Should You Use Barbless Hooks For Bass?
How old ARE fish hooks?
Scientists believe that fish hooks were used from between 16,000 and 23,000 years ago (so +/- 7,000 years). Well, that’s a pretty long time, and despite what many believe, a bit before I was born.
Those old hooks were made of stone, bone, horn, wood, metal, and sometimes a combination of the materials above.
The fish hook was voted 1 of the Top 20 tools by Forbes magazine in 2005.
Parts of a fish hook
- Eye. That’s the hole where you put your fishing line, or the hook(s) are attached to your lure. Not all hooks have eyes, though those are pretty rare. Hook eyes come in different designs:
- Down-turned, and
- Shank. The length of hook from the eye to the bend.
- Bend. The curved part of the hook from the shank to the point.
- Point. The sharp business end of the hook that penetrates the fish (or YOU!).
- Barb. Just the bit we’ll investigate here.
Is a barb necessary?
The barb is believed to have been added based on the fishing spear or arrow barb, which keeps the fish from falling off after being pierced. The logical idea is that the barb keeps the fish from getting off your lure once you have set the hook.
Others theorize that the barb was designed to keep bait on the hook. Either way, the barb keeps things stuck on the hook.
Originally hooks were crafted individually by craftsmen, but when English BassHoles (or “SalmonHoles?”) began sport angling in the 15th century, needle makers started mass producing hooks: hooks are basically a bent pin (remember fishing as a kid?).
The connection to needle makers is why hook sizes confuse so many people: size 4 is much larger than size 20. The numbers are based on the number of pins or needles that can be cut from each wire — SO, if you make 20 pins from a wire they will be smaller than if you make only 4.
When Mathias Topp started making hooks for Mustad in 1877, he promptly invented the first automatic fish hook making machine. Wire went in; fish hooks came out.
So though barbs were added to hooks to keep the fish on, ask any angler, and they will confirm that sometimes fish do get off even barbed hooks.
Are there down sides to the barb?
Absolutely! Here’s a breakdown of some of the negative side effects of the hook barb:
It happens. A BassHole manages to land a 300 pounder, but it’s himself.
I’ve been there. And getting a barbless hook out of your hand, or ear, or arm, or foot, or wife, or car seat, or boat carpet, or wife, is a LOT easier if no barb is involved. Because that same barb that keeps the hook in a fish, keeps the hook in EVERYTHING.
Here’s a video showing how to remove a hook from your finger.
Warning! This video is graphic and shows an actual injury!
Hooking the bass.
Which is easier to impale something with: a thin wire or a thicker one? Think of the difference between the point of a pin and the head of the pin. One goes in easy, the other, not so much.
The barb necessarily increases the diameter of the hook. So it takes more pressure to get the barbed hook into the fish’s mouth. Therefore, it’s harder to set the hook completely.
Keeping the bass on.
Huh? But the barb is SUPPOSED to keep the fish on. And I admit, it often does.
But the resulting puncture hole WITH a barb is larger than one without. And sometimes, that makes it easier for the fish to get the hook out.
Are there advantages to barbless?
Actually there are!
True for the angler; true for the fish.
The barbless hook allows the BassHole to quickly and easily get the hook out of the bass and release it back into the water. How long should this take? Well, some experts advise the angler to hold his breath when he pulls the bass out of the water, and not breath again until he gets it back in. For me that would be about 3 seconds.
It’s also true for hooks that break off. If stuck in the bass’s mouth, the barbless hook will fall out much faster than the barbed hook will rust through.
Improved mortality rate.
I’m talking about an improved mortality rate for the fish, not the BassHole fishing for him.
The theory is that barbless hooks cause less damage and injury, and so lead to an improved survival rate. It is very difficult to confirm this theory. For one thing, bass are terrible record keepers. Scientists still have been unable to find ANY type of post-mortem records kept by the bass themselves. If only they would answer some basic questions:
* Just before your death, did you get caught?
* Was the hook barbed or barbless?
* Why am I questioning a dead fish?
So maybe we don’t know about damage done by a barbed hook vs. barbless, but researchers again point out that handling the fish AFTER the catch is typically much faster with barbless hooks. And getting the fish back into the water faster SHOULD improve survival.
Do barbless hooks have any disadvantages?
It’s certainly true that if the hook comes out easier for the angler, it comes out easier for the fish too.
So anglers are concerned about losing a fish because there is no barb to hold the fish on the hook.
What’s a barbless BassHole to do?
Fly fishermen (as I occasionally am myself) who use barbless hooks know that the key to keeping the fish on is to maintain steady pressure. Keep the tension on the line and hook, and the fish won’t be able to get off.
What if the bass jumps?
Try to avoid having a fish jump up into the air and shake it’s head. This will lose fish no matter what kind of hook you use: barbed or barbless. Of course you can’t always persuade the fish to not jump (they can be so unreasonable), so if it jumps, you should:
- Watch your line, if you see it coming up, the fish is planning to jump
- Lower your rod tip and keep a tight line
- As the fish plunges up out of the water, pull sideways and down with your rod; that will topple the bass back into the water
- Keep the line tight through out the process
Admire the bass you just caught!
So, Barbed or Barbless?
As a fly fisherman, I ALWAYS used barbless hooks. I tied my own flies, and bought barbless hooks. Those cost more, since the automatic hook making machines were all tooled to create the barb first, and then secure the wire via the barb during the rest of the bending and so forth (at least that’s what I was told). So barbless hooks required retooling or a brand new machine.
Here’s a video to show you how to crimp the barb down on your hooks.
At this point, this BassHole has not made a final decision. I’ve crimped down the barbs on a few of my hooks and lures, but not all (yet?). However, having fished for years and years using only tiny barbless hooks, I’m certainly leaning toward going barbless. Especially since that will be better for me if I manage to hook myself (again)!
So where do YOU stand? What’s your take? I’d love to hear your opinion and why you make the choice you do!
Roger, The Smiling BassHole