Heed my warning? Stewie did not. No more than a month after an initial “instructional kayak fishing” training session, he went out with his brother-in-law and he tied on a new topwater lure. Success, he hooked a large trout. Relating the story to me, he said “That is when the trouble began.” It is no crime to use with lures with barbs. An option to make things easier on you in some specific situations, give it a try. If it saves you that trip to the hospital someday, I will be happy for you! If you had the chance to talk to Stewie right now, he will tell you that he won’t risk it again.
A new concept for some, using barbless hooks is nothing new to many veteran anglers. Fishing hooks have existed for over 9000 years. Great materials and designs in the modern age, for a variety of reasons, “modifying” to barbless hooks is something that many people elect to do. This is an adjustment that changes the equation just a little but in most ways “in your favor.”
First off, what is the barb and what is it designed to do? The small barb just to the back side of a hook is something that helps hold a bait on a hook or helps to keep a hooked fish from getting free during battle. It is really that simple. For the purposes of the live bait people, they may not be as interested in this modification to their hooks. If their bait can wiggle off, something that is very likely to do, then they are fishing with a baitless hook.
For the lure or fly angler, many will take the time to smash down the barbs on their jighead or lure hooks. Many fly anglers will buy hooks to tie their flies that are barbless. The primary reason this is done: To enable them to release fish quicker and with less handling than with lures or flies that have barbs. In some fisheries, barbless hooks are actually required.
Right away, people are going to think “I’m going to lose all of my fish with no barbs on my hooks.” This could be true if your technique fighting a fish is poor. For those with decent skills, very few fish will be lost because of the barbless hooks. Keeping the right tension on a fish, they will rarely shake free of a hook. For release, this is a great benefit because fish that you do not want to keep or even photograph can be released by “slacking” the fish. (Dropping a rod tip and allowing the fish an opportunity to shake a hook will usually result in the fish escaping from your hook). If that doesn’t happen, backing the hook out is very easy without the resistance of the barb.
A huge bonus to using barbless lures comes from other situations that can arise. Particularly with treble hook lures, with many extra hooks dangling and swinging around from a fish’ mouth, they will regularly end up caught on other things. A regular culprit of this situation is the ladyfish. When you hear a story about a Florida angler impaled on a fishing lure, quickly ask them “did you have a ladyfish” and many times the answer will be affirmative. Handling many kinds of fish can be tricky but ladyfish are notorious for extra thrashing when handled. Having encountered both situations many times, there is a distinct difference between dealing with an unaltered hook in human flesh and one that has had the barb removed. In the latter, it can be a lengthy, painful experience- one which many people opt to make a hospital visit which was what Stewie had to do. He had the trout create a situation where the fish was attached to the lure and his hand and it didn’t get any easier when he had the second hook ended up in his inner thigh.
With no barbs, this is a situation that can usually be resolved even when fishing alone, infinitely less painful and doesn’t require that embarrassing hospital visit. Without any tools, a person can gently “back the hook out” of their flesh without the resistance of the barb stopping that progress. Smashing down barbs after the incident is possible with a hook that has poked all the way through skin but can be a painful undertaking. Heavy duty wire cutters are also another painful option. A hook point and barb buried in flesh, most people opt for a trip to the Emergency Room. For me, it is worth it to be able to not have to consider these other options.
Do not ignore a wound and it is a very good idea to stay current on tetanus shots when you are around the saltwater environment. Visiting a doctor is wise if you see any complication around the wound. Peroxide, rubbing alcohol and anti-bacterial ointments are good items to have in your fishing supplies, staving off possible infections.
Another regular peril, particularly with treble hook lure hooks is with clothing. Lures can get stuck in the fabric of shirts and pants easily. Before I went to the practice of bending down barbs the minute I took a lure out of the packaging, I ruined some shirts. Usually this would happen when I would carelessly reach for something behind me and feel the hook attach to the fabric. This is what I call “a great googly moogly moment.” You now have the lure and the rod and reel attached to your shirt. Imagine the difference between barbed and barbless hooks in this scenario. With a barbless hook, it is going to be a much easier process and may be resolved immediately. If you have multiple, barbed treble hooks connected to your shirt, this is going to be a time-consuming event and a much higher likelihood that you have ruined a shirt or jacket.
In just pure efficiency, if you can release fish faster, you are back to fishing again faster. This is something that is very significant when fighting through smaller fish to find bigger specimens. For the sportsman who cares about the health of the fish they release, barbless hooks will help reduce the trauma and cut down on accidental mortality to released fish. Veterans who have done this already will tell you that barbs that are smashed down “most of the way” are also helpful with quicker release of fish. You take a little more risk if you happen to get the hook in your hand or clothing but for backing a hook out of a fish it helps significantly to turn that barb into a less protrusive “bump”. I crush mine down flat.
I would like to see manufacturers offer lures without barbs on the hooks but in simple economics and supply and demand, it is unlikely that it will actually happen. Do not be deterred, just do-it-yourself! The action is simple. You take your jighead or your treble hooks and you place the flat edge of your pliers right on the barb. From there, getting it “barbless” depends on how thoroughly you smash that metal. With one simple squeeze, it smashes down flat or remains a smaller “bump” previously described. If you work it a little and rotate the hook inside the compressed pliers, the metal should shave off to create a flat surface for a barbless hook.
For Stewie, he says that I gave him every opportunity to do the right thing. A view from hindsight, he now fully realizes the value of barbless hooks. Leave the barbs on your treble hook lures and roll the dice. Make a simple change and take a lengthy ordeal and make it instantly resolved. For those who doubt my statements, do an image search on “fishing hook injuries”. (Warning, this is not for the faint of heart)
As a final suggestion, for those who are using lures with any kind of hooks: It is a great idea to consider protective eyewear. Better safe than sorry, particularly for night fishing, utilize some kind of eyewear to prevent serious eye injury.
Owner and Guide: www.strikethreekayakfishing.com
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