Do you love big bluegill?
Well, I usually just use a pair of needle nose pliars, if I can reach the hook easy enough. But there are times when they suck it so deep, you can't even see the hook ! That sucks.
But fish do have an amazing ability to deal with / eliminate hooks which are left in them. As long as the hook doesn't puncture or damage a vital organ, the vast majority will survive.
There are varying opinions concerning the use of circle hooks for bluegill and other panfish, but my experiences have been very good.
Another issue is offset vs. non-offset designs. Non-offset hooks are hard to find, but it is fairly easy to bend them back into a non-offset configuration.
Circle hooks have several advantages that relate to the issue of bycatch and deep hooking. Anglers can increase the size of circle hooks in areas where large fish are mixed on with juveniles.
Because of the shape of these special hooks, the smaller fish simply cannot fit them in their mouth.
Most anglers experience a learning phase when switching to these hooks, but once mastered, hookup ratios may actually increase.
When a bite occurs, the angler lowers the rod tip and gradually increases pressure on the fish. Snatching will almost always result in a missed strike.
Some anglers do not like the idea of eliminating the "snatch" technique. It can also become a problem if you fish for bass or other species where you must train yourself to set the hook quickly.
In my situation, I was able to dramatically reduce deep hooking and unwanted small fish while still catching good numbers of keeper-sized sunfish.
I do sometimes find myself snatching a circle hook, or not setting the hook when using jigs, but overall, I found circle hooks to be the best option for my fishing style.
I use circle hooks for almost every species that I fish for when I am using live or cut baits. In addition to catching sunfish, they work very effectively for yellow perch, catfish, crappie, and other species.
If you are not using bait, one option is to smash down the barb of the hook. I do this routinely on my flies and lures. Doesn't keep the fish from swallowing the lure, but makes it much easier to get them out with a pair of hemostats or needle nose pliers. Also makes it easier to get the lure out of you if you get a little careless!
Last weekend I had a 3-inch bluegill manage to swallow a number 6 Gamakatsu circle hook, something I wouldn't have thought possible for the size of the hook and the size of the fish. I thought I was going to have to cut the line and lose the hook, but when I reached in to snip the line as close to the hook as possible, the hook just dislodged and came out with no harm to the fish.
That left me wondering if it was just barely hooked due to the shape (but it was solid enough to support the fish's weight from the water to the boat) or if it wasn't actually hooked and just had the hook wedged in its throat and my fiddling with it on a slack line caused it to come free.
Two strategies at play here - they are eating it that is a good thing.
Are you watching this line or do you have 3 lines in the water? I find that one line watched will out fish 3 where you watch none of them all the time... the time spent removing a deep hook, is thrown away when you could be watching, setting the hook.
One thing that works really well when they are woofing the bait down their gullets - move some split shot nearer to the hook - this will prevent them from sucking the bait down deep. This slows the hook when they try to breath it in.
Another thing- I wouldn't use circle hooks for gills - the shape is all wrong for gill fishing as they are precise sight-feeding fish - circle hooks are too heavy. Gamakatsu makes a mosquito hook that is fantastic in the 14 size.
Now- that said, the fish are going to hit it and swallow it. Hands down the best tool to get hooks (even some gut-hooks out) is the disgorger. You can buy a couple in a package deal with two pole floats here: Best Bluegill Hook Remover
Follow these steps to use this tool:
1. Tighten line - give a tug to make sure the hook is straight (and that the line is straight)
2. Place the pole or rod between your knees and get the line tight enough so that the line is bending the pole or rod tip. This is KEY. You must have a moderately tight line for speed, accuracy and ease of hook-removal. - The best approach allows you to be looking down the gill's mouth so you can see what is going on- but many times if you have the line tight and you are holding the fish so the line is tight (good grip on the fish).
3. Place the line in the ridge (slot) of the disgorger.
4. Slide the disgorger down onto the hook.
5. Bump down with the disgorger and do a slight twist.
Most of the time - the fish pops right off the hook and the hook comes out on the disgorger. Release the fish and onto the next one.
6. This works best with hooks size 10 - 16 - anything bigger than that, well, you probably don't have to worry too much about removing gills too often. : )
When I have a trophy-sized gill and I fail on the first or second attempt with the tool - I cut the line and let it free. Fine hooks can rust out of their mouth within a couple of weeks. I have also caught fish with a hook in them so they get on just fine. Protect your good genetics- release the big gills and you will be rewarded with better fishing -
The way these work, is there is a slot on the one side. I will have to make a hook-remover video to show you how it works - tight line is the key and sometimes looking down the barrel of a gill is necessary...
I'm with the other posters. If the hook is too far down and the fish is small I'd rather lose the hook than kill the fish. I keep a special set of pliers and also use medical clamps (my mom works in the medical field and clamps with hairline cracks cannot be sterilized so would just be thrown away). But even then some are still too deep for me to get out.
Here's the State Of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources guidelines:
Catch and Release: It will grow on you!
Fish you wish to release, and fish not meeting the legal length limit, should be played
as little as possible and handled carefully with wet hands. The fish should not be held
out of the water longer than necessary to remove hooks, take a photograph, or measure
the fish. If live release is intended, a quick set rig should be employed, where the hook
is set immediately upon pickup, to prevent deeply hooked fish. Deep-hooked fish, if
meeting the legal limit, should be kept. If the fish does not meet the legal length limit
it must be let go after cutting the line or leader as close to the hook as possible.