Fly Fishing is a very popular hobby and for some a profession. Though, it might look easy, fly fishing requires both skill and experience. Fly fishing also takes a good amount of patience to catch a fish, although you do stay more active than traditional fishing due to more frequent casting.
In addition to skill and experience, fly fishing equipment also plays a very important role in your success (or failure). Many fly fishers often think of fly rods, reels, and fly line when they think of gear. But hooks also play a very critical role in fly fishing.
There are two types of hooks available for fishing: barbless and barbed. Determining the best one to use, is often a difficult choice, and has caused a number of very heated debates in various internet groups and forums.
Each type of hook has its own set of pros and cons. The right choice really boils down to your personal feelings on the topic, and the types of fish you’re after. In the following sections, we’ll provide a comparative analysis between barbless and barbed hooks. Our intent is to not recommend one or the other but to present you with enough data of the two options so you can make your own decision.
What is a barb?
Many new fly fishers don’t even realize there is a difference, and by default just due to hold habits tend to use barbed hooks. I know personally for me until I started doing a little reading about fly fishing, I didn’t even know barbless hooks existed. I’ve been fishing using barbed hooks for years! Barbed hooks in both standard fishing and fly fishing are the default standard, and the norm.
Here is a barbed hook. The barb itself is the small triangular shaped metal at the sharp end of the hook, that points in the opposite direction of the sharp end.
The purpose of the barb on the hook is the hold the hook in place after it has penetrated the fishes mouth. This has a number of benefits that we’ll discuss below, but also a few cons as well.
Barbless hooks, as the name implies are hooks without barbs. They look like this:
There are a couple of reasons why you should consider using barbless hooks when fly fishing:
Better Hook Sets
A resistance is created by the barb on a barbed hook, which makes it more difficult for the hook point to penetrate. This increases the chances of losing fish and a bad hook set.
To better understand this, take a piece of paper and try it with both types of hooks, you will see the difference between the two. Barbless hooks penetrate much easier and require far less force.
Less chance of injury to the fish
While the barb does hold the hook in, once the hook is set, when the barb comes out it does even further damage to the fish. This of course isn’t a concern for most, if you plan to keep and eat your fish. If you plan to release them, the damage can cause the fish to die either due to infection or not being able to eat.
For those of you that are concerned if the fish has any pain, most experts agree that fish have very few nerves if any in the lip areas of their mouths, but regardless barbed hooks just look painful and leave a pretty damaging looking hole when removed.
Fewer chances of you getting injured
If you’ve ever had a barbed hook stuck in your finger, you know how painful of an experience this can be. Unless the hook has fully penetrated your skin and come back out, the hook must be pushed through until the barb can be cut off, before the hook can be removed!. Barbed hooks are very difficult to remove, and in many cases may require a visit to the Emergency Room.
Despite some of its drawbacks, many people prefer to use barbed hooks over the barbless hooks. Some just use them out of habit, while others use them for various reasons. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to consider using barbed hooks:
A tighter grip on the fish
This is the main reason why people prefer barbed hooks. These hooks help to keep the fish hooked in one position. Barbed hooks are designed to hook, and then not come out. This keeps the hook from coming out and from hooking the fish in multiple locations.
Less chance of losing your fish
Given barbed hooks are designed to not easily come out, they generally hook the fish in one location, and the hook doesn’t let go. This reduces the chances of you losing your fish if the hook slips out of the fishes mouth.
No crimping of barbs
With the barbed hooks, you need not worry about the crimping barbs, assuming, of course, you are using barbed hooks intentionally. Crimping barbed hooks is tedious.
Given they are the most common, and often considered the standard fishing hook, barbed hooks These are easy to find and readily available in all shops, including large retailers like Walmart and even online through Amazon.
Barbless hooks vs. Barbed hooks – Which to use?
Each angler has their own preferences. Some like using hooks with bars while the others are more comfortable with using hooks without barbs. When comparing the two styles, a few important points emerge:
- Your Own Safety – If you fish long enough, you will eventually injure yourself with fishing hooks. With the barbed ones, it can be difficult and very painful to get them out. With no barb, it still hurts, but they are easily removed and far less painful. Barbed hook removal often requires a doctor.
- Damage to the Fish – Barbed hooks can cause a lot of damage to the fish if you are trying to set it free. Barbless hooks come out easily. This is even more of an issue if the fish swallows the fly. A barbed hook is almost guaranteed death, where a barbless hook can sometimes be removed will little damage. Additional consider too if your line breaks. A barbed hook will not fall out and must rust away in the fishes mouth. Chances are a barbless hook will fall out.
- Hold on the Fish – When it comes to having a stronger hold on the fish and reducing the chances of losing it, the barbed hooks are better compared to the barbless ones.
At the end of the day, it is entirely upon you to decide when it comes to selecting the hooks. While barbs will hold your fish better, and you’ll lose less fish, there is a trade-off as it pertains to danger to the fish and you. Where with no barbs, the danger to you and the fish is far less, you may tradeoff losing a few more fish.
Pro-tip: To meet in the middle, use barbed hooks, but crimp the barbs. This provide a “bump” or knot on the hook to help keep it in place, but still allows for easy and non-damaging removal of the hook. Yes, this process is a bit more tedious and time consuming, but if you want the best of both barbless hooks and barbed hooks, it just might be the best option for you!
Which is right? We’ll leave that up to you.
Photo credit: Scratch