Hooks - Barbed or Barbless?
Although studies reported in fishing magazines have suggested
there is little difference between the survival of fish caught
with barbless and barbed hooks, this isn't the case with black
by Ralph Manns
The studies were almost all made with trout, using small trout
flies and/or salmon egg hooks. The hooks typically used to take
bass are larger, with much more damaging barbs than those found
in typical trout gear. Moreover, on the few studies made with
bass, the fish were caught only once rather than repeatedly.
Moreover, the studies measured on survival and mortality of
hooked fish, without assessing the non-fatal damage done by hook
removal. Damage to bass, not survival, is the main reason we
should use barbless hooks.
Now that catch-and release is more popular and the most
rewarding fishing waters are those that force the release of most
bass with special limits, the chances that bass will suffer hook
injuries are much greater. Any successful angler who routinely
fishes Lake Fork, for example, will catch many badly injured
bass. This spring, I estimate more than 50 percent of my catch at
Fork had missing, bleeding, and/ or baldly torn jaw bones and
tissues. I caught many fish with badly distorted and disfigured
Some of the damaged bass were carrying hooks that someone had
clearly cut off the leader at the hook. The unremoved hooks were
fairly deep in the gullets of these bass and blocked any
possibility that the fish could have eaten successfully. Many of
the hook-bearing bass were thin an obviously food-deprived. Most
of these hooks could have been successfully removed. I removed
several, but removing these hooks would have been much easier and
less damaging if they were barbless.
Throughout the spring, I would see one or two nice Fork bass
float by, belly up every day -- wasted for either food or future
angling enjoyment. Some of these bass might have lived if the
anglers had used more care in handling and/or barbless hooks.
Bass in Fork and similar waters may be caught repeatedly. My
partners and I believe we caught several of the same bass when we
returned to a hot-spot on a following day.
Barbless hooks reduce damage to mouth and throat tissues when
hooks are removed. They also make the removal process much
easier, allowing short-shanked hooks to be reversed out with
needle-nosed pliers, and letting anglers carefully go through the
gill slit to reverse long-shanked worm hooks caught fairly deep
in the throat. The finding of science is that bass are usually
more likely to survive if even deeply taken hooks are removed.
Don't cut leaders unless you have no choice, and if you must
leave a hook in a bass, leave a foot or more of the leader
outside the fish to let it feed normally while recovering and
eliminating the hook naturally. My article "Hooks In or
Out," on this page provides details.
The barbs on hooks require harder hooks sets, and bass anglers
will more easily hook more bass with barbless hooks. We use them
much of the time, and lose very few bass in the process. There
are drawbacks, however. The barbs hold live bait on the hook, and
therefore barbed hooks must be used with live baits. Circle hooks
are best here, unless the water is full of snags. Moreover, the
barbs keep worms and other plastics in position for repetitive
casting. When bass are biting well I use barbless worm hooks to
protect the many bass we will hook and release, But, If the bite
is slow, I use barbed hooks to let me cast and cast again without
realigning the plastic baits.
Each sportsman angler must make his choices. Decide for
yourself when the health of the fish and the fishery is more
important than slightly increasing your own fishing success
Ralph Manns is a distinguished outdoor writer whose materials
appear in popular publications such as In-Fisherman
and other outdoor magazines. On the web, he is a contributor at
the Bass Fishing Home Page.
Ralph is a strong proponent of conservation and proper care of
the great bass fisheries and water resources that we must manage
and protect as anglers. His articles always encourage proper
handling of bass by anglers, in livewells, and during weigh-ins.
Email Ralph Manns at firstname.lastname@example.org