Will barbless hooks catch you more fish? Or more big fish?
Until recently I’ve never given much thought to the barb on the hook of jig heads and lures. I figured that if they come with a barb out of the packet that must be a good thing, endorsed by the lure manufacturers right?
Now, I’m starting to think twice. Mainly because of a series of recent events that ended with dropping a big flathead. This would be the third I’ve lost in the 80-100cm bracket (but who’s counting!). In sporting terms – I’m 1 from 4. As is often the case, it’s in these times of disappointment and reflection that an angler does some of their best critical thinking …
Consider the picture above of a ‘standard’ hook. Admittedly this is a Murray Cod lure, so the hook is big to highlight my point. How wide is the main shank of the hook? And how wide is the hook at the widest part of the barb?
Many lure anglers are passionate about the combination of main line and leader they use, treading a fine line between the thickness of a leader, the chance of a fish seeing it, and of course the amount of pressure they can exert on the fish before snapping the line. The key word here is pressure.
It’s interesting then that for all the magazine articles on what pound line to use, the importance of ultra-light leaders, using fluorocarbon and so on, Ive never once seen any comment on whether to use barbed or barbless hooks.
Let’s consider our picture of the hook again. How much pressure is required for the main shank of the hook, which is 1.5mm wide, to enter the fish’s mouth? And then how much pressure is required to set the hook past the barb, which is 3mm wide? I’m not an engineer but I think it’s fair to assume that it’s going to take double the pressure … In his latest book, Rob Paxevanos (who is an engineer!) says it takes 4 times more pressure to set a barbed hook. Maybe the relationship between width and pressure isn’t linear?
So what does all this mean? When we are using light spinning or fly gear, a barbless hook will set into the hard mouth of some fish much more easily and could therefore be the difference between landing a fish or not. Consider how hard you would typically set the hook – now think about pulling up on the rod twice as hard, or even four times as hard!
After a dropping the third (and hopefully last) big flathead on Day 1 of a recent fishing trip, I was despairing. I had made a deliberate attempt to set the hook hard. Well, as hard as I dare on a 2500-sized reel, 6lb braided main line and 8lb leader. During the fight I’d kept even and constant pressure on the line. The hook was razor sharp. I know, as soon as the line went limp I wound it in and tested it by dragging it along my fingernail – it dug in immeditately. So why did the fish get off?
My best guess is that the hook simply didn’t penetrate past the barb. Big flathead have hard mouths and on 6lb gear I didn’t (dare) apply enough pressure. “Stuff this!” I said in frustration and squashed down the barb with a set of pliers.
There was another subtle tap on the line and as I lifted the rod, the startled fish swam off towards the cover of nearby trees. It was big and heavy and powerful; I struggled to slow it down. Was it another big flathead? We put the boat into reverse and slowly towed it out into the safety of deeper water. After a couple of long minutes, a flash of silver and yellow appeared beneath the boat. A mulloway!
Curto slipped the net under the fish and we whooped and hollered like school kids (at least I did!). I grabbed the soft plastic lure and the hook slipped straight out. You guessed it – it was the barbless hook from the day before – and it did its job perfectly. After a couple of quick photos and with no thoughts of keeping this fish, we returned it to the water and it disappeared back into the depths. Wow!
From my combined experience of two days (not to mention the three dropped big flathead), I’ve seen enough to give barbless hooks a good trial run. A lot of the fish we catch we let go again, and the barbless hook slips out much more easily and with far less damage. And if barbless hooks can help convert more bites to hookups – especially for big fish on light gear – I’m all for it!