Updated: Jan 3
My interest in Assist Hooks started well after I was ever introduced to or interested in fishing. I always looked at jigs with assist hooks with a certain curiousity and skepticism and my skepticism was really fueled by a lack of basic knowledge of what the uses of the hook were and how much excitement the hooks brought to fishing. On my recent podcast with MFCC I was able to talk about my affinity for using assist hooks on metal jigs for certain species around Cape Cod. I wanted to further share my thoughts on this with the readers of this blog. Those reading can consider this write-up to be from the standpoint of an enthusiast and not an expert. I tie my own hooks and find it very rewarding and creative to be able to tie them and pair up colors with jigs. It's a level of personalization that I take a lot of enjoyment in whether it is for my own fishing or when creating for Monomoy Tackle.
When I first started experimenting with Assist Hooks and Jigs, I had in my head some odd pre-conceived notions of what they were.
They were only for larger fish like Tuna.
They were only useful on aggressively feeding fish that were by nature 'predatory' fish.
Many bites/fish were missed using them.
They could only be used in deep water applications.
My first experiences using assist hooks and trying to validate or dispel these preconceptions started with my use of the first generation of 'butterfly' style jigs introduced by Shimano and Carlson. I remember going to the store and purchasing some pretied assist hooks and trying to understand and figure out the assembly of Solid Ring and then Split Ring, and then the hook itself.
During the 2011 year when Striped Bass fishing at the 'New Break' off of Chatham was hot, I clumsily managed to hook a couple Stripers on these jigs. I was surprised at first that I even hooked them, and second, I was really surprised by how much of the fight I could feel through the line and rod tip. It felt different than catching a fish on a diamond jig with a hook on the end of the jig. From that point forward I began using assist hooks for other species of bottom fishing including cod, black sea bass, scup, and even fluke. The first four images below show some of my own early examples of Assist Hooks I tied.
It still feels like a specialty method of fishing to me. Assist hook and Assist hook materials make up a very small section, if available at all, in New England tackle shops and big box stores. I want to take moment to introduce some of the basics and note some of the basics of how I fish with them and hopefully encourage others to do as well.
The illustration above and the type of jig pictured was more or less my entry into this technique. Assist Hooks come in a lot of other variations. There are Pairs of Hooks, Hooks on both the top and bottom of the jig, and some other variants, but a single bare assist hook is a good starting point.
BASICS OF THE RIGGING
In a 'traditional' jig set up, the hook is on the back of the jig connected to the jig using a split ring or a barrel swivel, but the hook is directly connected to the jig. During a fight, the fish can use the jig as leverage to dislodge the hook. The jig acts as the middleman between the angler and the fish.
The number one reason or benefit in my mind to use an Assist hook over the aforementioned application is that the middleman is eliminated. Notice in the diagram above that the main line from the rod/reel is connected directly to a solid ring.
The solid ring is connected to the hook. When the hook sets into the fish, you can draw a dashed line from the hooks, directly to the solid ring and directly up the main line. At that point the jig itself is swinging freely and has no impact or consequence on the outcome of the fight. The angler is not fighting the fish through the jig but is directly connected to the fish. This subtle but importance difference in the use of an Assist hook versus a traditional hook on the end of a jig provides such a noticeable difference in the hook-up and ultimately the experience of catching the fish, that for me, it's the number 1 reason to do it.
A fish of any size, when connected and fought an assist hook will be significantly better handled in the fight and more enjoyable to catch.
The detractors will say that the Assist Hook, actual hook up ratio is less. The fish may strike at the lure, but the fish could miss it just as easily as it could find the hook. To this I say it's a potentially valid point but a tradeoff I am willing to make.
I'll also offer that a fish making a decision to commit to hit a jig isn't nibbling at a hook. The entire purpose of the jig and presentation is that you are enticing the fish to strike at either the head or tail end of a bait and that the fish is opening its mouth, flaring its gills, and inhaling the hook into its mouth at which point, the hook finds purchase in the mouth of the fish. My point is that you may in fact miss a bite, but the bite isn't subtle.
One important thing about fishing with Assist hooks and Jigs whether its speed jigging, Slow Pitch, or using a combination of a rig is the leader. The strike on an Assist Hook and jig is high impact and often the fish is running the other way. You may be fishing with braid, but your leader should be a material with stretch in and longer than a standard leader you may use to absorb the shock and you should check your leader often for abrasion. Very often, my leaders are longer than the rod I am using and its necessary to use an FG knot to allow for the braid/leader connection to pass through the guides of the rod.
UNDERSTANDING THE HOOK
There's enough data on hooks and hook sizes to write a dozen blogs. As it pertains to Assist Hooks, it's important to know that the shape and structure of the hook is different with the most important and basic difference being that the size terminology on an Assist hook is different than other.
If your Jig comes to you out of the box with a 2/0 inline hook or Size 2 Treble, that hook size will not correspond to an Assist hook size of the same number. For example a 5/0 standard hook will be smaller than a 5/0 Assist Hook. The image below shows a jig just under 4" in length. The inline hook size for a jig like this would normally be a 3/0 inline. The size hook on the Assist Hook in the Image is a 4/0 and it would not be difficult to imagine a 5/0 on it as well. The hooks I normally use are Live Bait Hook with an eye that is straight up and down with the shank and not inclined. The point of the hook is slightly inclined or straight up. The point is in line with the shank and not offset.
Something to remember about the hook itself. You want the hook to be a heavy-duty wire construction to prevent bending or breaking with larger fish, but you want to be aware of the relative weight or gauge of your hook, because remember that the primary manner in which the hook is taken is when the fish opens its mouth and inhales the hook. It's possible to select a hook that is too heavy for the species and application you may be pursuing, and the miss of a hook-up could be due to the weight of the hook and the fish can't inhale or take the hook.
Assist Hooks are rigged with a line or chord that inherently has a strength that will absorb the hit. Common materials include Kevlar and Dyneema that are woven and are available in a variety of strengths and thicknesses to pair with hooks.
My most common rigging is to double the line and loop it through the shank and the eye. I then protect the connection with a piece of simple shrink tube.
You want to pair a solid ring and split ring that are of similar diameter to each other. You want them to be of a size that allows a very easy and free swinging of the jig once the fish is hooked up. The above is a really big topic and for those pursuing the large pelagic species, I would seek the expertise of your local tackle shop. The above is really an entry level 'description' more than technical information.
KNOW YOUR TARGET
I've been asked a lot if I simply use an Assist hook for all species and the answer is 'not really'. I have found that haddock fishing has its challenges due to the position of the mouth and how they feed, but I have not had the same challenges with Cod and Pollock.
Black Sea Bass are immense fun with Assist hooks due to the aggressive nature in which they feed and by the size of the mouth which they possess. Even a sub-legal black sea bass has very little trouble taking in a 3-4" jig that is paired with an Assist Hook.
If someone reading this has plans to fish Buzzards Bay this spring for black sea bass, I would encourage trying Assist Hooks out on this fishery. It's honestly one of the simplest areas to give it a try. The gear is simple, and the opportunities are many.
Bottom dwelling species, such as fluke can also be caught on an Assist hook. The image below is from a MyFishingCapeCod member this past season that enticed a fluke to take the Assist Hook on a small jig. It's important to note here that you can bait the hook. Sure, the goal is to get the fish to bite with the action of the jig, but by no means do I consider it 'cheating' or a hard and fast rule that you can't bait the hook.
Solo Acts Versus Rigs
In my own fishing, I enjoy fishing a jig on its own. If I sense the feed to be strong and the fish feeding aggressively, I will put a jig down alone in an attempt to cull out a larger fish and see if it will take a larger offering.
There's also the ability to pair a jig with a multitude of rig setups. Jigging as a method or presentation doesn't have to have these large sweeping, violent movements of the rod or intense speed winding on your reel. The improving popularity and influence of slow pitch jigging has led me to believe that even slow presentation of a jig will work and it's because of this that I won't hesitate putting jigs on high low rigs or drop shot style rigs. In fact, when I am jigging for mackerel with a sabiki rig, I will put a small jig with an assist hook that matches the hatch, because you never know. I've personally witnessed a striper take a mac off a sabiki like candy and I'm determined to be ready when they try to take the bottom offering.
Some really simple 'drop shot' style rigs can be tied and deployed with a jig with an Assist hook and be fished very effectively double hookups are quite common.
Something to note, fishing with an assist hook is not strictly a boat activity. Assist hooks can be paired with jigs/metals and cast from shore or a pier and they also have uses and application with other hard baits. It's a hook style that has been used for centuries and encourage those curious to try it. There are some really simple methods and opportunities in Cape Cod and other waters in the Northeast to experiment.
Tight lines everyone and thanks for reading.