I have wanted to talk about barbless hooks for some time. Now that we are entering a new fishing year, and it’s the time of year many people consider doing something different, let’s do discuss it.
As fly-fishers, our greatest resource is our fish. One of the best ways to protect that precious resource is by fishing barbless flies. My guess is that the majority of us practice catch and release either entirely or in some form or other. Removing barbless flies is so much easier than wrestling a barbed fly from a slippery, squirming fish. And, in many cases, that barbed fly does some ripping and tearing on the fish as it is extracted. On too many occasions, I have netted fish with a missing or badly torn mandible. A mandible is a like a lip for a trout. Certainly, there is no proof that the damage comes from an extracted barbed fly, but there is certainly a high likelihood that the culprit was just that. The larger the fly…. the more potential damage. I love fishing streamers on occasion, but a barbed streamer can really do damage.
The lips and mouth of a fish are not the only parts of the anatomy to worry about. Sooner or later, a fish will turn on your fly; and, you will engage with what is called fowl hooking. In other words, your fly will impale the fish somewhere in the body or in a fin/tail. Removing a barbless fly will cause much less damage to that other body part
So much for the fish. Many years ago, I was throwing a dry fly in a heavy wind when the wind grabbed my line on the back cast. The fly was driven into my face just on the outer edge of my nostril. My fishing buddy tried to carefully remove it to no avail. It was deeply imbedded with, of course, a barb to deal with. Three hours later a doctor removed it. No fun! Perhaps it might have been doable without the barbs.
I made my resolution about 16 years ago. Whether I am tying or buying flies, the first order of business is to file off the barbs. If you are tying, a number of companies now market barbless flies. For example, Tiemco is a very respected hook manufacturer that offers barbless hooks. If you are on the run all the time; and, cannot find the moment to file down your barbs, please carry a small needle-nose plier in your fishing vest and pinch down the barbs as you go. You will help save a lot of fish. Now, one more thing needs to be said about barbless flies. I just don’t think that there are many trout lost because of them. Occasionally, sure. But on the whole, I think the losses are few. Try it out as your New Year Resolution.
Featured Image Credit: Power & Motor Yacht