On the vast majority of my fishing trips, I’m practicing catch-and-release. In fact, last year, I released 98.6 percent of the fish I caught.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m against keeping a few fish to eat. I’m just picky about which fish I keep and work hard to make sure I’m not taking more than I’ll be able to eat in a reasonable amount of time.
The reality is: the more fish you come into contact with, the more important the treatment of those fish becomes. As I’ve continued to learn more about best practices for the proper handling and release of fish, I’ve started experimenting with a new tool: barbless hooks.
Until recently, the only barbless hooks I owned were attached to my small smattering of flies. But, as I’ve found myself catching and releasing higher numbers fish on a more frequent basis, I’ve continued to look for ways to increase the safety of the fish I’ve come into contact with. The best way to do that is by mitigating risks.
Utilizing barbless hooks seemed like a logical step. I’ve found there are many benefits to going barbless.
It’s safer for fish
First and foremost, barbless hooks are safer for fish. The purpose of a barb is to keep the hook in place as the fish is being pulled in. Hooks with barbs do more flesh damage than barbless hooks upon both entry and exit. This can impact the fish’s ability to feed as it normally would or, in extreme circumstances, can lead to permanent injury that may cause premature death.
By limiting the number of sharp edges on a hook to a single point, you greatly reduce the risk of injuring a fish while fighting it.
Proper catch-and-release requires getting the fish back in the water quickly. Utilizing barbless hooks makes this process significantly easier. With only a single, straight point to remove from the mouth of the fish, unhooking becomes incredibly quick due to the relative lack of resistance. This equates to less time out of the water, which is healthier for the fish.
I’ve also found that fish caught on barbless hooks are less likely to be hooked in problematic ways that require the assistance of a pliers or jaw spreader. This means less instances of desperately digging around the mouth of a fish hoping to get your bait back. In turn, the opportunities to injure a fish while unhooking it become greatly reduced.
Often times, it’s not the placement of a hook that injures a fish, it’s the removal. Barbless hooks streamline this process, reducing the chance of something unfortunate happening.
It’s safer for anglers
This part is often overlooked but, barbless hooks are safer for anglers too.
Anyone who has spent significant time fishing has likely found themselves with a hook buried in their hand. It’s an unpleasant experience. But the barb is the component of the hook that is doing the most damage.
When that’s removed from the equation, dislodging a foul hook becomes quite simple and much less painful.
Barbless hooks are also easier to remove from boat carpeting, clothing, and nets.
Assessing the downfalls
Are there downfalls to barbless hooks? Sure.
Without a barb to maintain hook placement during the fight, you may find that fish get off the line a little easier. However, you can help counteract this by maintaining steady pressure on the fish as you reel it in. Slack is always your enemy, especially when utilizing barbless hooks.
It takes a little practice but, once you learn to walk the line between horsing the fish and overplaying it, you’ll be just fine.
On my first trip out with my new pack of barbless hooks, I connected with an 8-pound carp. The fish took all the drag it wanted for a couple of minutes before I worked it to shore. As I took the fish out of the net, I noticed the hook was still solidly in the roof of the carp’s mouth. It seemingly hadn’t budged an inch.
That experience went a long way in selling me on the viability of barbless hooks.
The other challenge with barbless hooks is that they can be difficult to find at your local tackle shop. But if you are willing to go online, you can find a variety of outlets that sell a host of sizes that can be on your doorstep in a day or two. A little planning goes a long way.
Overall, it seems both of the notable downfalls can be easily dealt with and they certainly don’t outweigh the benefits these hooks provide.
If you’re going to practice catch-and-release, strongly consider barbless hooks.