Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Circle hooks catching on slowly on Delaware River

By Deborah Weisberg
Southwest Correspondent


Harrisburg — In an effort to get all anglers on board with a new terminal tackle requirement on the Delaware River estuary, Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission waterways conservation officers say they are taking an educational rather than punitive approach.


When they spot bait anglers not complying with the non-offset (inline) circle hook mandate on the 56-mile estuarial stretch, they take time to explain how non-offset hooks help to conserve striped bass, and, in some cases, hand out packets of hooks, noted Capt. Jeff Sabo.


“It depends on the angling population we’re talking to. A lot of hard-core striped bass anglers were using inline hooks even before they were required and were even helping us get the word out,” he said.


“With anglers who fish for other species – who may not follow regulation changes on social media – and those who have been fishing a certain way for 30 years, we’re doing more outreach – unless they’re repeat offenders.”


Waterways conservation officers began distributing hooks during their patrols as soon as Pennsylvania made them mandatory in April, Sabo said, “and we’ll be giving out more.”


The inline hook requirement is one of several striped bass conservation measures implemented on the Delaware last spring and formally approved by the Fish & Boat Commission at its quarterly meeting in October. 


Pennsylvania and 14 other states were ordered by the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission to tighten creel and slot limits and mandate non-offset hooks in an effort to rebuild coastal stock.


The goal is to increase the protection of spawning females at least 35 inches long because they produce the greatest number of eggs, and to reduce striper mortality overall by 18%. A 2017 assessment of recreationally caught stripers found that 9% died after release.


Non-offset circle hooks are proven to catch fish in the mouth and prevent deep-hooking in the belly or gill. 


Although states have until Jan. 1, 2021, to make the non-offset hooks mandatory, Pennsylvania started nine months early to coincide with striper runs on the Delaware. 


The Fish & Boat Commission requires the hook for any species being targeted with bait in the estuarial water and encourages its use in the rest of the Delaware system.


“Striped bass are frequently caught by anglers targeting other species, primarily catfish, when passively fishing bait,” said the agency’s fisheries manager Kris Kuhn. “This simplifies enforcement.”


Some in the Delaware River fishing community say anglers are still in a learning curve. 


“I try to explain non-offset hooks to people who have never fished with them that it’s more of a drag set,” said Anthony Bottoms of Sportmaster Bait & Tackle in Philadelphia. 


“Your instinct may be to pick up the rod, but a non-offset hook basically sets itself.


“How well they understand really depends on the fisherman or fisherwoman. There’s often a language barrier. But fishing is a universal language, so we work with it.”


It doesn’t help that non-offset hooks can be hard to find in the midst of a pandemic, when availability of all kinds of tackle has been hit or miss. 


Fishing is more popular now than ever, which increases demand, but overseas production of hooks has slowed.


“With non-offset hooks it depends on the size and brand,” said Bottoms. “But getting tackle has been a problem at times, especially earlier in the pandemic.”


Mike Reynolds of Brinkman’s Bait & Tackle in Philadelphia said a lot of anglers were initially “confused” by the non-offset hook requirement but the waterways conservation officers “have been pretty cordial, pretty understanding.”


Using offset hooks has been a difficult concept for some anglers to grasp, he said, “so we have been doing a lot of coaching.”


Not all appear eager to comply, said Tray Kosty of Brinkman’s. “But we educate them. We make sure they know what’s required.”


Bill Martin, of Philadelphia, fishes for stripers in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He works at Charlie’s Bait & Tackle in Normandy, New Jersey.


Non-offset hooks will become mandatory in that state in January but already the prospect is generating buzz.


“Everyone’s talking about it,” he said. “There’s going to be some interesting wording for that reg because of all the different species you can fish for down here.”

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