The wide-eyed, nearly catatonic stare is unmistakable. An angler, trying to make sense of a retail hook selection, is clearly overwhelmed with more options than they can process.
Mercury Pro Team member Mark Zona sees this all the time. In his view, the confusion is understandable, but unnecessary. While tournament anglers and media folks like himself might need an intricate array of terminal tackle, the host of “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show” says most anglers will do just fine with considerably less.
“Pro anglers live in the world of very finite hook decisions because they understand what each hook is used for,” Zona said. “For a beginning angler, it’s intimidating. If that angler goes into a tackle shop and visits the hook section, there are so many choices that it’s almost overwhelming.
“For a beginning angler, you can overthink it, because you can get by with three to four hooks max. I fish professionally to gather content, so I do tend to overthink it. But I can suggest three hooks that can cover 90 percent of all techniques for bass fishing.”
Here is the Mark Zona “starter pack” – three essential hooks to get you started.
1. Finesse Hook
Zona primarily uses a 1/0 finesse hook for wacky rigging, a user-friendly technique that has been one of the most popular presentations of the past two decades. Generally used in 10 feet of water or less, this is a great option for bank fishing or fishing from a boat. Zona’s preferred hook model is the Trokar® TK137 Pro-V Finesse Hook, which has a distinct bend in the bottom of the hook gap.
“I grew up in the days of the old-school O’Shaughnessy bend, and I wanted that in all of my hooks,” Zona said. “What is good about that bend in the bottom of the Trokar Pro-V Finesse Hook is when you get a bite, there is a very high probability of you landing the fish. That is a very hard hook for a bass to shake.”
Praising the wacky rig as a technique that typically produces a lot of bites, Zona used this setup to teach his kids to fish. Versatility is also intrinsic to the wacky rig’s appeal.
“You can throw this rig at everything in front of you,” Zona said. “It’s a very weedless technique that works around docks, laydowns, grass patches and lily pads.
“In these days of electronics, I think our eyes are the best fish finders, and this is the technique to use,” he added. “If you see cruising bass before they see you and you lead them by 3 to 5 feet, they will bite it.”
Rigging Tip: Properly rigging a wacky worm is simple to do by piercing the hook perpendicularly through the middle of a straight-tail worm’s body.
“When you hold it in front of your face, it should be like a balance beam,” Zona said. “If not, adjust the hook placement.”
Zona typically uses this hook with a soft-plastic stick worm like the Strike King® Ocho, but he’ll occasionally switch to a 7-inch finesse worm if the fish have seen too many stick worms. This rig can also be fished deeper by adding a small nail weight to one end of the worm. This setup is referred to as a Neko rig.
With no weight added to the wacky rig, Zona suggests fishing it on 15-pound-test Seaguar® Smackdown Flash Green braid with a 10-foot leader of 10-pound-test fluorocarbon. The braid allows him to feel subtle bites and see his line move, while the fluoro minimizes subsurface visibility.
2. Straight-Shank Flipping Hook
A 3/0 or 4/0 Trokar TK135 Monster Flippin’ Hook is Zona’s choice for pitching a Texas-rigged soft plastic around cover. It’s a heavy-duty, straight-shank hook for power-fishing applications. When pitching, Zona stays close to his target, basically dropping the bait right on their head, rarely fishing more than about 10 feet from the boat.
“I’m going to get fewer bites, but they’re going to be showstoppers,” Zona said. “I’m not casting. I’m making short, targeted pitches. I’m generally fishing in 5 to 7 feet or less, and I’m putting this where I cannot put another bait.
“A lot of the baits look like crawfish, but I’m really trying to mimic a bluegill,” he added. “Typically, the bream eaters are your larger fish.”
Rigging Tip: Depending on the density of the cover he’s fishing, Zona may use a 1/2- to 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight. He’ll start out as light as he thinks he can get away with but increases weight as needed to punch through the cover.
“I’ll use this technique to reach spots where you wouldn’t think a bass would live,” Zona said. “And you can’t put it too shallow. A fish will come and get that bait in 8 inches of water.”
Zona prefers 50- to 60-pound-test braided line for most applications, though he also keeps an identical bait rigged on 20-pound-test fluorocarbon for clear-water scenarios since stealth is crucial when the fish have greater visibility.
“Heavy line is a must, because you are in the nastiest cover fishing for the biggest fish that swims,” he said. “If you are underpowered, you’re going to get your feelings hurt.”
3. EWG Hook
Zona opts for a 3/0 or 4/0 Trokar TK110 Extra Wide Gap (EWG) Worm Hook for a variety of situations. Strategically speaking, Zona said the No. 1 benefit of an EWG hook is consistency of landing fish that bite. He most often uses this hook for casting presentations, and because a lot of his bites come on the end of a long cast, he’s confident the EWG design will deliver those connections every time.
“Generally, when you sting one with an EWG hook, you own him,” Zona said. “Also, it fits plastics really well. When Texas-rigged, your bait is very streamlined. An EWG hook slices through cover well. It comes through everything.”
Rigging Tip: For Texas rigging small soft-plastic creature baits, ribbon-tail worms and large finesse worms on an EWG hook, Zona typically uses 12- to 15-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
Day to day, he believes this hook may be the most versatile in his collection. It’s ideal for Texas rigging but has other applications, too.
“If you want one good hook for your tackle box, this is it,” Zona said. “An EWG is one of the best wacky-rigging hooks you can use – especially for bigger fish. It’s also really good for negotiating big fish out of a dock.”
Bank anglers will appreciate the ability to multi-task with this hook. If you’re lean on tackle, tie on an EWG and you can always find a way to catch fish.
Keep Hooks Neat and Tidy
Lastly, Zona stresses the importance of keeping hooks well organized for easy identification and smartly protected to avoid dulling the tips or developing rust.
To his durable tackle trays, Zona adds a synthetic rust inhibitor that keeps negative effects of moisture at bay and keeps his terminal tackle ready to do its job.
“The biggest thing for me is keeping hooks dry,” Zona added. “Of all our tackle, the most critical thing, besides line, is the tip of that hook.”
To learn more about Mark Zona or “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show,” visit MarkZona.com, or check out this Mercury Dockline video.
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