Ring hooks, or hooks that use a ring for a connection point, are nothing new on the West Coast. However, these hooks are starting to gain a following in fisheries around the world because they help anglers improve their hook-up ratio offshore.
Long-range charter boats in the Golden State began using ringed hooks to target tunas, yellowtails and wahoos nearly 40 years ago. But, slowly, very slowly, these hooks are coming into play in other fisheries.
"Sales for these hooks have grown every year since we launched them in 2007," says Steve Tagami, sales manager at O. Mustad & Son Americas, Inc. "We are beginning to see increases in markets outside of California, as more people hear about and see success using this product. The Northeast tuna fishery, in particular, is starting to see the benefits of the hooks when the bite gets tough. Hawaii is another fishery where ringed hook sales are growing."
So what exactly is the appeal of ringed hooks? It's simple, actually, and any angler worth his salt can understand their benefit at first glance. A small ring is attached to the eye of a hook, creating a built-in loop of sorts, making these hooks ideal for live-bait applications, allowing baits more freedom to swim and entice strikes.
Finesse hooks in many ways, Owner American Corp. introduced ringed hooks into their lineup in the early 2000s and today offers them in four styles: the Flyliner and Gorilla models (both live-bait hooks), and the Mutu and Super Mutu (circle-hook varieties).
"In the series that we offer ringed hooks," says Tony Shitanishi, Owner's vice president of sales and marketing, "we sell more ringed than non-ringed in Southern California. That's how big they've become."
In addition to facilitating a friskier live bait, these hooks also provide a benefit when fighting fish. "The ring pivots when a fish turns during a fight," Shitanishi says, "helping keep a straight, direct pull on the fish."
"They also work with chunk and strip baits, creating a more natural looking fall," Tagami says.
A LONG WEST COAST HISTORY
"It all evolved out of using perfection loops," says Dan Kadota, a noted fishing industry veteran whose experiences run deep, including operating a long-range boat early in his career to working as a marketing representative for G. Loomis and other popular brands. "A perfection loop is not bad, and there are some knots you can tie like uni-knots that work fine. But when that loop tightens up, you lose some knot strength."
Kadota, whose father is a joint-owner of H&M Landing, the largest marina in San Diego, says the earliest advocates gravitated from loop knots to metal rings after having spent hours at the line tensile-testing machine. "We've always had a real tinkerer-type group of anglers here in Southern California," he says. "Our guys love to look at breaking strengths on knots, and back in the old days, there were a few dentists that had access to these little rings, and they and other anglers started welding them onto their hooks."
It was the birth of the modern ringed hook, and as no manufacturer was offering such a product, anglers made their own. "They were all garage-made by individual fishermen," says John Burgi, sales manager at Gamakatsu USA Inc.
Many anglers today continue to use their own ringed hooks, a testament to the ingenuity of these West Coast fishermen. "Not many people do what we do," Kadota says. "We weigh our hooks. We know how many milligrams they weigh. It makes a huge difference. A heavy hook is like having an anvil on your back. But when using a small, 4-inch anchovy, as we have to do sometimes in a touchy bite, a very light ringed hook is key."
In such a bite, Kadota will use these small baits with a tiny No. 4 or No. 6 ringed hook and a short, 3- to 4-foot section of 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. "Doing so let's the bait swim naturally," he says. "You have to scale everything back. It's the only way you'll have success."
He attaches the light fluoro to the ring via a San Diego Jam Knot [ADD LINK] then adds a 50-yard buffer section of monofilament for shock absorption via a Seaguar knot.
"The thing is you have to be really gentle," Kadota says. "You're often getting tuna 25 to 35 pounds on this rig, so you've really got to play them. It separates the men from the boys."
TO THE POINT
Virtually all ringed hooks these days are manufactured from high-carbon steel, as opposed to stainless steel. Carbon-steel hooks are stronger than stainless and because the wire is proportionally thinner, it accounts for less weight. While all Gamakatsu's ringed hooks are made from a high-carbon steel wire, the ring is stainless -- a solid, one-piece component with no weld bump "that allows the ring to move freely in the eye of the hook. The solid ring differentiates us from the other manufacturers, and we feel it is an advantage for the angler," Burgi says. "The hook is manufactured with the eye left open, and then the ring is placed and the eye closed."
The idea of having a smooth ring is an important consideration, as eliminating all imperfections can mean the difference in possibly breaking off a fish and successfully bringing it over the rail. "We have a machine that welds the rings onto the hooks," says Shitanishi. "If you look at our weld, it is the cleanest in the business, which is important since knots will not chafe."
"The process that Mustad uses is pretty simple and starts with putting an open ring through the eye of the hook," Tagami says. "Next, the ring is brazed or soldered just like welding a pipe or electrical wire. The ring is heated, flux is applied, then the brazing compound is melted to close the gap."
Which begs the question as to whether the trend of ringed hooks will continue to expand into other areas and other fisheries. "To me, anywhere a live bait is used to catch fish, a ringed hook is an advantage in my eyes," Burgi says.