Hooking steelhead

by Paul Hurtubise | April 19, 2022
an angler with waders in a river

One thing I’ve learned over years of fishing for steelhead is that a hook is never just a hook. The more brands, sizes, and types you can store in your vest, the better.

What makes a good hook? Water speed and depth, fish strength, rod power, line type, fishing style, and even the kind of knot you use all play a role in the effectiveness of that little piece of metal at the end of your line. The devil is in the details. Here are some tips to illustrate.

The rules of steelhead hooks

Smaller is better: Steelhead have incredibly sensitive mouths and can reject your bait in a split second. Smaller hooks are harder to detect. They often stick to the inside of the fish’s mouth, making it harder for them to get spit out. In general, sizes 6 to 10 are ideal.

Don’t go too thin: Some hooks are too dainty for certain conditions. If you find yourself bending hooks back after a fight, don’t bother. Tie on a hook that’s thicker, stronger, or both.

Match your rod and line: If your gear is built for power, make sure your hooks are, too. For example, a thin hook in size 6 or a thicker one in size 8 will help you walk the line between too big and too weak.

Offset for snagless water: Some anglers are cool as cucumbers and need only a flick of the wrist to get a decent hook-set. Others can’t help yanking with all their might as soon as they get a hit, often missing entirely. An offset hook with a wide gap can help, as it will not only grab better but dig in once it has.

Straight hooks for snaggy water: While the offset of a hook definitely gives more traction, it can be indiscriminate. If you’re fishing heavy cover or always getting snagged, a straight hook should help alleviate some of those hang-ups.

Pick a good knot: knots definitely have an influence on the effectiveness of your hooks. Knots tied on the hook shank eliminate abrasion and rarely break. Knots tied around the eye of the hook, while more liable to breakage from friction, are more versatile. I prefer the simple snell knot on the shank and the Trilene knot on the eye.

Mustad Bait Holder hook

Mustad Bait Holder:

This little hook is usually associated with bass or walleye, but a size 8 bait holder can be awesome for steelhead. The little barbs on its shank make it the most effective for baits, like worms, grubs, and small minnows. Because the eye turns inward, it’s also great for hanging on to skein with a snell knot.

Gamakatsu Octopus hook

Gamakatsu Octopus:

This is one of the most popular hooks in the universe, hands down. Sharp and strong, with a wide gap and an “up eye,” it is great for fishing roe or beads in relatively snag-free water. These hooks really shine with a snell knot. Not only does this give you a better, straighter hook-set, but the knot can also be pushed down the shank when you want to loop in a piece of yarn or skein.

Kamasan Specialist:

Kamasan Specialist hook

If I were stranded on an island and had to choose one steelhead hook, it would be a #8 Kamasan Specialist. They are one of the sharpest and most versatile hooks on the market, featuring an exceptionally wide gap and deceptive thinness, often completely evading detection. Because they’re a bit thinner than other brands, I usually go up to a size 8 or 6.

Raven Sedge:

Raven Sedge hook

Very popular among steelheaders, this is essentially a converted fly fishing hook, with a straight eye. It’s thin, with a big, loopy gap, ideal for grabbing a fish’s mouth. I love using this hook with beads, tied on with an improved Trilene knot. The knot lets me twist the hook inward, at a 90-degree angle to the line, making it virtually snag-proof without interfering with hook-sets.

Paul Hurtubise

I don’t know two anglers who agree 100% on their favourite hook. In the end, it comes down to individual preferences. So never hesitate to try something new. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Paul is a lifelong steelhead angler who loves to catch, photograph, talk about, and write about steelhead. He has published a blog for the past 10 years.

Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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  1. Richard Agustin wrote: Good useful information