May 7, 2016

Barbless Hooks For Bass

Should You Use Barbless Hooks For Bass?

How old ARE fish hooks?

Bone_fish_hooksFish hooks are a very old.

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

Anatomy of a fish hookToday’s fish hooks generally include the following:

  • 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:
    • Up-turned,
    • Down-turned, and
    • Straight.
  • 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?

forked and barbed fish catcher
Forked stick with barbs: jab over fish, fish caught!

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?).

automatic fish hook machineThe 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:

  • Hooking yourself!

It happens. A BassHole manages to land a 300 pounder, but it’s himself.

Fisherman with bass in boatI’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.

  • 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!

  • hooked bassGetting the hook out of the fish.

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.

Old carved hookThe 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?

Hooks in a rowProbably?

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?

Illustration_drawing_of_largemouth_bass_micropterus_salmoides_in_cattailsTry 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
  • Catching a nice oneAs 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.

Greetings to Bass Tactics fishing club from Roger, The Smiling BassHole
Farewell for now from Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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!

Tight lines!

Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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The Smiling BassHole

I'm a BassHole!Kickin' Bass and lettin' them go.

Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • I’ve chuckled throughout this read. Ha I too remember when I was little fishing with my dad getting caught by a dam fish hook. Not the best feeling my friend. lol So i do understand your pain. Ha But, i think I’d stick with the barbless myself, for the sake of myself (and of course the fish lol). Awesome read, great article!

    • Thanks Jas!

      Sounds like your dad may want to improve his casting accuracy? And you’re so right, getting stuck by a fish hook can certainly smart! It’s certainly better to get the hook out when there is no barb. So that’s a good reason as you point out!

      And the fish, though perhaps not “happier,” will at least be quickly unhooked from the business end of the lures your father managed not to hit you with.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hi there Roger !!
    Very very interesting and a really informative piece of article and especially for new beginners like me !!
    Im telling you, I’ve learned so much about fishing from your website. And it has helped me a great deal.. I’d really like if you could recommend some fishing rods for beginners or better yet how about a new post about fishing gear for beginners..
    Really curious to know what you come up with..

    • Thanks Deadshot!

      I’m glad you learned something from my post.

      And what a great idea for a future post! I’ll absolutely start research for just such a post!

      Thanks for the excellent suggestion. And should you have any questions before the post, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll do what I can to answer your questions.

      Meanwhile, Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • I never even considered that using barbless hooks could be better. I just assumed since everyone else used barbed hooks, those must be the best ones. Really interesting idea. If you were catching fish to eat instead of to release, do you think barbed would be better, since you aren’t concerned about mortality?

    • Thanks Dallin!

      Certainly if you are keeping the fish, then you don’t need to worry about the mortality. The barbed hooks will be a bit harder to penetrate the fish’s mouth, but as long as it goes in PAST the barb, then you’ll be fine. Of course if you catch a small fish you don’t want to keep, or another type of fish you won’t want to eat, then the barbless will be better.

      However, they will still be worse if you happen to stick the hook into yourself!

      And yes, it is true that barbed hooks are the norm, but that’s primarily because they are the ones most commonly made and so purchased!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Fantastic blog post! My husband is crazy about fishing and I pulled him in to read your site with me and he was “hooked” as well. I love what you shared about hook sizes, to me a non-fishermen I would think they would logically go up in size. My husband also informed me that hooks are like women’s clothing. Two brand sizes are never the same. Is that true?

    • Thanks Amberlee!

      Of course your husband is right! Isn’t he always?

      But that is true. Or at least it’s mostly true. There may be some brands with some overlap, but you do need to know who your are dealing with.

      Yes, the hook size issue is always confusing to new anglers. It would seem like the higher number would refer to a larger hook. But once you understand HOW the hook number came into existence, then you can at least visualize why the numbers are the way they are.

      Glad to welcome your husband as an honorary “BassHole”! And encourage him to share his views and opinions and fish tales here on the site.

      Hope you enjoy future fishing outings!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • What a great article! I love fishing with my girls, but I must admit I am not very good at it. I have never used non barbed hooks, but I probably should try. I have hooked my finger more than once and my brother’s face once as well. Therefore a barbless hook would probably be more humane… To me and those around me. LOL, the fish would probably appreciate it as well.

    Best Wishes!


    • Thanks Eloah!

      I’m sure your brother and finger will thank you for debarbing your hooks, but I doubt the fish will thank you. Though they really should, bass can be SO unappreciative. Of course, in their defense, they have their own ideas of what should be happening, and getting pulled up out of the water is NEVER on their “bucket list.”

      Still, it is easier to get them off without the barbs. And there appear to be few downsides!

      Let us know how it works out for you!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Roger, There are two reasons why I stopped fishing. The first was I hated pulling the hooks out of the fish’s mouth. For whatever reason the barbs on the hooks and me just didn’t get along and I could almost feel the pain that the fish was going through as I struggled to get the hooks out.

    When I became old enough that I had to buy a license to fish, I decided that I was not going to pay to do something that I didn’t like doing.

    I like the tips you give here with how to keep the fish on the barbless hook and I am kind of eager to want to try it out. My buddies have been trying to get me to go fishing for a long time now and it would be kind of nice to hit the waters once again. Thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks James!

      I realize that hooking a fish must be painful for the fish, and hauling them out of the water can’t be pleasant either. So I certainly do everything I can to minimize the trauma for the fish. As much as possible, I release it without even taking it out of the water. Sometimes I like to get the fish on the scale. I leave the fish in the water while getting the scale out, then pull the fish up to quickly get a weight and maybe a picture. But I’m very aware of how long I’ve got the fish out of water — after all, they can’t breath!

      Glad to hear that barbless hooks (or more likely, hooks you have debarbed yourself), may allow you to return to fishing. And if you don’t like it, you can always stop! I have heard of guys fishing with lures with NO hooks! It’s unlikely to land the fish, but they will grab the lure and pull for a while!

      Whatever you decide, come on back and let us know about your experience!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Great article. I learned a lot, it was great information for a beginner like myself. I’m pretty sure I would use barbless hook because it sounds better for the fish and being a clumsy guy I’m bound to hook myself or someone around me. Plus it’s a very simple process to take the barb off the hook.

    • Thanks, Jorge!

      Yes, it’s very easy to debarb the hooks. It’s best if you have some smooth jaws on your pliers. I have special fishing pliers for those types of jobs, so that makes it even easier!

      The resulting hook is easier on both the fish and the fisherman. Plus, it goes into the fish easier. Just be sure you keep a tight line so the fish won’t come off!

      And if you’re prone to being clumsy, even more reasons to get rid of those barbs!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Roger, this is an awesome post and very informative. I haven’t been hooked in a very long time, but once was enough for me. I can still remember the pain, not from being hooked, but from getting it out. Not a pleasant experience. Keep up the great writing.

    • Thanks, Larry!

      Getting it out IS the painful part! I remember my brother-in-law got hooked in his hand, and we eventually had to take him to the emergency room to have it removed. My little sister and I were just kids, and once we had taken care of business, the doctor told us that if we ever had this situation again, we should cut the line so the pole wasn’t still attached to the fisherman! Made sense. But we just didn’t think of that!

      Thanks the the kind words!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • You obviously have a passion for your subject, Roger. I’m not a fisherman but don’t some anglers fish simply for the joy of getting a catch and then throw the fish back in? I presume such anglers would use non-barbed hooks because they’d do less damage to the fish when removed? Any idea what the mortality rate is for barbed vs non-barbed hooks for fish that get released?

    • Thanks Daryl!

      Yes, I love to fish!

      And I AM a catch and release fisherman. So any fish I catch, I let go. And there are a lot of fishermen who fish that way. BUT they do NOT generally use barbless hooks. Or, I should say, BASS fishermen do not generally use barbless hooks. They would say that’s because they want to CATCH the fish, which they believe the barbs make more likely. The idea is that the barbs make it hard for the bass to get off the hook. Which they do, to a point (no pun intended!).

      However, the barb also makes it more difficult to hook the fish in the first place.

      Fly fishermen have been using barbless hooks (not all of them, of course) for years, and most report very little in the way of lost fish. I have read articles by bass fishermen making the same statement.

      As for the mortality rates of barbed vs non-barbed hooks, as stated in the post, it’s very difficult to know. After all, if a fish dies, it’s not easy to figure out what exactly was the cause. A prevailing notion is that since barbless hooks make it easier to release the bass, they therefore spend less time out of the water, and that factor alone is suspected to improve recovery. But in the final analysis, there is no proof one way or the other, at least not that I can find.

      The real advantage is when you hook yourself. Or a loved one. THEN the barbless hook is a godsend!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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