Kite Fishing and Circle Hooks

By Ed Kunze

Circle hooks and bait fish.

Circle hooks and bait fish.

There are many ways to catch blue water game fish without having the deckhand or captain setting the hook for you. For instance, when you get a strike by a sailfish on the trolled baits, the usual practice is for the deckhand or captain to grab the rod, free spool the line for a while, and set the hook. After he gets the enjoyment and thrill of the first run, he will then pass the rod to you. No wonder these guys love to fish. They get to do all the fishing, and are even getting paid for doing it! You do the hard part: the winching.

For anglers to hook their own fish, the bait and switch is very effective, and a lot of fun. The crew stays active in this method, because they tease the sailfish close to the boat. Then you do a drop back with a live or dead bait, and the sailfish switches over to the easier and more realistic offering. You should be using circle hooks, so it is just a matter of letting the fish make its turn, point the rod right at the fish while engaging the reel, and let it come tight. The sail will be hooked solidly, right in the corner of the mouth. You do not “set the hook” when using circle hooks, the fish will do that.

In all applications, and even trolling with dead bait, circle hooks should always be used. Circle hooks, because they catch in the corner of the mouth, will eventually be the savior of Mexico’s sport fishing industry. The way overfishing is happening on a world-wide scale, I envision some day in the future, only methods and hooks which have proven to be non-lethal will be allowed. So, if you and your children want to continue sport fishing in the future, bring down circle hooks with you, and have the captains use them.

Guatemala has already enacted laws, which they enforce, allowing only circle hooks for all of their sport fishing. A captain can lose his license if “J” hooks are even on the boat. Guatemala understands the importance of sport fishing tourism to their economy, and endeavor to ensure there are still game fish around to continue the future of sport fishing.

One of the absolute best applications of using a circle hook is catching your fish off a kite. Plus, the excitement factor is awesome. You not only see the strike, but sometimes the game fish will come completely out of the water to take the bait. Once he has the bait in his mouth, the line pops off the kite line, and you do the “point the rod right at them” again, for another solid hookup.

Capt. Cali has rigged this barrilete with a pair of strong rubber bands and a large circle hook. This is an ideal bait and rigging for marlin or a large tuna. A smaller barrilete or mackerel, rigged in the same manner, is very effective for sailfish and roosters.

Capt. Cali has rigged this barrilete with a pair of strong rubber bands and a large circle hook. This is an ideal bait and rigging for marlin or a large tuna. A smaller barrilete or mackerel, rigged in the same manner, is very effective for sailfish and roosters.

Kite fishing has been around for years, with many different manufacturers of specially made kites for ocean fishing being available. I prefer the AFCO kite, because it is a bit larger than the others, flies well in a light wind, and you can immediately reuse it again if it goes in the water.

This is the way it works: A regular fishing rod is used to fly the kite. The kite attaches to a swivel at the end of the line, and by either reeling in line, or letting some line out, controls the height of the kite, and the distance from the boat. About 80 feet back from the swivel holding the kite, tie a dropper loop in the kite line. Attach your release clip to the loop. I like the dropper loop method, because the line can be reeled onto the reel, all the way up to where the swivel is attached to the kite. When the kite is flying about 80 feet out, and the release clip is just at the end of the kite rod, the line from the second rod, the one you are going to catch your fish on, is attached to the release clip. At this point, put your bait in the water, letting out line on both reels simultaneously. As the kite goes up and further away from the boat, so does the bait, with the speed of the line release for both reels matched to keep the bait swimming on the surface. Minor adjustments are made as you troll or drift along, depending on wind speed.

The main thing is to keep the live bait swimming and splashing just at the surface. The distress signal vibrations being sent off by the live bait will attract any game fish in the area. And, come to the bait they will. You are not trying to entice a strike with trolled bait, or an imitation lure; this is the real thing, with real distress signals. The game fish are actually competing with each other to get there first. And, they did not get to be near the top of the food chain by being shy.

Being the actual fishing line and leader is not in the water, heavy leaders are not a handicap. You can use a light line rod, with a heavy leader, and really get more enjoyment out of the fight. When the strike comes, it is explosive. More often than not, yellowfin tuna will come completely out of the water, sailfish will put on a an even more spectacular series of jumps, and you see the extended comb of the roosterfish slashing in, just before he inhales the bait. Dorado do all of the above. Dorado are really special off a kite.

Once the fish has the bait in his mouth, he turns to leave the area. This pops the line off the release clip, allowing for several feet of slack line, and time for the fish to swallow the bait. When the slack is taken up, the reel is in gear and the tight line pulls the bait right back out. The circle hook sticks in the corner of the mouth. This method allows for an almost a guaranteed hookup every time, and a fish with a hook in the corner of its mouth makes for an easy release.

A couple of more things should be said about circle hooks versus the standard “J” hooks usually used by Mexico’s sport fishing captains. The obvious is that the “J” hook method utilizes the same amount of drop back time, so the bait is swallowed. It is more luck than anything else when the hook is in the corner of the mouth, and not deep into the gullet cavity or gill rakes. Another disadvantage of a “J” hook is in a prolonged fight. The hole the hook makes starts getting bigger and bigger. After a while, all it needs is a bit of slack line, and the “J” hook literally falls out. A circle hook will not do that. The only justifiable application of a “J” hook is when trolling larger artificial lures, with a tandem hook set up. The larger style lures rarely get swallowed, and one hook or the other will find a hold before its gets too deep in the mouth.

Circle hooks, because of their circular shape, will not grab onto anything when being pulled back out of the fish’s throat. The line, after the fish has made its turn and is swimming away, is being pulled from behind the fish. The circle hook simply will not make a U-turn, and grabs the corner of the mouth before it is pulled completely out.

Tournament Anglers Association is made up of a large group of people dedicated to the preservation of the bill fish species. They have been holding an annual tournament in Ixtapa for 19 years now. In their tournaments, including other locations, they have released over 4,000 billfish to date. Circle hooks are mandatory. Here is what they recommend:

“The recommended hook is Eagle Claw 2004 EL Lazer Sharp Tournament Sailfish available in sizes 7/0, 8/0, or 9/0. Suggested leader is 80lb to 100lb test.”

So, for your next blue water trip, bring down a kite, some circle hooks, and enjoy catching and releasing your own fish. There is no need to bring rods with you; our boats here all have excellent gear. If you do not do much blue water fishing, and the kite expense does not justify a trip you only do every few years or so, give me a call, and I will make sure you are set up.

Ed Kunze is Zihuatanejo’s IGFA Representative and a charter fishing boat captain. He lives in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo year-round and can be reached at 755-553-8055 or For more information on Captain Ed and his boats go to Ed has also written a book about fishing the West Coast of Mexico., it is on line at



Conservation in Sportfishing

Zihuatanejo is one of the top ranked sportfishing destinations in the world. Sport fishermen know all about the dangers of over-fishing, they are usually the most conservation-minded of all fishermen. Here in Zihuatanejo, Catch and Release, especially of sailfish, has been slowly taking hold over the last decade and we encourage the practice of it to all visiting sport fishermen. Tell your captain that’s what you expect and insist upon it. That way you can continue to fish our blue waters for many years to come. We have featured many articles on catch (and tag) and release in ADIP over the years, for more information on the practice and the IGFA presence in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo check our archives on the website: One thing we rarely talk about is the controversial but very real problem of long lines, which can kill more fish than an entire season of sportfishing. Ed Kunze is Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo’s IGFA representative.—editor’s note.

By Ed Kunze

We are now in a very difficult period for the fishing community on the West Coast of Mexico, and in fact, all of Mexico. It may actually develop into a type of civil war, which will pit family members against family members. Among the sport fishing captains, there is a new awareness as to the need to conserve, because they now understand that resources are limited. But, not all fishermen in Mexico feel the same way: Or they are taking an, “I better get it now, before somebody else gets it,” attitude… Visit: