I’ve often reached for my tackle box, having arrived at the fishing spot I’ve chosen, and opened the box to realize that the hooks I brought with me are covered in rust – that I’ve not bought new hooks in a little while.
And I’ve sat there wondering, is it ok to fish with rusty hooks?
We’ve spent a few hours researching this question from expert anglers, and also fishery authorities across the world to understand if the advice is consistent about whether you can use rusty hooks to fish with.
- Is it OK to fish with a rusty hook?
- Is it bad to use rusty hooks?
- Do fish actively avoid rusty hooks?
- What can you do with a rusty hook?
- How do you remove rust from fishing hooks?
- Is it OK to fish with a rusty hook? A summary
Is it OK to fish with a rusty hook?
It is not advised to fish with a rusty hook. Rusty hooks can become weak and the point and barb can become dull. This may lead to fewer hookups of fish and fewer fish landed. Rusty hooks should be disposed of and replaced with new hooks.
When corrosion of the metal hooks happens, they’re past their safe working age and should no longer be used.
Just think how gutted you would be…
… you get a huge strike on your rod, but because you’ve used a rusty hook, the point either doesn’t penetrate the fish’s mouth because it’s too dull, or it snaps off on a bony part of the fish’s jaw when you try to set the hook.
And the fish swims away with your bait in its tummy.
I have fished with a rusty hook in the past but can’t say I’ve ever had good results from it.
Hooks themselves don’t cost much, so to avoid turning to rusty hooks as a last resort, always try to have a stock of different-sized hooks topped up.
That way you’re never caught out regardless of what species you might be targeting.
Is it bad to use rusty hooks?
It is bad to use rusty hooks because you may risk losing your catch. Hooks corrode when they become rusty, affecting the integrity and strength of the hook itself.
There are multiple fisheries and outdoor organizations that advise against rusty hooks.
For example, advice from the Pacific Community sustainability fisheries program, and also the Outdoor Council for Australia(OCA) recommend against using rusty hooks.
Here’s a quote from the OCA about using rusty hooks when fishing:
Angling equipment should be appropriately maintained.
Hooks that are rusty should not be used.
Equipment which is corroded or has exceeded its safe working life must be retired, marked, and disposed of appropriately.
The other bad consequence of using rusty hooks is that if they do break off when underwater, you’ll be sending random shards of metal into the wild, rather than responsibly disposing of them.
Do fish actively avoid rusty hooks?
Fish do not actively avoid rusty hooks. Fish cannot see if the hook is rusty or not, and do not take notice of this.
They may avoid the hook if it is completely bare, and your bait has fallen off because the rusty hook couldn’t hold it.
Think about the speed at which a fish is striking the bait – they move in so quickly that it’s highly unlikely they’ll spot any color from the rust that might put them off and make them avoid the bait.
If you have baited your hook properly, then the fish should be focused on the bait, not the hook. The risk, as mentioned, is if the hook actually sets well in the fish’s mouth because it is rusty and breaks or is blunt.
So a fish won’t necessarily actively avoid a rusty hook and choose not to strike it, but it may be able to swim away safely afterward if it has not been properly hooked when it does go in for the strike.
What can you do with a rusty hook?
The general advice across the fishing forums is just to get rid of rusty hooks and to replace them with new ones when fishing for your main target species.
The loss of not catching your prize fish because of a poorly set rusty hook looms just too large.
However, there are some interesting hacks for reusing rusty hooks, here are some ideas:
If the hook’s not too rusty, file it
Some anglers check the state of their hooks just before they go out fishing. If there are hooks that are rusty, but only a light coating of rust, then they’ll get the file out and give them a quick file down to remove the outer coating of rust, ready for the session ahead.
Cast the hook into the water a few times, the saltwater helps wash it off
If there is only a light coating of rust, and corrosion hasn’t affected the strength of the hook, then sometimes a few casts into the water and a wipe clean with a coarse cloth can remove any rust from the hook.
One thing you’ll want to check for certain though is that the rust or your wiping off hasn’t dulled the point of the hook or barb if you’re using barbed hooks (barbless are better for fish welfare).
It would be frustrating to be fishing with a rust-free hook but one without a good point to set the hook when striking.
Use the rusty hooks for less-valuable catches, like baitfish
You can also save back any rusty hooks to dedicate to catching the fish you want to use for bait. So you keep your best, newest and cleanest hooks for your prize target species, and the rusty hooks can be used for catching bait, to be used to catch the bigger, more exciting fish.
How do you remove rust from fishing hooks?
There are a number of ways you can remove rust from fishing hooks including filing or sanding rust off, soaking hooks in vinegar in a can, using a whetstone to scrape the rust off, using sandpaper to remove surface rust.
If you have time on your hands, then soaking your rusty hooks in white vinegar can be an effective option to remove surface rust. Soak the hooks for a few hours, completely submerged in the vinegar.
Come back to them later, and wipe off the rust layer that will have reacted with and been dissolved by the vinegar. If there are any stubborn bits of rust, sandpaper works fine to remove the rust.
If you need a quick fix before a session, then the physical option of filing or sanding the rust off the hooks is the best option.
Use sandpaper or a fine file – some people use a diamond file or even a whetstone – to do this.
Make sure you don’t accidentally dull or blunt the point of the hook or damage the barb on barbed hooks.
If you need to re-sharpen the point of the hook, always sharpen in the direction the point is going, i.e. towards the pointy end. You’ll get the best results this way and won’t disrupt the integrity of the point itself.
Is it OK to fish with a rusty hook? A summary
In some cases, it might be ok to fish with a rusty hook, but I’d rather either replace those hooks with new ones or save the rusty hooks for catching merely baitfish.
And as to whether fish actively avoid rusty hooks, I’m not convinced that they take any notice of whether the hook is rusty or not – but whether they’ll stay on the hook is far more important to me!
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