A NEW HOOK DESIGN EMERGES
By SAM WHITE / PHOTOS BY JON WHITTLE
START WITH A BLANK SLATE, AND THEN TAKE A SHOT AT CHANGING MARLIN FISHING FOREVER
There have been some quiet conversations circulating for a while now about a special new hook design, something so unique that it could be a real game-changer. Something big. The project was about as closely guarded as one can be in today’s modern age of con- nectivity and social media. Until now.
Release Marine founder and president Sam Peters has fished for marlin all over the world with some of the best captains and crews, and he’s also witnessed his share of gut-wrenching frustration along the way. The No. 1 cause of his heartburn? Pulled hooks and lost fish.
A skirted trolling lure is one of the best ways on the planet to pick a fight with a blue marlin. The drawback is a hookup- to-release ratio that hovers somewhere around the 50 percent mark. Sure, there will be days where you might go 3-for-4 or 6-for-8, but then the next day it’s 0-for- 3, 1-for-4. If you’ve managed anything over 50 percent for a full season’s aver- age, well, that’s a win for most fishermen.
How is it possible that this big fish that’s hooked and jumping all over the ocean for an hour or more manages to come unhooked so often? Peters thought. There must be a reason.
The first person Peters turned to was an engineer who had previously worked with him on projects for Release Marine.
“I learned a lot,” he says. “A J hook is just a lever, and you need to have a long shank on it in order to drive the hook point home, which in this case is somewhere around the mouth of a blue marlin. But the shank is also your worst enemy when it comes to fighting that fish. When you pull on the shank from any direction other than directly forward in line with the point, you’re creating rotational torque. That’s the force that’s working against you, causing the hook to twist out of the fish.”
Think about changing a flat tire on your truck. If you use a lug wrench with a 12-inch handle, you’re applying rota- tional torque. If you use one with a 6-inch handle, you’ve effectively halved the amount of torque, and you’ll have a lot harder time loosening those lug nuts. The same principle applies to the shank of a hook once it’s embedded in a marlin.
So how do you overcome rotational torque while still achieving the necessary leverage to drive home the hook point on the strike? What if you could some- how reduce the length of the hook shank, and then find a way to hold it together so that it would break apart on the bite? As it turns out, it’s much easier said than done.
“I started in 2017 with some really crude prototypes,” Peters says. “I was hand-drilling them in my shop and using 80-pound-test split rings with a swivel in the middle. I tried 10 different ways to hold the thing together, and none were suc- cessful until I came up with the concept of using an inner and an outer stainless-steel
clip system.” All this with soaring costs, and while submitting a patent application, hoping it would be approved. While help- ing him film a short video of some initial testing in his company’s manufacturing facility, Release Marine vice-president Glenn Griggs remarked, “Wow, that hook really stays stuck, doesn’t it?” The name perfectly summed up the purpose, and the Sta-Stuk brand was born and subse- quently trademarked.
“ALL OF THE STUFF WE'VE DONE FOR THE PAST 40 YEARS - GOING FROM TWO HOOKS TO ONE HOOK, FREE-SWINGING TO STIFF RIGS, KNIFE POINTS, CONICAL POINTS, A CURVED SHANK OR NOT - ALL OF THOSE CHANGES HANVE BASICALLY RESULTED IN NO INCREASE IN THE OVERALL HOOKUP PERCENTAGE"
Peters knew that field-testing the new hook design would be critical to success. No amount of time spent in the shop can reproduce real-world conditions on the
water, or the violence of a blue marlin’s crash bite. He consulted with a number of reputable fishermen including captains Bubba Carter, Charles Perry, Ray Rosher and others too many to name, then he set out to test his new hooks. First stop: the seamounts of Costa Rica, fishing with Carter and Perry on Tijereta in June 2017.
“Even though it’s mostly a bait fishery, I knew those fish would eat lures, so I had Andy Moyes send us some stuff just for
that trip. I had 10 different prototype hook designs to test,
” Peters says. “We hooked the first six fish...and jumped off every sin- gle one of them. It was an abject failure. We caught one out of 11 on that trip; I was frustrated beyond belief and very disap- pointed, as were Bubba and Charles.”
But as with any new project, trial-and- error testing is a critical component to ultimate success. Peters had unknow- ingly made two key errors in the design, so he went back to the drawing board. Each round of engineering and manu- facturing of the clips and hooks was an investment of more than $2,000, not to mention the expense of travel and char- ter fishing. Stronger clips and another seamount trip with Carter the follow- ing year produced a slight bump in the catch ratio, but it still wasn’t up to Peters’ expectations for the project.
“After another 45 days of continual prototyping and testing, I finally figured out how long the hook shank had to be in order for it to penetrate effectively, and the correct breaking strength for the clip system on the bite—that was the ‘aha!’ moment,” Peters says. “We also started using three welded rings instead of a swivel in the middle, which accomplishes the same goal of allowing the hook to rotate freely once the clips come apart.”
They headed to Cape Verde in spring 2019, where the team would be dealing with much larger blue marlin on heavy tackle—a distinctly different fishery than in the Pacific. “If you’ve been blue mar- lin fishing long enough, you understand that 200-pounders are just like imma- ture teenagers—both are erratic and really all over the place on the bite. The bigger fish are much more methodical in the way they approach a lure and then eat it. I had done a lot of research, and I knew that Cape Verde would be the place to test these new prototypes.”
“A J HOOK IS JUST A LEVER, AND YOU NEED TO HAVE A LONG SHANK ON IT IN ORDER TO DRIVE THE HOOK POINT HOME, WHICH IN THIS CASE IS SOMEWHERE AROUND THE MOUTH OF A BLUE MARLIN.”