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> > To debarb or not to debarb

MartinlfNovember 7th, 2007, 6:19 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2811
I think we discussed this topic a bit in the past, but I can't find the thread. The most recent Trout magazine (the TU publication) has an article by esteemed fisheries biologist Robert Behnke in which he observes that "statistical analyses of many hooking mortality studies performed over many years agreed that the type of hook was insignificant in determining hooking mortality. . . . In view of the fact that there is no scientific or biological justification for barbless hook regulations, a change in the [barbless only areas] law in Idaho and Oregon was proposed. Public meetings were held. The hard core, no-kill, barbless-only fanatics generated lots of heat, but no light, in passionate defense of an irrational opinion." (p. 57)

Having heard this idea before, though not stated this authoritatively, I've mostly been only debarbing bigger hooks (usually 14 and larger, and always bigger streamers) in the past year. I sometimes have felt a bit guilty about leaving a barb unmashed, though I can't recall a time when a barbed hook kept me from unhooking a fish quickly. And I'm pretty serious about fish mortality. I use a rubber net and am dedicated to unhooking fish in the water or getting fish back in the water quickly--so much so that I've never photographed one. I'm just wondering what others think about all this.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
LeviNovember 7th, 2007, 6:57 pm
Posts: 6I debarb all of my hooks. A few reasons that I do this other than for the fish is that there is nothing I hate more than having to geta fly out of teh laces in your boots. Also I like to have them debarbed just in case the place Im fishing requires it.
GONZONovember 7th, 2007, 7:44 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681

"Hooking mortality," whatever that really means, may not be the strongest argument for using barbless or "de-barbed" hooks. If one looks at the methodology of most mortality studies, whether they try to address the issue of the effectiveness of catch-and-release or barbed vs. barbless, the specific conditions represented by those studies don't always support the conclusions reached by those trying to defend a particular point of view (on either side).

I have happily fished with "de-barbed" hooks (closed barbs) for more than forty years. I will continue to do so because I like the way they perform. It has been suggested that such hooks penetrate easier, are less likely to enlarge the hole during a long fight, and are less likely to create additional tissue damage (such as tearing a maxillary flap) upon release. None of these is necessarily a significant factor in mortality, but I still view them as advantages.

Here's an example of what Behnke was and was not saying: On the Kenai, the rainbows and Dollies get caught many times. One can see the evidence of that on nearly every fish one catches there--torn maxillaries, tissue damage, heavily scarred mouths. Yet, these fish are mostly fit and strong, and they seem to survive pretty well despite a high level of angler use and abuse. The damage is exacerbated by the use of beads and barbed hooks, but the angling-induced mortality of released fish is still low. So, my other argument for using barbless or "de-barbed" hooks is really an aesthetic one. I just like to catch and release clean, pretty fish. To me, the hook-scarring on the Kenai fish detracted significantly from the experience.

I'd also hasten to add, my friend, that most of the hooks that you use are rather small, light-wire hooks, often with modern "micro-barbs." The difference between using these and "de-barbed" versions is slight to insignificant. I'll smash even tiny micro-barbs, but I'll also confess that, at that level, this practice may be more of a pleasant superstition than any real advantage. Still, it does bring me to my final argument for being an inveterate barb-smasher: every time I've hooked myself, I've been extremely grateful that the hook didn't have a standing barb--even a micro one! ;)

Jmd123November 7th, 2007, 8:03 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2256
OK guys, you may think I'm a barbarian (no pun intended!), but I do not pinch down my barbs. I've had plenty of fish throw barbed hooks on me - once I had two nice trout hooked and lost on almost consecutive casts. I had to check the sharpness on that hook, and it was still sharp enough to hurt me. I've heard from plenty of fisherman who can claim that their "landing" percentage has not decreased since going barbless, but I'm not sure that would work for me. I've had fish come out and charge me, putting a lot of slack into the line and I can only imagine the hook just falling out as soon as the fish opens its mouth. I always handle my fish as carefully as possible and remove the hook as quickly as I can before getting them back into the agua.

Still, if I go fishing in an area that requires barbless hooks, I'll pinch mine down. I don't often find myself fishing in these kind of places, however.

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
GONZONovember 7th, 2007, 9:15 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Hi Jonathan,

To each, his (or her) own. In angling, as in many other pursuits, confidence and success often go hand in hand.

There are many reasons for losing fish, but I doubt that barbed vs. barbless hooks is one of the more significant considerations. Some anglers would, in fact, argue that their landing percentage has increased after switching to barbless or de-barbed hooks (for some of the reasons I mentioned above), but I think it is easy to put too fine a point on that argument (pun intended). I would probably be sitting in that camp, but the fact that I've also become a considerably more skilled and experienced angler since switching to de-barbed hooks many moons ago is likely to be the most significant factor in landing success.

A charging fish that puts slack in the line can be unnerving, but even though most of the tension between you and the fish has been lost, the fish still puts tension on the trailing line and hook by swimming forward, and that usually serves to keep the hook in place. Still, reestablishing tension sometimes contributes to dislodging the hook in that situation (especially with larger or longer-shanked hooks). Headshaking is probably one of the most effective tactics that fish employ for getting unhooked, and fish can even get unhooked and rehooked in the process.

As we all can attest, jumping (especially when the jump also includes headshaking) is another frequently successful tactic. But the length of the shank and weight of the fly play pretty important roles in contributing to that success. Long-shanked streamers and large, heavy beadheads are both pretty easy to throw in that situation.

I even recall a wise old Atlantic Salmon angler who argued that many fly fishers try to make their AS hooks TOO sharp! His argument was that really sharp AS hooks tend to catch and stick in bone rather than sliding along it and giving better purchase in flesh and sinew. He claimed that the too sharp point often held the big hooks at an odd angle giving the fish leverage to work it loose. All I can say is that his reputation for landing big specimens of salar was well established.

On the other hand, fish flesh is often the weak link in the angling chain. No matter how strong the knots, or sharp the hook, or skilled the angler, sometimes the tissue just tears. As I once explained to Louis in his eternal quest for improved retention, sometimes "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

FlybinderNovember 7th, 2007, 11:08 pm
Oregon Coast

Posts: 60
Not, too much to add, here but I really have to agree with the "getting BARBED hooks, out of boot laces and flesh", it is........... if for not other reasons, a great one to "fish barbless"!! I've ridden motorcycles for a long time and every time I see some "IDIOT" riding in shorts and a tank top, (usually with sandals on, to boot!), my very first thought is........... "There goes a fool, that's never had to lay down a bike at 60mph on asphalt"!!

Nooooo, I am NOT calling ANY ONE HERE an "idiot" for not debarbing their hooks!! I'm just saying: "If you've had to pull few hooks out of your own hide, or that of another, a few times it's sure a heck of a lot less painful and quicker, to do so with a barbless one!

I've also always been one, that likes to "test the surrounding foliage", wherever I'm fishing,for trout or steelhead that may be lurking and laughing down at me, from overhead. So, I DO KNOW, that without a doubt......... "barbless flies are a lot easier to dislodge out of tree branches, than barbed ones are"!!

As to, "Barb hooked fish, do not toss the hook as easily as straight point fish do", I never watched a hooked fish, from underwater, while fighting it so see exactly why I may have lost one half way through a fight. As has been noted very, very, well.... there are a plethora of reasons, why a fish will throw a hook, but I also don't think, or, believe that a barbed or non-barbed hook makes a bit of difference.

"Fly design, hook type, hook point sharpness, leader/tippet stretch, angler's skill and of course, how well hooked to begin with", these all play a major roll in whether or not a fish comes to net or not.

I'm not bright enough, to remember to "de-barb on de-bard waters" and "don't worry about it, on open stretches", so I just de-bard everything I tie. Even though, probably thought of by most as too insignificant to bother with, I even notice that my foam fly boxes last longer and are not so torn up, by inserting and removing barbless hooks repeatedly.

I think my greatest experience, to date, with this "hooking and unhooking/loosing a fish during the fight"...... came two years ago when fighting a fairly decent Steelhead. My fishing buddy and I, BOTH clearly saw at one point, that the fish was securely (we thought), hooked in the LEFT corner of its mouth. It jumped, twice, clearly showing us the hook embedded in its LEFT jaw.
Just before it made its last run and one, final, jump my line went slack as the steelie turned towards me to head off downstream. When I regained control and re-tightened the line, I got the fish to my feet to unhook and release it. When I did, my Green Butt Skunk was solidly and well seated, in the RIGHT JAW of the fish!?!?!
"You should'a been here, NEXT week,the fishing's great!"
FalsiflyNovember 8th, 2007, 12:59 am
Hayward, WI.

Posts: 654
I met a Barb once and she had me hooked solidly. The extraction process was quite painful. My heart goes out to any trout who may endure the same pain.
When asked what I just caught that monster on I showed him. He put on his magnifiers and said, "I can't believe they can see that."
Shawnny3November 8th, 2007, 4:54 am
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Nice posts, guys. I have no reason to doubt anything others here have said, but I can speak from my own experience. I am totally convinced that I lose more fish by going barbless. I don't particularly care that I lose more fish, but I most certainly do. Now, I've nowhere near the skill that some of the other posters here have, so I may well be able to chalk it up to that. It may have something to do with my aggressiveness in hooking and fighting fish. I often get slack at the hookset when a fish is smaller than I was expecting or took a nymph closer to the surface than I was expecting, and I send him flying through the air or skittering toward me on the surface. I know what you worry about, Jonathon - happens to me all the time.

So I am certainly one of those who uses barbless hooks for the aesthetics, not the performance when hooking and playing fish. And, to amen what others have said, I love being able to get hooks out of myself (and my equipment and stream debris) without a trip to the emergency room (not that I usually take fishing equipment or stream debris to the emergency room).

A funny story about barbed hooks: Back when I was working at a treatment facility for troubled teenage boys, we took a rec trip to a favorite stream of mine. It was my final day on the job, so it was to be a nice sendoff for me. The day was spectacular, and the fish were cooperative. We caught and released a few fish in a pool that required little flyfishing skill to fish, and we were just enjoying the stream and the surroundings. Then one of the boys, not paying attention to where his backcast was headed, sent a fly into the bare chest of one of the other boys, and, without knowing what he'd done, made a crisp forward cast, imbedding the fly well past the barb. Try as I might with a pair of pliers, I couldn't get that stupid thing out, even as I tried so hard to push the point back through that I was bending the size-12 hook. The victim was a kid way tougher than he looked, and he withstood the pain without any emotion whatsoever. After many minutes of putting up with some serious turning and pulling and pushing on my part, though, he finally said in a low, even voice, "Uh, Mr. Davis - I think I'm going to throw up." That day ended in the emergency room.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
MartinlfNovember 8th, 2007, 5:41 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2811
Nice to get such thoughtful replies. Thanks, guys. I did once (years and years ago) get a barbed treble hook in my back, right at the shoulder when a spinning rod came apart on the forward cast sending a Mepps spinner into me. This was years ago, and I had to push the point through the skin to crimp the barb and get it out so I could go on fishing with it. Next time that happens I may go back to debarbing everything. I do note, Gonzo, that I debarb those Mustads when tying the Gonzo scud, and that you're right that what I typically leave barbed is small micro-barbed hooks. The Varivas hooks have such a tiny barb it's hard to see. But the arguments for total barbless do make sense, and I'll keep thinking about them.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
DanoNovember 8th, 2007, 6:39 am
Vanderbilt, Michigan

Posts: 101

FWIW, I've never bought into the idea that more fish are lost on barbless than barbed hooks. I don't think I've ever lost a fish because the hook was "de-barbed". Consequently, I "de-barb" my fly hook(s) as the first step when I'm tying....


Eventually, all things merge into one...and a river runs through it.
CaseyPNovember 8th, 2007, 4:54 pm
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 648
Levi and Flybinder have it right--self defense is the greatest motivator for debarbing the hook. even, or especially, shad hooks. shad come right upstream at you when hooked, but they don't come undone that way--they "sound" and go straight down fast when they see the boat and break you off on the bottom, i think. and since my special bhpt beadheads only work if you chew on them a little before using them, you bet i mash the barbs!
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
StrBenderJanuary 6th, 2008, 8:05 am
Danvers, MA

Posts: 1
I crimp all my hook barbs and good thing I do. I was taking my niece out for her first time fly fishing. When I was tying on a nymph #10 I steped on the leader by mistake driving the hook into my thumb up to the bend! OUCH. I grabed my hemo's, closed my eyes, bit down on my lip and pulled it out. Then I put a band aid on it and took her fishing. If it still had the barb, I would have had to visit the emergency room on the way to the river!
LenHJanuary 7th, 2008, 4:25 pm
driftless area

Posts: 58
I only debarb where it is catch/release only area.

I like actually touching the fish I catch.

I am NOT a strict catch & release angler.

Any fish I land has the potential to be eaten.

Jmd123January 21st, 2008, 8:34 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2256
I have had one treble in me (one hook only, fortunately, and also a Mepps spinner), and last year caught a fly in the shoulder of a teenager. After watching two women (my ex and the kid's mother, respectively) try to work these hooks out, without any success (my ex almost got sick and much hollering on the part of the teenager!), I simply grasped each hook at the bend with my pliers/hemostats and gave a quick straight jerk. Each hook came out with almost no pain and minimal damage, nothing a little disinfectant wouldn't fix. This is the simplest and easiest method of extracting a hook that is not too deeply buried. Pushing it through to pinch down the barb just makes the hole deeper and does more damage on the way in!

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
MartinlfJanuary 22nd, 2008, 9:11 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2811
There's a technique I've read about and even seen demonstrated (a guide I was fishing with got his own fly in the cheek and had a buddy remove it this way) in which one takes a segment of strong mono, loops it in at the bend of the hook, then, pushing down on the eye of the hook (pushing it toward the skin) jerks hard on the mono loop to pop the hook out. This also results in removal of barbed hooks with minimal damage.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
MartinlfJanuary 22nd, 2008, 9:11 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2811
There's a technique I've read about and even seen demonstrated (a guide I was fishing with in strong wind got his own fly in the cheek and had a buddy remove it this way) in which one takes a segment of strong mono, loops it in at the bend of the hook, then, pushing down on the eye of the hook (pushing it toward the skin) jerks hard on the mono loop to pop the hook out. This also results in removal of barbed hooks with minimal damage.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Shawnny3January 22nd, 2008, 1:30 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
jerks hard on the mono loop to pop the hook out

...or break the hook off inside your face. I'll tell you what, Louis - next time we go fishing I'll help you execute this maneuver to see how well it works. I volunteer to be the hook-presser and mono-puller, and you can do whatever's left.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
FalsiflyJanuary 22nd, 2008, 2:04 pm
Hayward, WI.

Posts: 654
I'll bring the Jack Daniels and the video camera. I want to get this on tape. And I promise you won't feel a thing.
When asked what I just caught that monster on I showed him. He put on his magnifiers and said, "I can't believe they can see that."
MartinlfJanuary 22nd, 2008, 2:33 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2811
It'll have to be "Gentleman Jack," the top shelf stuff, and a big bottle, before I'll be tempted to get drunk enough to let Shawn anywhere near me with a loop of mono. Unless, of course, he also agrees to donate a few of his salmon flies for the sake of medical science. They're gorgeous enough that with such a bribe, and a lot of Jack by my side (or in my side, rather) I just might be willing to give this a try--with a Tiemco 518 size 32 hook, that is.

All funnin' aside, the guide confidently submitted to his buddy's technique, and from what he said, this wasn't the first time he'd had a fly jerked out of him. It went quick, and in a snap he was "released." The hook was not barbless.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
WbranchJanuary 23rd, 2008, 7:55 am
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2328
As Louis mentioned earlier I do debarb but only hooks larger than a #12. Since 90% of my flies are tied on micro barb Japanese hooks I don't consider the barb to really be a detriment to 95% of the fish I catch. The other 5% may get hooked in such a manner, or place, that the presence of the barb makes it more difficult to remove the hook. I have lost so many large trout on barbless hooks that I will not use them.

Even before I de-barbed my trout dries and nymphs I've always de-barbed large streamer hooks once I saw how easily it is for a small or large trout to engulf a #1 - #2/0 streamer right into their gill area or even deeply into the roof of the mouth which often means a dead fish.

Has anyone tried those new plier like gadgets that allow you to keep the fish in the water by grasping the lower lip while the hook is removed?
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

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