooks was produced.
The hook is thin in the wire but very strong for its diameter, has an out-turned, chemically sharpened point, a turned-up eye and a small, shallow-cut barb. These hooks are not really suitable for ‘hooking and heaving’ tactics when fishing in snag- ridden waters – but they are excellent for open-water angling when the fish don’t need to be played hard.
The hook’s lightness ensures that it is easily sucked in with the bait – and the out-turned point, together with the turned-up eye, encourages self-hooking. The point often catches hold as the bait is ejected, giving the angler more runs than when using a conventional hook.
In 1987 Kevin helped develop the out-barb carp hook. The main feature of these hooks is the unconventional position of the barb -its point is outside the hook bend. The out-barb hook has several advantages, in particular far better penetration and hook-holding qualities.
On first contact a normal barb causes the flesh to ‘bunch up’ and the barb pushes against the flesh all the time the hook is entering. This obstructs hook penetration. Once the hook is home and the pressure is lessened, the conventional barb is in a damaged area of tissue and its hold is obviously limited.
However, the situation is quite different with out-barbed hooks. When it penetrates, the barb trails behind and easily enters the hole already being made by the point, thereby offering much better penetration than a conventional barb. When the pressure is lessened, or released, the out-barb is in completely undamaged tissue and therefore offers a much better hold.
This can be a terrific advantage when fishing among snags or in weeds because, as the pressure between angler and fish varies, the out-barb ‘bites’ new flesh.
Kevin reckons that barbless hooks are an anomaly. He thinks the barb is there for a specific purpose. Undoubtedly a barbless hook penetrates better, but he believes this small advantage is far outweighed by the disadvantage of a less secure hold.
Kevin loses very few fish on barbed hooks so it seems unlikely that the barbless type would increase the number of catches.
When he did try using barbless hooks, the evidence showed no marked improvement in strike rate.
Nevertheless, one advantage of using barbless hooks is that they do cause far less damage to the fish’s mouth when being removed. This may be well worth considering on hard- fished waters where the same fish are caught regularly.
In the current fish-friendly approach to angling many carp fishermen have adapted hooks so they have only the smallest of barbs – this makes a good compromise between the two types.
The perfect hook
It should be stressed that the perfect hook does not exist, for hook choice is a personal matter. Two anglers with the same quarry in mind often use two entirely different models.
If you are happy with the ones you’re using, then stick with them. But, if you are suffering any problems at all, do not accept them, look at the alternatives very carefully and use those that prove to be strong enough for the fishing you want to do.