Why Do Fishing Hooks Rust & Can You Use Them for Fishing? (Answered)

We have all been there at some point in our fishing careers. You open your tackle box or fly box and find that your favorite lure or fly has a rusty hook on the end of it.

You debate about whether you should use it or not, but you simply can’t fish without the lure or fly that gives you the most confidence of catching a fish.

Is this a mistake? Can you use a rusty hook for fishing?

In a word, yes.

You can use a rusty hook for fishing but it doesn’t come without its risks. Rusty hooks are not as strong or as sharp as a hook that isn’t rusty.

This means you risk not hooking or losing a fish, and it could be that fish of a lifetime.

Join me as I run through everything you need to know about hooks and rust, why hooks go rusty, how to prevent it, and whether fishing with a rusty hook is a good idea or not.

Why do Fishing Hooks Rust?

Most fishing hooks on the market today are made from either stainless steel or high carbon steel. Both of these materials are made up of carbon and iron and it is iron that rusts.

When iron comes into contact with moisture and oxygen, it oxidizes to form iron oxide, and iron oxide is rust. So whenever you see rust, you are literally looking at iron oxide.

Once the oxidation process occurs, it is hard to stop and can spread very quickly across all your hooks, as the chemical reaction only gets stronger and stronger.

old rusted fishing hooks and lures

What does Rust do to Hooks?

Once rust takes hold of a hook, it slowly eats away at the hook by oxidizing more and more of the stainless steel or high carbon steel.

A hook that has minimal rust on it will still be strong, but a hook that has rusted through, you can literally snap in half with your fingers, with very little effort.

So, what does rust do to hooks? It literally eats them away slowly.

Do All Fishing Hooks Rust Equally?

Not all fishing hooks rust as quickly as others and this comes down to the materials they are made out of.

Stainless steel hooks are a lot more corrosion-resistant than high carbon steel hooks, and this is due to the addition of chromium. Chromium is combined with carbon and iron to create stainless steel, and it acts as a sacrificial lamb to protect the hook.

Chromium likes to oxidize more than iron, and therefore will oxidize first. When it oxidizes, it creates a layer of chromium oxide around the hook, to further protect it from rust.

But, it goes further, as some stainless steel has more chromium in it than others, making it more rust-resistant than others.

Which Kind of Stainless Steel is the Most Rust-Resistant?

The most rust-resistant stainless steel is known as Austenitic stainless steel. It has more chromium in it than any other and is usually marketed as type 304, 310, or 316 grade stainless steel.

If you want hooks that handle rust better than any other, make sure they are made from grade 304, 310, or 316 stainless steel. But, these are also the most expensive hooks out there, and are used mostly by long line fishing boats.

What Grade of Stainless Steel are Most Fishing Hooks Made From?

Most fishing hooks are made from 420 grade stainless steel. This is not as corrosion-resistant as both Austenitic stainless steel (mentioned above) or Ferritic stainless steel which is number two in rust-resistance.

Why is 420 grade stainless steel used the most for fishing hooks?

Firstly, it is more affordable than the others but also, we need hooks to rust for the sake of the fish.

This might seem odd, but whenever you break a fish off and the hook stays in its mouth, it needs to rust out quickly so the fish can continue life as normal. 420 grade stainless steel with breakdown much faster than Austenitic or Ferritic stainless steel.

different types of fishing hooks on table

How do You Stop a Fishing Hook From Rusting?

Now that we know what causes a fishing hook to rust, let’s discuss ways you can stop them from rusting.

All hooks will rust eventually, but only if they are not cared for correctly.

Use the Right Hooks

The first step in stopping your fishing hooks from rusting, is buying the right hooks in the first place and this depends on the environment you are fishing in.

  • If you are fishing in freshwater only, then you can use high carbon steel hooks as not as much corrosion resistance is required in a freshwater environment to stop the rusting process.
  • If you are fishing in saltwater, then you have to use stainless steel hooks. Salt causes the rusting process to happen a lot faster and you need the corrosion resistance of stainless to slow this process down.

Keep Your Fishing Hooks Dry

Without moisture, your hooks can’t rust. Now, keeping your hooks dry isn’t so easy, and it is impossible when actually fishing with a hook, but there are some ways around it.

Always keep your tackle box or lures in a place they won’t get wet on a boat. Put them in a dry bag, in a hatch, or under the bow of the boat in an area that stays dry. This will slow down the rusting process a lot.

Do not put the hooks you have fished with directly into your tackle box. Keep them separate in a zip lock back or a used tackle box. At the end of your fishing session, let them dry before you store them.

This stops any moisture from getting into the tackle box you have been protecting from getting wet.

Rinse Your Hooks After Use in Saltwater

Never ever put a hook that has been in saltwater in with all your fresh hooks that have yet to be used or are still in good shape.

Saltwater is the number one enemy of hooks as it causes rust to happen at a much faster rate. After any hook has been in saltwater water, soak it in a bucket of freshwater for a while.

Then wipe it down to remove any excess salt, and leave it to dry fully before storing it with your other hooks.

Add a Moisture Absorber to Your Tackle Box

If you live in a humid place like Florida, there is moisture in the air and it is impossible to keep your tackle box dry all the time unless it lives in an air-conditioned room.

A simple solution is to add something to your tackle box that will absorb moisture such as silica packs. Silica packs will absorb all the moisture stopping it from getting to your hooks and causing them to rust.

different types of fishing hooks

How to Clean a Rusty Hook

There will be moments when one of your hooks has begun to rust, it is inevitable at some point, especially for saltwater anglers. But, there are ways to remove rust from a hook to stop them rusting through.

Not all hooks are savable. If the whole hook is covered in rust and crumbling, simply throw it away. If rust has just started to set in, here is how to clean it off.

Wash Your Hooks in Soapy Water

If the rust is just starting, cleaning your hooks in some warm soapy water should be enough to remove the top layer of rust from them.

Simply soak your hooks in warm soapy water. Then take each one and wipe it down with a clean rag until the rust is gone. Let the hooks dry completely before storing them.

Use Sandpaper

If the rust has gone a little deeper, soapy water won’t cut it and you will need something a little stronger.

Take some sandpaper and sand away the rust from your hooks until it is gone. Now rinse it in freshwater, wipe it down, dry it completely, and store it.

If you have to sand so much that it compromises the strength of the hook, throw the hook away.

Put Your Fishing Hooks in Vinegar

Vinegar is acidic and it will remove rust from your hooks with ease. Simply fill up a container with vinegar and throw your hooks inside it. Keep checking your hooks and remove them once all the rust is gone.

You will then need to remove any traces of the vinegar as the acid will continue to corrode the hooks. Rinse them in warm water, wipe them down, and dry them completely before storing them.

You should also check the strength of the hooks before using them, as if the rust was deep, they might be too weak to fish with.

old rusted fishing hooks

Can You Use a Rusty Hook for Fishing?

There will come a time in your fishing career when you have done all you can to stop your hooks rusting, but you will still end up with a rusty hook somehow.

Fishing with a rusty hook should be avoided and we will discuss why in the next section. But, if using a rusty hook or not fishing at all is your only option, then yes go ahead and use it.

What are the Risks of Fishing with a Rusty Hook?

The main risk of fishing with a rusty hook is that you are going to lose fish. Rusty hooks are not as strong or as sharp as hooks that have not rusted.

When a fish bites a rusty hook, the chances of the hook penetrating the fish’s mouth are much lower.

If you do manage to hook the fish on a rusty hook, the chances of the hook breaking in the right are much larger.

How to Lower the Risks when Fishing with a Rusty Hook

There are some ways to lower the risks when fishing with rusty hooks. The first step is to sharpen them with a hook sharpener or file.

Simply rub the point of the hook, from point to barb on three sides, until the hook is sharper and you now have a higher chance of hooking a fish.

Once you have hooked a fish, you should play it softly as if the line is about to break, but in this case it is the hook. Let the fish run, give it line, do not bully it, and slowly tire it out with minimal pressure.


Do rusty hooks cause tetanus?

Everyone thinks that rust causes tetanus, but this is not the case.

Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that is then implanted inside you when something sharp like a dirty rusty nail goes into your skin.

Chances are, your hook is not covered in such bacteria and therefore will not give you tetanus. But, if you are worried, you should always check with your preferred health professional.

How do you dispose of rusty hooks?

You have a number of options when it comes to throwing away rusty hooks. The key is to do it safely as you don’t want anyone else to get hooked by them.

Cut the hooks into smaller pieces and crimp the barbs. This is especially the case when disposing of treble hooks as they will hook anything that comes close to them.

You can dispose of rusty hooks by burying them in your garden. Dig a deep hole and let the rusting process continue underground. Eventually, there will not be a hook any more, just iron oxide powder.

The other option is to put them in the trash. Just be sure to add them to something else first so they don’t end up cutting your garbage man.

Winding Up

As you can see, fishing with rusty hooks is possible and it will work if you are smart about how you fish with them. But, it’s best to avoid it if you can by stopping your hooks from rusting in the first place and to do so, simply follow the directions I laid out for you.

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or any extra tips about rust and rusty hooks. We would love to hear from you!

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fishing on streams and lakes in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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