Most people fish either barbed bait or lure fishing today. So how do you know which way is better? As you already know, there are two sides to the story here. I’m a firm believer in one of those sides as you’ll soon find out.
The proponents of barbed fishing hooks are everywhere. I’d bet that 99% or more people out there who started fishing started out doing so with barbed hooks. It’s the norm. It’s the standard. I will admit there are benefits of using barbed hooks while fishing. A few such benefits are:
Keeps the fish hooked in one spot
Less chance of losing fish
No worries about crimping barbs before you head out
Every shop sells barbed hooks
Those are just a few arguments for the benefits of using barbed fishing hooks. I have no problem with any of these and will admit that 98% of the hooks I have purchased in the past were barbed. However, there are a few downsides to barbed hooks, such as:
Higher mortality rate for fish due to increase damage from extracting barb
When you accidentally stick yourself, it’s a much worse experience to extract the hook
Fish that break off cannot shake the hook that is attached and must wait for it to rust off
Hooks broken off on a fish can impede their ability to eat
As you can see, the pros and cons (at least those I’ve listed) pretty much equal each other out. However, I’d like to present one of those downsides more clearly.
The mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths (in general, or due to a specific cause) in a population, according to Wikipedia. In this instance it basically means that it is the number of fish that die due to a certain cause, as in the damage caused by the barb being extracted. Studies have shown that in some cases the mortality rate of fish is almost double when using barbed hooks. To me, fish are a precious resource that must be taken care of. And so anything I can do to reduce the amount of deaths to these fish is a worthy thing to do.
It is just like limits placed on the amount of fish one can keep from a river or lake. Those regulations are in effect to help preserve the fishery for future generations. Being a catch and release fisherman is a great idea as it helps this same cause all while still allowing us to pursue a sport that we all thoroughly enjoy. However, catch and release angling is far less effective when fishing barbed hooks due to the damage it causes to the fish. If you’re planning to keep the fish within the regulated limit, I don’t see much problem with using barbed hooks. It is the catch and release aspect that I firmly believe barbed hooks cause more damage than good.
The information above presents my point fairly clearly. But if you aren’t aware of the benefits of using barbless hooks, I’d like to present a few that I feel are worth a mention:
Lower mortality rate to fish
Easier to extract from fish
Allows for quicker release of the fish
Easier to remove from yourself if accidentally hooked
More challenging to the fisherman
Hooks broken off can easily fall out of a fish’s mouth
Those are just a few of the benefits of barbless hooks. You may be wondering why I’d say they are more challenging to fish with though. That leads me to a few of the drawbacks of barbless hooks, and then I’ll clarify my view on the challenge.
Easier to lose a hooked fish
Potential to unhook and re-hook the same fish
Painstaking process of removing barbs from hooks (by filing or crimping)
The first point there is that it is easier to lose a fish hooked on a barbless fly. This is true and there are no arguments against that. However, does this not make fighting those fish that are hooked all the more of a challenge? I think so. You have to be more conscious of the pressure and angles of the fish. You have to be aware of what the fish is doing and where it’s going in order to not provide that small amount of slack for the fish to throw the hook. To me, that is a challenge and one that I look forward to. It adds another dimension to this sport that only adds to the enjoyment one has when out on the water.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m now a huge proponent of fishing with barbless hooks. I’m not saying that anyone that fishes with barbed hooks is a monster and shouldn’t be allowed to fish. I’d never say that. We are all fisherman in this great sport and we each choose a different way to experience it. I used barbed hooks for the majority of my fishing life. I started making the change to barbless hooks just a couple of years ago. I made the switch to barbless hooks when catching fish and releasing them. I have been a firm believer in that choice ever since. Once you get the hang of it – you don’t need Barbed Hooks.
Barbless hooks are harder to fish with. It is a challenge as previously stated and one that does take time to get used to. But it’s all in the spirit of progression and furthering our skills as anglers. I highly recommend you try it out. If you decide to go back, that’s perfectly alright. Although some of you may try barbless and never want to go back. I’ll step down from my soapbox now.