The hybrid striped bass bite on Belton Lake has begun nearly three weeks ahead of schedule and gets better with each passing day. The most tried and true presentation for these fish is the use of freshly caught, well-maintained shad.

Because of their typically small size and fragile nature, live shad are best fished on as light and small a hook as the target species will tolerate. For my hybrid striped bass fishing on Belton Lake, I typically use a size #1 circle hook. This season I have all of my livebait rods rigged with VMC’s #7381 SureSet circle hooks. I use circle hooks because they facilitate quickly unhooking and releasing fish in excellent condition, which is one of the goals of my business.

No matter what manner of hook you use — circle, Kahle-style, j-shaped, etc. — the following tip, which I learned from a Florida tarpon guide, is sure to increase your bite-to-catch ratio.

Here is the tip: Using a piece of fluorocarbon leader material of 15- or 17-pound test, simply loop the strand of fluorocarbon around the shank of the hook and secure it tightly to the shank using an improved clinch knot and then trim both tag ends closely. Next, hold the hook upright, so the eye is nearest the ceiling and the bend is nearest the floor. Observe where the point of the hook is relative to the shank of the hook. Using the fingernails on your thumb and forefinger, slide the fluorocarbon “tag” you have created to a point on the shank just a tad vertically lower (closer to the floor) than the hook’s point. That’s it. You have just created a fluorocarbon tag which will improve your catch.

HOW IT WORKS

When properly positioned, this fluorocarbon tag will prevent your live bait from sliding up the hook’s shank and getting too near to the hook’s eye. Were this to happen, the point of the hook could (and regularly does) get caught in the baitfish, thus burying the point of the hook in the bait and preventing that point from catching in the mouth of the intended gamefish.

Additionally, when fluorocarbon is used, this tag will be nearly invisible in water. This is because fluorocarbon’s refractive index (a measure of how a material bends light) is nearly identical to that of water.

WHERE TO HOOK SHAD

My preferred method of hooking shad is to insert the point of the hook into one nostril and out the other. A small bridge of bone located between the hook and the skin there is sufficient to hold the baitfish on the hook until a strike occurs.

Hooking a shad in this manner avoids any obstructions in the mouth cavity, thus allowing for an unobstructed flow of water in the mouth and over the gills so the bait stays lively for a long while.

REAL RESULTS

On Friday morning, I welcomed aboard retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Jaime Gonzales, retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Chapa and retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Cavazos for a half day of hybrid striped bass fishing on Belton. I came prepared to fish with two rods each, but we had to drop back to just one rod per man because the action was heavy and nonstop.

All of the live shad rigs we presented used the fluorocarbon tag described above. By trip’s end, the trio landed 145 fish. Prior to employing this “trick,” I would routinely have clients miss fish that struck, only to have them reel in to re-bait and find their hook point buried in the bait, thus preventing the point from making contact. Rarely does this happen anymore.

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