That's an easy one to answer but I'm not going to here and now. Instead I want to natter about the quality and type of hooks we all use. I'll help shoot down the anti's in another word battle elsewhere no doubt.

We all use hooks but we don't use 'just' hooks. Generally, for the most part of our angling, we use really efficient, good hooks. They are strong, sharp, rarely break or straighten and do the job of getting a fish to the net admirably. Ecologically, unfortunately, we use really bad hooks. Ones which, when your knot fails or that 'sporting' low breaking strain line snaps, stay in the fish. They then start to slowly corrode and rot away, the rusting metal often causing ulceration and sickness to the poor fish. Often, in the case of pike for instance, these hooks are trebles. All too often a pike is landed by a less experienced angler who is either afraid or ill equipped to cope with unhooking the toothy monster. That angler will then probably cut the line or trace, leaving the hooks in place, reasoning that because the fish swims off powerfully that it will survive and shed the hooks later. Or does he? More likely it is a case of 'out of sight out of mind'. Whatever, a few days later that pike can be found dead or dying which as we know, does nobody any good. Least of all the fish.

If you fish for pike a lot you will know what I am talking about. We all see it on almost every water where the kids or less experienced anglers fish. It is rare to catch ten pike and not have at least one of them with a trace coming out of its mouth. The very popularity of pike fishing is in itself a foot-shooting exercise. The more popular it becomes, the more novices it attracts. The more novices, the more deep-hooked fish and so the more hooks left in, resulting in more dead fish. But before you start screaming about the novices, how many of you reading this can honestly say that you have never left a hook in a fish? We were all a novice once - getting self-rightous about it won't really cure anything and these blokes are getting better with every fish they catch. Something to remember is that the novice of today is the accomplished teacher of tomorrow. So what can we do?

There seems to be little we can do about the popularity of pike fishing - but there is something we can do about the resulting damage. We can attempt to go for what the military call 'damage limitation'. The PAC is great at this, explaining and advising newbies how to unhook, tend and look after their favourite quarry - but we've all seen fish with stitched throats often enough to realise that PAC-type education is not enough. More needs to be done. Time to examine our tackle, especially the bits that do the damage. The hooks.

The perfect answer to the pike anglers prayer would be a bio-degradable treble hook which is unaffected by its first 24 hours in water but swiftly rots away in the following 24. Unfortunately, although science is certainly advanced enough to develop a hook like this, it won't do it. There simply is not enough money in fish conservation measures for the giant corporations to bother getting involved. (We can grow human ears on mice but not develop ecologically sound fishing materials!) And without those giant multinationals who fund the research, we have to look down different routes.

We already have the barbless hooks, that's a start but it don't go far enough. Most of those hooks left in pike I just mentioned are also barbless. The fact is, a barbless treble hook is a misnomer. If one hook of the three is stuck in the fish's throat, it don't take long before a second (and sometimes even the third) joins it, therefore making the triple hook much harder to eject. Any barbless treble therefor has built-in 'barbs' in the shape of its back-up hooks.

Houston, we have a problem! And we are not going to solve it by moaning about it. We need to take a look to see how anglers in other, different, areas of angling cope with it. That's the way progress has always operated, learn from your neighbours and pass on the knowledge. The problem here is that anglers have diversified and specialised so much in recent times that it can take years for a piece of knowledge gained in say, fly-fishing, to become known in e.g. match fishing circles. Nobody is just going to tell you, you'll have to ask.

Sea fishing is a completely different discipline from freshwater pike fishing. The world of the big-game angler is even further removed, yet these anglers too have experienced very similar situations and agonised over very similar 'hook problems' as our own pikers. The more progressive of the big-game anglers include Roddy Hays, a man who is to big-game angling what Nev Fickling is to pike angling (but perhaps just a little less controversial Neville!) I spent a week marlin fishing with Rod last year and I learned a bit from watching how the very best of the big-game anglers fish.

One of the most important aspects of Rod's approach to his fishing, from the pike anglers point of view, is that he uses stainless steel hooks. He is always getting into arguments with other big-game skippers about this because there is a 'traditional' reason why they don't use stainless, and that is the same traditional reason that pike anglers don't use them either. Here we should be careful. 'Traditional' does not always equate with 'right'. We have to examine our traditions and cast away the elements that are found to be wanting. Like we've done with these:

Carp don't feed in winter.
Catfish are bottom feeding scavengers.
Pike don't eat sea-fish. (It's true, in my fathers day, people actually believed this as gospel).
Stuff like that.

Pike anglers, in fact, just about all anglers from every discipline, do not use stainless steel hooks because of the 'accepted wisdom' that says that they do not rust out. And it's true. They don't. Unlike our traditional, conventional patterns which rot slowly away in the mouth or throat of the fish, slowly poisoning it as they corrode away, causing infections, minimising it's chance of recovery and doing the fish absolutely no good whatsoever. Nobody ever seems to question this, why? Time for a change.

'Accepted wisdom' of this sort should be challenged at every turn if we are to go forward. Doing so has been at the very heart of human progress since the Renaissance - so why don't we anglers question things more often? And the question we must ask ourselves today is, 'why do we use hooks that rust, rather than hooks that don't rust?' - Just spin it around and look in the mirror as the light comes on.

Bing!

The last word perhaps should come from Roddy, he related this tale and it convinced me. It really says it all. It's a very persuasive argument and I think you should hear it too.

"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 (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 ?"

Time for a change.