by Marc Rogers
Setting the Hook on Bass
Cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve…..a bass picks up your offering and you experience the moment of truth in bass fishing.
The worst time you will experience this moment is when fishing is slow and you have not had a bite for some time. You concentration is lacking and you are not paying attention to what your offering is doing under water. During this moment, the bass will inhale and expel your lure before you realize you should have set the hook. There is generally no second chance for catching this bass.
In the past, anglers were instructed to set the hook hard while fishing soft plastics. Much of this was due to the hooks that were available. These older hooks were sharpened with files and stones regularly for the best performance. Today, hooks are manufactured with chemically sharpened points that are super sharp. These hooks penetrate easily through soft plastic lures and into the mouth of a bass.
The new technology used to make hooks have changed the way many anglers now set the hook on bass. Instead of the extremely hard hook-set, anglers are now using a sweeping or slight snapping motion to set their hooks. Reeling in the slack line and simultaneously pulling back or snapping the rod is common among anglers using bottom bouncing soft plastic offerings. Other techniques require different hook-sets. Recently I caught up with Derek Vahey and Aaron Hunter to discuss how they set the hook while bass fishing.
Derek Vahey, Midwest Fishing Tackle Staff Member, reports, “When fishing Texas rigged soft plastics, you have to push the hook through plastic. In this case, when I feel a bass or see my line move, I keep slack in the line and set the hook with a slight snapping action to drive the hook through the soft plastic and into fish. If you do not do this, what will happen is the hook will simply slide into plastic and never penetrate the fish’s mouth, and the fish will come off. The key is making sure not to snap the line to hard and pop the fish’s mouth open before the hook can stick the jaw.”
In addition, Vahey says, “When I finesse fish for bass I usually use finesse jigs or shaky heads with light line and spinning tackle. This requires a properly set drag for the light line to prevent breaking off when setting the hook. After taking up any slack line, I lift straight up and back to set the hook, and then keep constant tension on the fish until I get it to the boat.”
When flipping and pitching soft plastics to heavy cover it is best to use long rods, casting reels and heavy line. This requires an aggressive hook-set to ensure the fish is coming to the angler and away from the cover. It is a balancing act on how hard to set the hook using these techniques. While setting the hook too hard can pop the lure out of the bass’ mouth, a soft hook-set may result in anglers not being in control of the fish and it will tangle in the cover.
Vahey said, “I will error on the side of the hard hook-set when fishing heavy cover. If I miss one by pulling the lure away there is a chance I can get it to bite again. If I lose it in the cover after hooking it, chances are slim it will bite with a lure stuck in its mouth.”
Aaron Hunter says jig fishing is his favorite way to catch big bass. Hunter said, “I am never on the water without a Midwest Custom Tackle football jig tied on.” He presents a football jig differently than most anglers. Hunter prefers to hop his football jig off the bottom keying on the more aggressive bass. He adds a NetBait Paca Chunk to the back of his jigs for his trailer.
While bouncing a jig along the bottom Hunter seldom has any slack in his line. He sets the hook by “aggressively sweeping my rod up and back to about the 11 o’clock position. I never exceed a higher position because I will lose control of the bass once it is hooked”, he says. When fishing heavy cover with jigs he said, “I will set the hook harder in heavy cover because I want to turn the fish towards me and away from the cover to avoid getting it tangled up.”
When fishing crankbaits, Vahey said, “I learned my lesson the hard way fishing crankbaits. The hook-set is dependent on the rod action and a medium-action limber rod is the key. There is not really much to the hook-set on crankbaits, when the rod loads up, simply pull to the side while keeping constant pressure on the fish. I advise everyone never to jerk on the rod to set the hook with these lures. The small hooks will easily pull out of the bass.” He added the limber rod assists in keeping the hooks in the bass when it pulls hard during the fight.
When top water fishing, it is best to use a limber rod. The limber rod assists in preventing anglers from pulling the lure away from the bass when setting the hook. Hunter reported, “I wait until I feel the weight of the fish before I set the hook. Top water is visual and many anglers set the hook too soon and miss bass by pulling the lure away from them before they have tried to eat it. Also, never jerk on the rod with top water lures that have treble hooks. A number four treble hook may look like it will hook anything, but they are really only three small hooks and can easily be pulled out of a bass.”
Hunter and Vahey both added this advice, anglers should use monofilament when fishing top water lures. Monofilament line floats and helps keep the lure floating on the surface. Monofilament also stretches on the hook-set and can be advantageous to keep the hooks set in the bass’ mouth.
Vahey uses the same hook-set on buzzbaits and spinnerbaits. He said, “I use heavy gear for both with a high-speed reel. Once I feel the bass’ weight on the line, I hit them hard. Monofilament line will help a buzzbait stay on the surface and I always use a trailer hook on both lures”. Many of the bass I catch on these lures are hooked with the trailer hook. Hunter added, “When fishing open water, I will use a long shank treble hook for a trailer hook. Sometimes I cut off the one point that would face down to avoid hang-ups.”
Changing hook-set technique is difficult for many anglers. They have become habit over time and great effort to change these habits is required. Recently, many anglers I know have changed their hook-set style when using Texas and Carolina rigged soft-plastic lures. The change is from the old “cross their eyes” style to a hard, sweeping pull. Most reported the harder hook-set was costing hook ups with bass due to knocking the bass’ mouth open with the lure and not burying the hook point. Regardless of your current style, it pays dividends to experiment with new styles if you are experiencing missed bass when you set the hook.