TO BARB OR NOT TO BARB IS THAT REALLY THE QUESTION?
Recently I read a question on the FAOL bulletin board about the
need for barbless hooks. This question arose because of another
study about the use of barbless hooks and trout mortality. Like
many previous studies the conclusions were that the use of barbless
hooks had no truly measurable effect on trout survival. The article
suggested that based on the data the elimination of the 'barbless
hooks only' regulation would simplify trout fishing regulations and
eliminate law enforcement issues. Both of those reasons seem to be
rather shallow and hardly significant enough to justify the suggested
change in the regulations.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
It needs to be understood at the outset that attempting to correlate
mortality rates in fish that have been caught and released is at best
subjective, and any data obtained must be viewed with caution.
Obviously fish die from a variety of causes, and fish that are handled,
whether caught with barbed or barbless hooks, have an added factor
that may or may not increase those odds. There are several variables
that will affect the survival rate of fish that are caught and released;
water temperature, degree of exhaustion, method of handling are all
very significant factors in determining the survivability of fish that are
released. Without knowing how long each fish was played, the
temperature of the water, and how the fish was handled after it was
landed would render any correlation between fish caught and released
and survivability meaningless.
My personal attachment to barbless hooks goes back to the mid-60s when
JC and I were spending our days chasing bugs and browns on Michigan's
Au Sable River. I think JC was the first to suggest that we begin to use
barbless hooks on our flies, and I believe that I was the skeptical one. It
seemed 'logical' to me that a barb was necessary to secure the hook
otherwise it would simply fall out. To find out if this was true I devised a
series of tests to see if I could prove or disprove my theory.
I started out by reading everything I could find on hooks, hook design,
and hook theory. Much of what was available had little or no relevance
to my question, but I did find a few important conclusions about which
all the experts seemed to agree.
First, I discovered that barbs are made by nicking the metal just above
the hook point. A special machine raises a small piece of metal from the
wire of the hook making a barb. This means that the hook wire is slightly
weakened at the point where the barb is cut. This information provided
me with the answer why hooks that broke were often just missing the
point and the barb.
Secondly, in order for a standard hook to perform correctly the point
of the hook must achieve sufficient penetration to allow the fish to be
secured by the bend of the hook and not merely the point. In fact if the
hook penetrated sufficiently to allow only the point to pierce the tissue
the hook would either fail to hold or fracture due to the stress that was
being exerted on this small sliver of metal. For any hook to hold properly
it must be sharp. Dull hooks, whether barbed or barbless, will require
more pressure to insure proper penetration.
From this limited information it became obvious that for any hook to be
efficient in hooking and holding a fish it had to penetrate to a point where
the pressure exerted by the angler was on the bend of the hook and not
There was one more bit of information I gleaned from my hook research
that seemed to be critical. In order for any hook to remain secure the
angler needs to keep constant pressure between the hook and the line.
Slack in the connection between the line and the hook could allow the
hook to become dislodged. This was true for both barbed and barbless
With this information I concluded that the issue had little to do with the
barb and everything to do with hook penetration. It seemed logical that
the barb would increase the amount of pressure necessary to fully
engage the hook so the elimination of the barb should increase the
That series of experiments was conducted over 40 years ago, and I
have been using barbless hooks since that time. During those years I
believe that I can honestly state that I have never felt that I lost a fish
simply because I was using a barbless hook.
It should be noted that the removal of barbed hooks is decidedly
more difficult than removal of a hook that does not have a barb. On
streams where fish are caught and released several times during the
season fish with severe hook scarring or with entire parts of their lips
missing are all too common. Barbed hooks that are securely lodged
in the tough cartilage found around the mouth of many fish are nearly
impossible to remove without inflicting some damage on the tissue.
Repeated damage results in hook scarring, tearing of the tissue, and
often loss of entire pieces of the cartilaginous structure that surrounds
The ease of removal is the primary reason that I am an advocate of
the use of barbless hooks. Since I fish for sport and not for food the
object of my pursuit is sport, and since I intend to release everything
that I catch barbless hooks enable to me to do this quickly and
effortlessly. Even the new 'mini-barbed' hooks still have a barb that,
in my experience, is more difficult to remove than a hook without any
I find the question of release mortality of only minor significance in
the question of whether or not one should use barbless hooks. I
know that the less time that the any fish remains out of water the
greater the chance that it will survive when released. The use of
barbless hooks enables me to release many of the fish that I catch
without even removing them from the water. If the angler intends to
release his catch, or is required to do so by law then barbless hooks
make that process so much easier, and I'm all for making my
recreation easier. ~ The Chronicler
From A Journal Archives