BARBED V BARBLESS
TF asks three contributors for pros and cons
Every angler fishes to differing abilities and skill levels and there are times when a barbed hook may well provide an advantage if line and tackle control is a bit lapse. As always we should adhere to fishery rules, and if it’s catch-and-kill, then barbed it should be so that ‘sneaky’ catch-and-release is not a factor. With wild-bred fish, or catch-andrelease waters, I’ve no problem using a hook with a crushed barb but I do take control of a fish and endeavour to achieve a quick release. I really like modern barbless patterns, especially with incurved points. Having said that I can never achieve better than a 50% success rate from hooking to release with wild steelhead and often wonder if a barbed hook would hold better when they leap, twist and thrash so much. It’s certainly easier to remove a barbless hook, and with minimal damage, but I do believe that prolonged ‘playing’ could well damage a fish’s jaw either by cutting or bruising and that can apply to either barbed or barbless. The welfare of the fish should be top priority with catch-and-release and there’s little point in the fish going back if it then subsequently dies through poor handling.
It’s a big debate that needs discussing. People say barbs cause more damage to the fish but then you hear that barbless move about more in the fish’s mouth causing more damage as it creates a bigger hole. We have been fishing barbed hooks for decades and there was never any fuss, but certainly in the competitions I used to fish years ago there was never such a thing as catchand-release and anglers were left with unwanted fish. It certainly has its day with modern angling but I don’t think this has been scientifically proven with regards to damage caused by either. Fishing the World Championships in Scotland 2009 the England team experimented with debarbed versus barbless. We proved in our tests that it was blatantly obvious that you lose more fish on a debarbed hook and I for one would not fish a debarbed hook. Since then, barbless hooks have come a long way and are much better with brands like Fasna being my preferred choice. Designs are better and it’s important to remember that a barbless hook is cleverly designed with curves and ‘lips’ at the hook point to keep them firmly fixed to the fish. Barbed hooks are designed for the barb to keep them in and without it you are effectively fishing with a needle that can slide in and out. I will happily fish all my flies on barbless Fasna hooks as I lose very few fish on them and know in a barbless competition I am within the rules. If it’s a limited kill then catch-and-release I will just stay with barbless. What can safely be said is that there is no doubt a fish can be released much quicker with a barbless hook and in return causing the fish less stress. Often with a barbed hook, you end up gripping the fish after hurling it out of the water to release the hook and you wriggle the hook out causing a bigger hole. Many fisheries are going to barbless as more and more anglers practice catchand-release. With the right barbless hooks you can fish effectively without barbs. However, there is a correct way to play your fish with barbless hooks but that’s for a different day.
There will always be a lot of argument about this. Back in my competition days as Iain said it was all catch-and-kill and I often fished a double on the point for hooking and a little extra weight. Since then I almost always fish with barbless on river and stillwater. I think, with some of these new barbless hooks that have such a sharp point, that hooking is actually better than with barbed as there is less resistance and you can achieve better penetration. Keeping a tight line and giving the fish stick and landing it as quickly as you can is always better for catch-and-release and I don’t often lose fish. In addition, I’d rather use a barbless hook out of the packet than one with a crushed barb as it can sometimes weaken the hook itself.
“I’d rather use a barbless hook than one with a crushed barb, as it can sometimes weaken the hook.”