However, since at the moment all we’re doing is getting the boat into shape and rigging tackle until next week, I’m not going to bother you with an account of which bit goes where on a boat. Instead, I’ll give you the gist of a long conversation which I had with the venerable Peter B Wright yesterday when an afternoon of scratched and oily arms in a strange engine-room came to a sweaty end with the onset of a cold beer. Capt. Wright is fishing here this summer too aboard his DYFKEN, and the two of us will be battling daily with Stewart Campbell on his CHUNDA. So, all told (and with a great deal of luck) there should be some very tall stories coming out of the Canaries this summer.
In any given port around the world where anglers gather to chase fish, you can listen to tall stories from braggarts, factual accounts from seasoned campaigners, rumours from budding beginners, self-depreciating stories from one or two humorous guys, or you can buy a beer and join the crowd at the bar with your personal opinion in the realm of the eternal debates.
The commonest of the debates, of course, is the battle of lures. This head shape, that head shape, this colour, that colour, that position, this position - none of it matters really in the long run. Last year I wrote in these pages that any lure will catch fish as long as you run it long enough until it meets a fishes’ nose. Until you do that, none will. Yesterday I discovered that Peter is a believer in that argument too.
Close on the heels of that debate is the one of tag-lines. To use or not to use ? Peter and I do not, neither does Capt. Barky Garnsey on the Chunda when he’s pulling lures. Then there is war of boats - which hull raises more fish than the other, and which boat handles seas better (Peter says his does). Then you can throw in the battle of hooks, the rows over live-bait and then struggle over the conflict of locations in which individual anglers will sell their soul to promote their favourite fishing ground even though there are no fish there! The list goes on and on………
So, which one of these arguments is my hot potato ? Ask anyone who has fished with me and they already know the answer - for me it’s a campaign bordering on the evangelical - it’s the battle of the hooks. Traditionalists with their cadmium or zinc anodised ‘strong’ 7731’s against the rather smaller band of hedonists who use shiny stainless-steel 7732’s - which are ‘brittle’. I subdivide this into those that care about fishing versus those that couldn’t give a damn. I care for my fish, particularly the big girls I like to catch, and my main aim is to release them to fight another day - to that end, I will use stainless-steel hooks. Confused ? Read on.
Traditional opinion has it that stainless-steel does not rust, and that everything else does, and therefore if you leave a hook in a fish then it should be something that rusts out. Traditional opinion also states that stainless hooks are weak and break easily compared to galvanised ones. Bullshit to both these arguments, and I have never yet lost my case. We’ll take them one at a time.
First up - the strength issue. I don’t have my logs with me, so I can’t give you an exact figure, but I think I’ve now been responsible for around 600 blue marlin, the vast majority of which have weighed over 500 lbs. I can add to that another 1200 or so that I’ve seen and maybe briefly played with via knock-downs or pulling drag a little etc. I can count on one hand the number of fish I have lost due to the use of stainless-hooks. I have NEVER broken a stainless hook. I know of a point broken on another boat on the strike. I have seen some of the best wire-men in the world control some of the largest fish in the world without breaking a stainless hook. Yes, I have seen a couple of hooks bend open ever so slightly during the fight (but not lose the fish), and yes, I have also seen a bunch of them bend open on the wire (they do not bend open as easily as a 7731, though). Even a little wimp like me can take a couple of wraps on 600lb leader and throw open an 11/0 of either metallic denomination. But break ? Never. To anyone who says they don’t use stainless hooks because they break I simply ask why they bother using fishing rods or fishing line - they break too. I once met a really well-known captain who has caught thousands of billfish who bluntly told me he didn’t use stainless hooks because they broke. I asked him how many stainless hooks he had broken in his lifetime - he told me three. Three too many, he said. I asked him then how many rods he had broken. He looked at me with a grin and told me ‘Loads.’ Is there something macho about breaking a rod and leaving a fish swimming around with several hundred yards of line, a 30’ leader, a lure and two hooks in it ?
Last year I watched as a record-seeking boat touting triple-strength Mustaad 7731’s came to the dock three times in one week with their hooks splayed COMPLETELY open after a tussle on the wire. I could go on for a long time on this issue, but I’ll leave you with just one example of just how strong stainless can be. In 1994 we hooked a ‘nice’ fish for Jess Miller up on the windy side of Madeira. Close to shore and alongside the boat quite quickly, the fish appeared to be well over 1000 lbs. My wire-man at the time couldn’t quite handle the fish by himself in that rough water and so after a couple of efforts on the leader, I told him to grab one of the safety-lines, clip the swivel to the snap and tie it off on a cleat. Mission accomplished, I started walking the marlin around the headland into the lee of the land with the fish 29’ below us (I wasn’t using wind-ons in those days). It took us about 20 minutes, and below the boat we could see the fish on its side - one of those impossibly difficult ones. In the calm water it took three of us to get that fish to the boat on the wire and release it. I never saw the fish as I was pinned on the deck under the gunwale holding on when it finally appeared beside the boat and the hooks eventually pulled out. Miller, who has caught several granders, said it was the largest fish he had ever seen in Madeira, so we’ll take it as granted that it was a big fish. The point of it all, of course, is that the hook didn’t fail. That is how strong stainless can be. Anyone who still remains unconvinced and likes to kill fish should go buy a pack of French-made Marinex hooks - stainless through and through and you can tow a truck with them.
So, moving along, we come to the ‘rusting out’ section of the debate which is the part of the argument that always gets me into trouble. We’ll start with another story here. It’s 1995, and a rich and well-known American heart surgeon is on board Margarita. During the course of the day he comes up to the bridge and starts the battle of the hooks according to the rules of his boat back in the US. Well, I couldn't convince him with the strength argument, nor the financial one (stainless hooks last for years and actually save money) since he was richer than Creosus, so I changed tack and went for the health issue since I knew he was an ardent conservationist. I simply asked him why he didn’t use galvanised or cadmium/zinc plated instruments during surgery. There was long pause, and he looked at me. ‘Explain.’ he asked, so I did. I simply asked him which of two patients would he expect to survive longer - one with a stainless scalpel left inside their chest after surgery, or one with a galvanised one in there. Without any hesitation he went for the stainless. I explained further and the last I heard his boat is using 7732 stainless hooks.
Here’s what I said. Imagine a fish with a galvanised hook in its mouth, swimming along, the hook dissolving slowly, and all that matter leaching slowly into the fish’s mouth and gills as it does so. What on earth does that do to either the fish’s respiratory or digestive system ? From experience I know what longline hooks do to a fish. These fish are normally emaciated, bleeding from several sores in the area of the hook, and the hook is normally encysted into the flesh, unable to drop out and slowly rusting away. One fish with a circle-hook we caught in Madeira was obviously so far spent all it could catch any more were deepwater stingrays as it had three barbs (at first I thought they were small bills from white marlin and spearfish) protruding from its head.
I personally believe that any hook left in a fish that is not stainless is more likely to end up killing it than saving it by the act of leaving it "un-traumatised" by cutting the leader. Before that hook drops out or rusts away most of it is going to end up as liquid inside the fish’s mouth or stomach, or pass through its gills. If you think about it, why do we humans rush to check our tetanus cards when we encounter a rusty wound ? If you were in the dentist’s chair and he leaned over and said he was going to leave a needle in your mouth, which are you going to plump for ? The heavy-metal plated one, or the clean stainless ?
And as for the hook staying in there for ever ? Well, we all know from bitter experience just how easily billfish spit the hook most of the time, so I am assuming that a fair number of hooks come out of a fish’s mouth within a day or so. Those that remain I believe that a few come out and go the other way into the fish’s stomach. I feel they do little damage there that a fish cannot cope with - how many children surprise x-ray technicians with an assortment of ironmongery, for example ? And as for those fish that cannot shake the hook ? Well, I think a high majority of them manage to cope and evolve ways to live with it. If fish can live with a nasty old long-line hook in their mouths, then they can live with a nice shiny one too. Ever wonder how those fish without bills and fins, or those with hideous wounds survive ? They learn.
So, need further convincing ? The University of Georgia ran a series of tests on a tank full of striped bass back in the 1980’s. They used a combination of hooks and left a bunch of fish swimming around with various bits of metal inside them. The ones that lived (ie: did not die) were those with stainless hooks, even the deep-hooked ones, which was part of the program. Again, I know of three fish from Madeira caught on stainless hooks which have been re-captured. That might not seem a lot, but run that figure past the amount of fish caught and re-captured from St. Thomas (where the practice of cutting leaders is normal) and you can see a slight discrepancy.
Any other advantages ? Yessir - your hook-rate will soar. Stainless hooks keep their edge far longer than others. Their tips do not roll over against a bill or hard mouth nearly as easily as a galvanised hook. You will find yourself with some hook-ups you will not believe, even with a light drag. They do not rust, and so when you’re baiting up for the day, you don’t have to worry so much about cuts you may get (!) and your boat and tackle-drawer stay a whole lot cleaner. One hook may last for a whole season, or maybe two. Your hook-rigs don't rust so fast you’re throwing away hooks left right and centre (or alternatively, staying up past midnight with some wet&dry and a can of WD40 - perish the thought) AND you do not encounter so much electrolysis on the cable-rigs commonly used.
Anything else ? Imagine yourself in some cherished fishing-hole near the Equator, standing in a cockpit full of chaos (don’t we wish !). Suddenly, with a painful wrench, you find yourself with a legful of rusty, fish-encrusted 12/0. Chances are the fishing part of your holiday is over, you face a trip to a clinic down a jungle track (did you pack your sterile needle pack ?), and there’s a good chance you’re going to get some infection of some sort involving blood-poisoning and staphylococcus. Now, I’m not saying that a stainless hook in there would have let you go fishing the next day, but by heaven you might have ridden on the boat without too much trouble though.
Any disadvantages ? Sure. They break. They’re expensive. They kill fish.
Don’t they ?