Q: I see a wide variety of hook-sets utilized by crews in my area and was just wondering if anyone has found any real difference between using stiff or free-swinging hook-sets.
A: The most honest answer is that nobody, including me, really knows. You'll find good captains (and some who are certain they are better than they really are) who are convinced that their method is the only way to go. But since there are no rules or definitions regarding catch-and-release outside of tournaments, a hookup is meaningless if the fish eventually escapes and is not truly caught. I only discuss the catch-per-bite ratio, and even then the fish may bite several times on several different baits or lures before getting hooked well enough to be caught. One captain who does keep good records is John Cochrane from Texas. Cochrane uses all single-hooked lures rigged with a semi-stiff hook-set that's built up with heat shrink over cable. He always rigs the lure with the single hook facing up. His lures all have faces cut on a slant, a style first popularized by the famous Hawaiian captain Henry Chee, that tend to run right at the surface. He enjoys the best capture ratio of anyone I know using lures - all on heavy tackle with modest drag settings.
My best strike-to-catch ratios come when using light tackle - chasing small billfish, up to a few hundred pounds - with small lures and small, free-swinging hooks on mono or light, nylon-covered cable. Even though tagging a fish does not mean you could have really caught it, it's a better simulation than taking hold of a very light leader and breaking it. There are no consistently dominant captains when it comes to dragging lures - using live and dead bait is another matter - so put out some lures and cover some ground. Where you fish matters more than what lures you pull or how you rig them.