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Posted 14th September 2022

How to Get Hooks Out of Fish

How to Get Hooks Out of Fish
How to Get Hooks Out of Fish

By Robert Thornton

Fishing is an incredibly popular pastime in this country, however there’s a few parts of the package that can deter people from taking to it seriously. One of those things is removing hooks from fish. This blog will focus on safe and correct methods of hook removal, how to perform them, and why they are important to learn.

Chances are if you’ve ever been fishing, at one stage or another you’ve probably been called on to remove hooks from a fish. For those who have years of experience this is something that happens as easily as any bodily function, since it’s an exercise the body has done many, many times. For newcomers though, it’s a scenario that can be difficult, stressful, and if done incorrectly, can result in injury.

But it doesn’t have to be any of these things.

With a few tips and tools from Daiwa, hook removal can become a simple and safe procedure and will help you to spend more time fishing, and less time unhooking fish.

Why Hook Removal is Important

It may seem like a very minor part of fishing, but it’s probably the most common time for injuries to both and angler and fish to occur. Nobody wants to end their fishing session with a trip to the hospital, or have an unqualified fishing buddy have to perform surgery on the boat…

It’s an important skillset to have down before you go out to ensure a smooth trip without incident, and an experience that won’t turn you off fishing.

Hook removal is so important, in fact, that there are tools on the market like the Daiwa De-Hooker that are designed for the sole purpose of removing hooks from fish. This tool allows the angler to grasp the hook bend with one end, keeping the hand well clear of the hook site. So if a fish kicks while being unhooked, the hooks aren’t likely to go into the angler’s hand.

What’s in it for the Fish?

Removing a fish hook safely and smoothly isn’t just for anglers, it benefits fish as well, particularly in catch-and-release scenarios. Countless tagging studies have proven time and again that fish have a high chance of survival following release, and this chance is increased when minimal damage is done during the hook removal stage.

Anglers with an interest in preserving the resource they rely on for enjoyment will take extra care to ensure there is no damage done needlessly when taking hooks out. An approach like this will contribute to a more sustainable fishery all round. When you think about how many people are releasing what they catch, that’s a lot of fish we could potentially lose to careless fish handling and unhooking! If everyone looks after their fish properly right up until the point of release, though, there will be more fish for everyone, including the next generations.

How to Unhook a Fish

Let’s now look at a few scenarios anglers may find themselves in and how to safely remove the hooks in each of them. Of course, there are potentially infinite scenarios, but I will cover a few basic hook types and common problems anglers can experience.

Basic Hook Removal

A lot of bait fishing includes a single hook, usually a ‘J’ style hook, baitholder hook, suicide hook, or something similar. Soft plastics and flies also commonly use just one hook, and can be treated in the same way. Generally speaking, these scenarios are fairly straight forward, but even then, accidents can still occur, especially if people try to use their fingers instead of pliers and aren’t concentrating on what they’re doing.

For a standard mouth hook-up, smaller fish under a kilo or so can be unhooked without even being handled. The best way is to clasp the hook bend with a pair of long-nose pliers, turn the hook so that the point faces downward, and gently jiggle the pliers. The force of gravity should see the fish drop off the hook and back into the water.

For larger fish, where hanging them by their own weight might not be good for the fish’s health, make sure the fish is on a smooth, wet surface, or in a knotless landing net. From here, the same principal can be applied, where the weight of the fish can be used as leverage when gently jiggling the hook free with long-nose pliers.

Anytime hook-ups occur around the gills, eyes or other sensitive areas, make sure to apply only as much pressure as is necessary to pop the hook free. If you want to go a step further, and the hook point and barb is exposed, crushing the barb with your pliers will ensure no extra damage is done when the hook is removed.

If a hook is swallowed and you have a gut-hooked fish, make sure not to try and yank it out, as this can cause further damage to the fish. The best thing to do here is to cut the trace as close as possible to the hook, and leave the hook inside the fish. Fish can and will survive with hooks in their throat, and generally the hook will rust out in a few days or weeks.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing is where hook removal can start to become a little more complicated, but it’s going to be far easier if you prepare yourself properly.

Lures with treble or double hook configurations, or even multiple ‘assist’ style hooks can result in more than one hook-up site. With trebles especially, this highlights the need to keep your fingers well clear of the hooks.

Simple hook-ups where only one or two of the points have gone in can be removed in much the same way as mentioned before, particularly with smaller fish. When multiple hooks need to be twisted out, this is when you might want a few extra bits of kit to minimise harm and keep yourself safe.

A net is a good investment for any fishing. For starters, lifting fish with the trace out of the water is something a lot of people do, however this is when hooks can pull, sending the lure flying back toward the angler. Scooping the fish up reduces the chances of this dramatically, and also keeps the fish’s movements contained and controlled.

Now it’s time for de-hooking.

Using long-nose pliers to gently twist the hooks out while the fish lies in the net is a reasonably safe method, but be prepared for the fish to kick. A good way to manage the fish’s movements while you unhook them is to use a pair of Daiwa’s V200 Fish Holder Pliers. An angler can clamp these onto the fish’s bottom jaw, and using this to hold the head still with one hand, can work to free the hooks with pliers in the other. Both tools allow the hands to be kept clear of the hooks.

Experienced anglers will often use their bare hand to hold the fish’s jaw while they take hooks out with the other, and although guilty of this myself, this is how the majority of hook-related incidents occur. 

In rare scenarios where a treble hook is buried in the fish’s flesh and can’t be removed, and doesn’t allow for the barb to be crushed, it’s recommended that you twist the hook off the split ring. Using a pair of split ring pliers, such as the Micro Split Ring Pliers or 190H Sea Pliers from Daiwa, the lure can be separated from the hook to salvage the lure. From here, anglers can use light bolt cutters (if they have them) to trim off exposed bits of the hook left in the fish. Otherwise, the remnants of hook should rust out in a few days or weeks.

Extra Safe Lure Fishing

Sometimes anglers will go a step further for both their own and the fish’s safety. I mentioned before that crushing barbs is a good way to get an uncooperative hook out, however crushing down barbs prior to a trip is a great way to ensure less ‘mucking about’.

In situations where anglers don’t want to spend ages taking treble hooks out of fish, or they want to keep the fish’s health as a priority, this is a good move. The only downside is that you may lose a few fish here and there, as the barb is often what prevents hooks from being tossed out during the fight. Once a fish is landed, though, the hooks will come out with ease, and you can get straight back to fishing.

It goes without saying that should a barbless hook find its way into the angler’s flesh, it will almost certainly come out without any trouble, and likely mitigate a trip to the hospital.

Even with crushed barbs, it’s still recommended you use long-nose pliers when removing them from fish.

Preparation is the Key

Some of these tools may seem excessive or even unnecessary to some people, but they are designed with your safety in mind, and help anglers to deal with fish without copping a hook. Fish handling and unhooking isn’t nearly as difficult or scary as some beginners might think. As we’ve shown here, if you arm yourself with a few small tools and the right knowledge, you can enjoy your fishing and not cause any unnecessary injuries to yourself or the fish.

Next time you’re in a boat with someone who’s apprehensive about dealing with their own fish, it may be worth demonstrating how, with tools, unhooking fish doesn’t have to be a headache.   


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