Seeing Red

By John Bennett

Certainly one of the major innovations in bass fishing that has occurred over the past few years is the advent of red hooks being used on jigs, spinnerbaits, jerk baits, live bait rigs and crank baits. For the first couple of years I wondered if it was not just another passing fad that would arise, have its day in the sun and then fade away. Not this time. Based on reports from the pros and my own experience I believe that using red hooks definitely can result in more fish being caught and landed. The lingering question is, why?

My first significant experience with the use of red hooks came during the last week in September of 2007 when I had the opportunity to

fish with walleye pros Mark Brumbaugh and Mark Martin at Lake Gogebic in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We used Northland jigs sporting red hooks that were attached to gold-bladed spinnerbait arms and adorned with Gulp Alive! minnows. Slow-rolled through or just over submerged weed beds they yielded good catches of walleyes and smallmouth bass with an occasional northern pike as a bonus.

Okay, fine. We caught some nice fish, but was it the hooks, the flash of the jig/spinner or the smell/taste of the Gulp minnow? Or could it have been a combination of all three? This led me to wonder and since I always look at fishing as a continual learning experience I decided to do a little investigating.

Realizing that there is no better source of information than the original source itself I contacted T. J. Stallings, Director of Marketing and New Products at TTI-Blakemore, home of Road Runner lures and Daiichi Bleeding Bait Hooks [tj@tticompanies.com]. TJ spent 19 years in underwater tests and trotline studies on red hooks after he watched his Dad lower different colored jigs into a bait tank and noted that the fish definitely preferred the red colors. According to Stallings’ research the red hooks simulate the “gill-flash” feeding signal. Gill-flash occurs when the gills are engorged with blood from a feeding fish and is a signal to other fish that is time to eat. Studies have proven that predator fish naturally strike baitfish that show blood from an injury, so why wouldn’t they strike the hook? “It took me a while to realize that the hook should be red and not necessarily the lure. If you want fish to strike a Bleeding Bait Hook then no more than fifteen percent of the lure should be red. Try a contrast such as orange/red or white/red. Contrast is important. This is why scratched red hooks sometimes work better than brand new ones. Those scratches expose a shiny surface that is in contrast with the earth friendly red finish. Contrast works because red is easier to distinguish when contrasted with another color.”

T. J. went on to say that anglers can easily conduct their own studies by placing a red hook on the forward portion of any lure and a bronze or black hook on the back and counting how many fish hit the front and how many hit the back. “They’ll hit that red hook 9 out of 10 times.” Hmmmmm, I am writing this on a very cold day in January and I hardly can wait until spring to test this theory on a few new Rapala X-Raps that I acquired.

Jim Duckworth, perhaps the most famous multi-species fishing guide in the southeastern United States and certainly one of the most knowledgeable bass fishermen on the planet was intrigued by the red hook phenomenon and has conducted his own extensive research. When asked why red hooks produce he stated emphatically that his number one use for them is on the front hook of a top water bait that causes a bass to strike the front hook and when it whirls its head around the second hook engages its body and it is caught for good. However if he is merely fishing for fun and is not concerned with losing fish he puts red hooks on the rear and says that is where ninety percent of the strikes will occur. The same setup takes place on his Bandit crank baits with identical hookup/landing ratios. Duckworth says that he uses Daiichi circle hooks on his jugs when catfishing and red Tru-Turn hooks below his bobbers when fishing for crappies and that they always out produce gold Aberdeen hooks. I’d say this is a pretty good testimony from a man who spends about 300 days on the water and is considered to be one of the pioneers in red hooks research.

Back to the lingering question of just what is there about these hooks that makes them work? Perhaps the best answer came from Mark Martin who first introduced me to Bleeding Bait Hooks. “I’ve put red hooks on many of my Rapalas with outstanding results, going from catching a few fish to catching many fish after replacing the hooks with Daiichis. One theory is that they resemble blood oozing out and cause the fish to slash at them. The single Daiichi red hooks have resulted in more money finishes for me than any other color.” All well and good, but not earth shattering news. Perhaps what Martin said next really hit the nail on the head: “Some people say that fish can’t see red, that it disappears in the water. I say maybe that’s why they like them so much, because to the fish they are not there. Live bait looks live bait minus a hook and maybe the Rapalas look more like a live minnow since the red either disappears or changes color in the water. All I can say is that they WORK!”

So, there you have the story from several perspectives. Based on my limited experience I concur that these hooks do indeed entice more strikes from a variety of species of fish. My game plan for the river smallmouths of 2008 is to rig up a few red-hooked Road Runner jig heads with some 2-inch Gulp Minnows and the farm pond largemouths are going to see some 4-inch Gulp finesse worms drop-shotted on the new Stand Out hooks that keep lures perpendicular to the fishing line for better hook ups. Should be a whole lot of fun.

Author’s note: For some of the finest fishing and hunting dvd’s I have ever seen check out Jim Duckworth’s web page at: www.jimduckworth.com. They’re not only informative but they’re fun.