With the rise of catch and release fishing, anglers have sought to find techniques to easily release fish without harming them.
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Barbed fish hooks have been used for centuries to catch freshwater and saltwater fish. The oldest relics are dated between 16,000 and 23,000 years and were commonly made of wood, stone, shells and bones.
This has changed over time as most contemporary hooks are now manufactured from stainless steel, high-carbon steel or steel alloys. They are then covered with a corrosion-resistant surface coating.
Additionally, they come in a range of styles for different fishing applications and use with different baits or lures. Hooks are made up of different parts, and these are the barb, point, eye, bend and shank.
The barb is that part that extends backwards to prevent fish from unhooking and the point is the sharp end that penetrates the flesh.
The eye is the circular part of the end of the hook that connects to the fishing line, and the bend connects the eye to the point.
The point is the most critical part as it secures the fish to the hook. Most hook point profiles are outfitted with barbs to determine how well and how far the points penetrate, the holding power of the hook and the pressure required to penetrate.
Why use Barbless Hooks?
Sports fishing authorities are advocating the use of barbless hooks in a bid to reduce harm to the fish during recreational fishing. This is especially important when aiming to preserve catch and release fisheries. For tips on catch and release fly fishing see our post here.
Barbless hooks are important for those who do not know how to take a hook out of a fish quickly and safely.
In this discussion, we find answers to the questions: Why should we use a barbless hook? and, how to use barbless hooks?
Why use Barbed Hooks?
Here’s why I strongly advocate for the use of a barbed hook:
• A firmer grip on the fish: Barbs help keep fish secured so the trout cannot shake the hook.
• Availability: Fishing hooks fitted with barbs are the most common types in the fly fishing world. I find that most retailers who sell fishing accessories around my area stock their shops with barbed flies only.
• Reduce the chances of losing the game: I find the barb particular useful when catching fast, powerful fish. It ensures that it does not get lost during the chase.s
Barbless Fish Hook for Trout
The jury is still out for me as to whether or not I use barbless hooks. If I’m catching a lot of fish I will flatten the barb to allow for easy release. However, if I am targeting a trophy brown, there is no way I would use a barbless hook!
Trout, for example, is more delicate than other game hence, requires careful handling. When trout are caught with larger flies, it may cause substantial damage to remove the hook and endanger its life once released. With a barbless hook, however, the hook is removed quickly, and the trout returned into the water.
When I use barbless hooks to catch trout, I usually release them by grasping the eyelet of the fly and rotating it toward the U-bend of the hook. This way, the fish pulls the point backwards until it is removed from the fish.
On the other hand, see our post here if you want to know How To Sharpen Fish Hooks properly.
Other reasons for using barbless fishhooks include:
A better hook set
I realised that barbs usually create resistance, making it difficult for the hook point to penetrate. Therefore, I will get a lousy hook set and lose my catch. Barbless fish hooks, on the other hand, penetrate easily as they require minimal force. The hook set is firm, and if using a long rod, I only need a quick wrist flick as long as the hook point is sharp.
Reduced Injury to the Fish
Once the hook comes out, it causes further damage to the fish. It may not be a concern for those looking to eat the fish. However, fish that is caught for recreational purposes may develop infections and die.
Loss of the Hook after Breakoff
It is common to catch fish with hooks stuck in their mouths after breaking the angler’s line. Barbed fishhooks are the most common types that fish break off from. The hook may rust based on the material used, and it may hamper feeding and other functions of the fish. Barbless hooks for trout fishing, on the other hand, tend to slide out of the mouth of the fish, eliminating pressure and the likelihood of developing infections.
How to debarb a Hook
I found that I could still use barbed trout hooks for recreational fishing by de-barbing them. The only trick was to ensure the hook delivered adequate control after the debarbing process.
My first debarbing project involved hooks made of stainless steel and tin-plate; these designs do not cause loss of the hook strength.
However, trout hooks made of a black chrome finish and those with a perfect bend are not viable for debarbing because the finish chips off, causing rust. I used two methods for the crimping process:
Hold a pair of pliers parallel to the hook and flatten the barb down. I prefer this technique because the hook spear is supported by the jaw of the pliers. This reduces the risk of breaking the hook.
Additionally, the barb is oriented downwards toward the hook; an opposite direction to which the barb was cut. I also love this technique because it ensures the barb lies down flattest especially when using a large hook and produces less stress on the hook spear. Smaller barbed fish hooks may need fine-tipped pliers as they are delicate and difficult to handle.
If you are interested, you can check out our full breakdown of the Best Fly Fishing Pliers here.
I found this technique pretty risky as it could cause the hook to break. A pair of forceps is held perpendicular to the hook point, and the barb bent or pinched downwards. The downside to using this method is that the barb rolls over and tweaks the metal under the barb, causing the metal structure to weaken. As a result, the hook breaks off easily even with the slightest strain.
You can also check out our Best Fly Tying Hooks for more selection of fly tying hooks.
In the advent of modern barbless fishing hooks with designs that are specially tailored to increase landing rates, it makes sense to use this kind of hooks.
I still prefer barbed hooks for trout fishing. They provide a firm grip and reduces the chance of losing that trophy fish.