Our most important contact with a fish is the initial one.
Unfortunately, some anglers give little attention to their angle. The hook that connects us to our prize must be trustworthy. Some of us leave the house with a rusty hook on the line that has been dangling there for a long time.
If the hook was out only a couple days ago, it could be all right, but if it hasn't seen the light since Memorial Day, you could be looking for trouble. If your hook is old and rusty, you are best to toss it. Many new hooks out of the box are not sharp enough. Run the point over your thumbnail. If it does not dig in, you must sharpen it.
Keeping a sharp hook is not a difficult thing and should be a high priority for all fishermen. I usually carry a small grinding wheel that comes with one of those high-speed motor tools. It is only about the size of a nickel and works fine.
Don't over sharpen your hook. If you lose the point, don't try to build another. It's best to discard that hook. It is not easy to get a proper point after you ruin the factory one. Just three or four drags across a stone will be all you need.
Now, I understand that a lot of you don't bother to carry a sharpening stone around with you.
Maybe, I can help.
When you're fishing inshore, at some time during the trip you will probably hook a clump of oysters. After you have stopped cussing, you might try running your hook over the shell. An oyster shell is a very good sharpening stone. Once you get the hang of it, you might even welcome an occasional shell into the boat.
These days circle hooks are hot and as well they should be. They are great fish catchers and are very easy on the fish you wish to release. Using a circle hook eliminates the old saltwater snatch we have all perfected.
Simply allow the fish to begin to swim with the bait and then raise your rod tip gently and begin to reel. If all things are equal, the hook will rotate and hook the fish in the lip on the way out.
Red hooks are great and especially the circle ones. My old pal Capt. Leo of the Mosquito Lagoon uses a 5/0 red circle hook whenever he uses natural bait. If that sounds like a big hook, you are right. Leo's hooks look as though they could serve as an anchor for a small boat, but believe me they work.
A couple years ago, Capt. Leo and I were having fun with some very large trout. His big hooks were out-fishing me and, the very next day, I went to the tackle shop to buy some. I picked them up, but just couldn't do it. I came away with 4/0 hooks - probably a mistake.
Not all applications are great for circle hooks. If I am fishing straight up and down in deep water, I want a "J" hook. I don't like a circle hook when there is no slack in the line. I never use them for sheepshead at any depth. If you have ever seen a sheepshead bite, you know they are so wary they usually only clamp onto a tiny portion of our bait with those impressive choppers and then go into reverse, hard to get a circle into that mouth. Of course, there are always exceptions.
Fall is a great time to be out on the water, so give it a try and always keep a sharp hook.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.