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Circle Hooks

Circle hooks are an effective conservation measure because they significantly reduce “gut hooking” that leads to discard mortality. The department also launched and is continuing to expand an educational outreach program to assure compliance with these regulations. 

What is a non-offset circle hook?
  • Non-offset circle hooks are generally defined as a hook with the point turned perpendicularly back to the shank.


Benefits and techniques when using circle hooks
  • Circle hooks are designed to hook fish in the corner of the mouth which makes the fish easier to release.
  • Circle hooks have been used successfully with both dead and live baits for many species.
  • Circle hooks are used with what anglers call a "dead stick" or still rod in a holder - anglers do not pull back hard on the fishing rod to set the hook, it is more of a finesse technique.
  • Circle hooks have shown to reduce deep hooking of fish while J-hooks have a tendency to deep hook fish and puncture organs, which results in mortality.
  • Circle hooks can greatly increase the survivability of striped bass after catch and rele​ase​​ due to shorter de-hooking times and reduction of deep hooking.
  • The general function of circle hooks is to hook fish in the corner of the mouth, resulting in less injuries to the fish and easier unhooking - this is already documented in department studies and in other states.

Regulations involving Hooks, Bait and Striped Bass
A regulation involving hooks, bait and striped bass is now in effect through Dec. 15, 2019 in Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.

  1. Anglers must use non-offset circle hooks when live-lining​ or chumming;
  2. Anglers must use non-offset circle hooks or “J” hooks when using fish, crabs or worms as bait or when using processed baits while not live-lining or chumming (treble hooks are prohibited); and
  3. The minimum size for striped bass is 19 inches.
​These rules will also be in effect May 16, 2019 through Dec. 15, 2019.

Please visit our Changes to Fishing Regulations​ page and click on HOOKS, BAIT, STRIPED BASS — May 16 through Dec. 15​ for detailed information.

Other Useful Tips: 

  • If  fishing during summer months, consult the Striped Bass Fishing Advisory Forecast​.
  • Use larger circle hooks in the 8/0 - 9/0 size range
  • When releasing striped bass, minimize handling and get the fish in the water as soon as possible 
  • Minimize heat stress to fish by avoiding fishing on days when air temperatures are over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Have appropriate de-hooking hardware on hand 
  • Keep fish in water when de-hooking 

You can learn more about proper catch and release tips on our Catch and Release page​

Historical evidence supporting circle hook use
  • Circle hooks ARE NOT NEW. Excavations of graves from pre-Columbian humans in Latin America uncovered hooks made from seashells that resemble modern circle hooks. ​
  • Early Japanese fishermen tied pieces of reindeer horn together in the shape of a circle hook, and a similar design was found on Easter Island (Moore 2001).
  • Pacific coast native Americans used hooks that fished similarly to modern circle hooks. The configuration of the tackle promoted hooking as fish tried to expel bait they could not swallow (Stewart 1977, in Trumble et al. 2002). 
  • Modern commercial longline fishermen (halibut, tuna) and recreational anglers have been using circle hooks voluntarily for many years (Moore 2001; Prince, et al. 2002), with documented use in the commercial halibut fishery going back to 1982, and perhaps earlier in other fisheries. Commercial halibut fishermen found their total catch more than doubled when using circle hooks versus J-hooks (on aggregate, total catch in pounds increased by 2.2 times). 
  • Massachusetts was a pioneer in setting up large scale catch and release studies for striped bass during the 1990's (Diodati and partners), Maryland also provided details on circle hooks in Chesapeake Bay, starting in the late 90's.  ​