Why use barbless hooks?
Fly fishermen and artificial-lure fishermen who fish the Little Truckee and Truckee rivers have gotten used to using barbless hooks within the special regulation waters. These waters require artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks.
I began pinching my barbs down on my hooks many years ago. I now do this routinely on any water I fish. You can either pinch down the barbs on your flies if they have them, or buy or tie them on barbless hooks.
Many anglers refuse to use them on waters that do not require their use. The reason I often hear is that they will lose the fish when playing them.
In most instances, as long as the angler keeps a tight line on the fish, he or she will not lose a fish just because of the barbless hook. Most experts will tell you that many times a hook with a barb does not always penetrate past the barb, which causes the loss of many fish. The reason is that the barb requires a lot of force to penetrate because of the amount of flesh the hook must displace.
A barbless hook actually will displace less flesh because of the lack of the barb. The thinner profile will penetrate with much less force. As a result, anglers get much more positive hook-ups.
Another reason to use barbless hooks is that they can be removed from the angler more easily if they happen to get impaled. I was fly fishing at one of our local reservoirs years ago using some streamers on a fast-sinking shooting head system. This is a pretty heavy line, and I was fishing on a pretty windy day.
While making my forward cast, a gust of wind drove the flyline into me and the fly came directly into my jawbone. The force with which the line and fly hit me dazed me for a moment, but I soon realized that the fly was lodged in my jaw.
I walked myself back up to my truck and used the side-view mirror to quickly remove the barbless hook by simply backing it straight out. It would have been a much tougher process to remove a barbed hook. A little antiseptic on the wound and I was back on the water again. Just make sure your tetanus shot is up to date if you stick yourself.
A friend of mine hooked himself pretty deeply with a treble hook a couple years ago while we were on a trip in Baja. Had the hooks been barbless, it would have been much easier to remove. A barbed hook will displace a pretty good amount of flesh if backed straight out. I am told that even using the mono loop trick tears a good amount of flesh with a barbed hook.
We had to take our friend to see a local doctor, who had to give him a shot for the pain. He then worked the hook through to expose the barb and then cut that potion of the hook and backed the unbarbed portion out.
If you are not using barbless hooks, consider giving them a try, particularly if you are releasing your fish. It makes the release much less stressful on the fish. It also makes the process of hook removal so much easier if you hook yourself. You can usually get the hook out on your own.
– Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.