Barbless Versus Barbed Hooks
By Mark Bachmann
In the book “A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle” published in 1496 there is a chapter about how to make a fishhook from a sewing needle. In it are explicit instructions on how to raise a barb. A barb is meant to hold the fish on the hook so it could be landed, killed, creeled, and consumed. Barbed hooks are considered to be efficient for landing fish because the barb helps prevent a hook from “backing” out and coming loose. Until lately little consideration has been paid to a fish except as protein to be eaten. Now that most good water is managed for the catch and release of wild fish you might wonder if barbs on hooks are even still relevant. I think not for a number of reasons.
Barbed vs Barbless Hooks?
There is solid evidence that there is around twice the mortality resulting from game fish released from barbed hooks as with barbless hooks. Therefore, barbed hooks are reasonable only in harvest fisheries. The barb on a hook makes a larger entry wound upon penetration. It makes an even larger, more traumatic wound as the hook is being removed. A barb acts as a cutting edge when it is torn from flesh. You might imagine what it would be like if you were removing a barbed hook from your own flesh. Having had a barbed hook removed from my own skin, I can testify that it is not a pleasant experience for yourself or the person removing the hook.
In the illustration below you will notice of design differences between the two hooks. The black OPST barbless hook has a longer point than the red Gamakatsu hook, and about 25-30% less frontal area, since it has no barb. The longer thinner point results in easier, quicker penetration. It also has about 20% deeper bite for more holding power.
Swing Hook (upper). Gamakatsu Barbed Octopus (lower).
In my forty plus years as a fishing guide I have been fortunate to see a lot of game fish landed and have been able to examine them closely. Hook wounds have got my special attention. I noted that barbed hooks created a lot of devastation while a fish was being played. The barb was often cutting a larger and larger hole as the fish was twisting and turning trying to dislodge it. The larger the barb the larger hole. In many cases, especially when involving large athletic fish, a barb seemed to work against angler success. I have been an advocate for single barbless hooks for a long time.
Why Are Barbed Hooks Still Used?
I think the biggest reason is tradition. Nearly every angler starts fishing with a hook that has a barb on it. Barbed hooks are the standard. It is nearly impossible, even for a large shop to buy flies tied on barbless hooks. Therefore, nearly every shop sells barbed flies, so the custom perpetuates itself.
We can help!
Many of the flies we sell on FlyFishUSA.com are tied on barbed hooks, we will be glad to mash the barbs for you free of charge before we send them. Any time you call or visit our store the offer still stands. If you mash barbs yourself be sure to use smooth jaw pliers of the right size to match the flies.