Whether you add a sandworm, bloodworm or even an eel as seen in this photo by Charley Soares, anglers have been given at least a 2-year respite from the requirement to use an inline circle hook when adding bait to a tube & worm rig.

So what about tube and worm, pork rinds on bucktails, rigged eels, or eel skin plugs? There are still plenty of questions pertaining to the circle hook mandate from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and more answers may be forthcoming sometime this month.

On February 3, 2021, the ASMFC met online for 5 hours on Wednesday, and The Fisherman’s Toby Lapinski and Jim Hutchinson, Jr. each sat through the entire discussion that was focused on striped bass management measure. The ASMFC’s Striped Bass Management Board (Board) opened the discussion at 1:45 p.m. with a variety of agenda items before finally settling into the discussion on circle hooks at 3:15 p.m. addressing proposals by the states of Massachusetts and Maine about the tube and worm rig.

As described by a coalition of captains associations from New England through New Jersey in an official letter to the ASMFC in late December seeking the commission’s reconsideration of certain exceptions to the circle hook requirement, a tube-and-worm rig consists of a long latex or rubber tube with a single J-hook protruding from the end, which is baited with a large sea worm/sandworm. The rig is trolled slowly behind a moving vessel with the reel engaged; because the boat is moving, the reel is engaged, and the latex/rubber of the tube extends to or beyond the hook gap, the tube-and-worm rig rarely results in the gut-hooking of striped bass.

Following a 10-minute break in the February 3 discussion, a motion was made at around 4:22 p.m. to accept state proposals in Maine and Massachusetts to conduct a tube-and-worm study while allowing an exemption for said gear type. Other states would have the option to participate in the study as well, and the motion officially passed providing a two-year window for allowing a j-hooked worm when tube-and-worm.

A traditional tube and worm rig consists of a length of surgical tubing with a swivel attached at the head to a wire running through the tube to a standard j-hook at the terminal end. To this j-hook a sandworm (or other variety of natural bait) is usually attached. Anecdotal evidence shows that very few if any fish are deep-hooked when this rig is trolled for striped bass. (Illustration by Pete Kosciukiewicz)

New Hampshire and New York voted against the motion in an effort seek additional exemption allowances and discussions on other rigs favored in particular by surfcasters including the pork rind on a bucktail, eel skin plugs and rigged eels. A long discussion ensued about the need to come up with a better definition of “bait” in the circle hook requirement now in effect coastwide; representatives from New Jersey also asked that discussion continue on “incidental catch” of striped bass when anglers are targeting other species.

A second ASMFC vote was unanimously approved to create an ad hoc committee to develop a definition of bait that would require the use of circle hooks and method of fishing that would require use of circle hooks, and also how to handle incidental catch. This ad hoc committee will be required to report back to the Board at a special meeting to take place as early as this month.

“One item that really stuck out to me, and many others who were listening in on the meeting, was an admission by the Board that the circle hook ruling made back in October was pushed through by the Board as it was the end of the day and they were tired so this artificial/bait issue was an oversight of theirs,” noted The Fisherman’s New England edition managing editor Toby Lapinski.

Lapinski said the ASMFC vote towards developing a definition of bait was a long and drawn out discussion that could eventually help provide a few more answers for an angling public just now moving towards full adoption of the circle hook mandate for fishing natural baits with striped bass in 2021. “This was intended to lead to by definition the exemption of certain scenarios from the circle hook requirement and clarify those scenarios which would require a circle hook,” he added.

In terms of the incidental catch issue brought up by the state of New Jersey and officially included for discussion by ad hoc committee through the Board, The Fisherman’s New Jersey edition managing editor Jim Hutchinson, Jr. said this has been of particular interest to anglers he has spoken to considering the number of resident striped bass residing in Garden State back waters in particular.

“From an enforcement perspective if I happen to catch a 28-inch striper while drifting live killies on a traditional fluke rig in June, am I allowed to keep that fish even though it was caught on an illegal striper rig,” Hutchinson noted after the meeting. “And isn’t it just as bad mortality wise if I now released that fish? These are questions that the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife has avoided answering to this point, so returning to the ASMFC table to discuss is a good idea.”

Members of the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board hope to convene in March to discuss the issue further. For details go to