A barbed comment:
I recall an episode from my youth, the only time I ever received any formal fly fishing tuition, a weekend at the Arundell Arms in Lifton in Devon. The hotel is renowned for its fishing, fly fishing courses and is surrounded by numerous trout, sea trout and salmon rivers. I was only in my early teens and was on a weekend course run by Roy Buckingham. In my youthful arrogance I wasn’t overly interested in the casting instruction; I just wanted to get to fish their waters and was champing at the bit to do so. On the second day we were left to our own devices, fishing for the resident brown trout and I struck late at a slow rising fish ending up with my fly hooked firmly in my neck. As I remember it I think that the fly was a Royal Coachman Dry and being as pragmatic then as now I simply cut the nylon, left the fly in situ and continued to fish, but of course had to admit to the error on returning to the hotel.
The Arundell Arms in Lifton, an English Fly Fishing Institution.
The problem was viewed by the staff as a simple one, the local GP down the road had , as you might imagine in such a location, removed countless hooks from numerous anglers and we all expected the problem to be resolved in short order. The only problem was that the local doctor was apparently taking leave, lounging on a sun bed in the Bahamas’s or something and we instead found a locum with very little experience of GP practise, or at least little of removing barbed hooks from youthful necks.
He became instantly besotted with the artistry of the fly and didn’t wish to destroy it, I simply advised that he should pull the hook all the way through, cut off the barb and be done with it. He was however reluctant to destroy what to his eye was “feather art”. One fly represented a substantial investment of pocket money to me, but I was more than willing to forego its future use for the benefit of my hide. The young doctor was having none of it, convinced that we would be able to free the barbed hook from my skin.
This is when you start to think “I should have taken the barb off”.
I am going to ask you a question; “have you ever seen your own neck without the aid of a mirror?” Because I have, foot on chair, forceps grasped in both hands and local anaesthetic administered the aforementioned medic (some might venture butcher), pulled and pulled until I had a clear view of my skin, stretched taut as a bow string. Eventually the hook bent, the skin ripped, the doctor nearly fell backwards onto his rear and the offending dry fly released its overly robust grip on my epidermis. Now it was just a matter of stitching up the hole that had been torn out of my throat, I suppose I might have protested but in reality I was happy the offending pattern had been removed and thankful, given the less than efficient technique used, that my thyroid hadn’t been ripped free with it.
Barbed fly hooks are an anathema to me, they are ineffective and as the above story will confirm, potentially dangerous. At least that was my neck, but what if an eye? I don’t like barbs on flies, simple as that and I don’t see any point in having them there.
A beautifully tied pattern, would it be less so with the barb removed?
Where I fish the waters have been under compulsory Catch and Release and Barbless Hooks Only regulation for over a decade by now. Not that that is really a milestone, many of us were fishing barbless well before that. The oddity of it is that our decision had very little to do with the wellbeing of the fish, or the wellbeing of ourselves for that matter, at least at that time. We were fishing light gear, #2 weight rods and 7X tippets, and before you think that wasn’t particularly light the only #2 weight rod at the time was the original Orvis superfine which was far softer in action than more than a few #1 weights and such that one sees on stream these days.
It became apparent that the barb was a serious setback in terms of hooking and landing fish on light gear. With ultra-light gear and fine tippets you simply cannot pull the wedge of a barb into a fish and you either snap off or drop the fish early in the fight. I am one of many anglers who have absolutely no faith in barbed hooks, they simply are not as effective particularly when fishing fine.
In some bizarre twist of fate that has proven an advantage in international competition, some teams who fish with barbed hooks in their home waters lose confidence when fishing barbless, for us it is just normal.
To be frank after some forty five years of fly fishing, using both barbed and barbless hooks I have come to a conclusion that the only real disadvantage of barbless hooks is that the easily fall out of your hat. Beyond that there is no comparison and yet barbed hooks in flies persist.
Spiders are simple and quick to tie, surely leaving time to remove the barb.
It seems that for some the presence of a barb offers some sort of comfort, a superstition or act of faith that the barb is helping them to catch fish, whereas my personal experience tells me that the barb is a hindrance and a potentially dangerous one to boot.
I suppose that it is fine that we all make up our own minds, but in searching my mind I cannot really find a good reason for using them. Certainly not for trout anyway.
Barbless hooks penetrate faster, with less force and less damage to the fish, in fact virtually no damage as can be attested by the number of times I have inadvertently stuck one in my finger without ill effect.
So no I don’t like barbed hooks, they are offensive to me, the fish and the thoughtful angler, and they serve little to no purpose.
What is bothering me though is that surfing the net, reading magazine articles, blogs, books and such I keep on seeing images of flies with barbs on them. Barbed hooks in vices, barbed hooks in trout and occasionally, (oh blessed karma that is it), barbed hooks in ears.
This barbed fly is very likely to cause unecessary damage to a juvenille trout.
I really see no need to fish with barbed hooks, they are counter intuitive in terms of hook-ups, dangerous to the angler and to the fish. Those who write, publish, blog or whatever would do us all a great service if they took a little more care in showing pictures of hooks that have been de-barbed or are barbless.
I don’t wish to pick on anyone particularly but throughout this post are images of barbed hooks which were collected off the internet. I have against my normal policy, not provided credits, for the very reason that I am not suggesting anyone is worse than anyone else. Some of the images come from anglers who I know personally fish barbless all the time. Some of the patterns are so beautifully tied that one would expect they come from experienced and thoughtful anglers. I am just trying to illustrate that perhaps we need to be more careful about the images we use.
I am certain that this pattern comes from an angler who fishes barbless.
Let us all demonstrate some leadership here and make a commitment to avoiding images of barbed hooks in the same way that most have, over time, given up on those pictures of dead fish strung on a fence. I believe that writers and editors have a responsibility to their readership, to show some moral guidance and to, over time, sway public opinion; publishing only images of barbless fly patterns would be a small step forwards in convincing others that barbs are unnecessary.
Images such as this are generally now viewed as unacceptable, perhaps barbed flies should be viewed in the same way?
Barbed hooks will cause untold damage to the fish that you wish to release and perhaps worse still will not easily come out of fish should you break off during the strike or the fight. I have only caught a trout with a hook already in its mouth twice in over twenty years of fishing our streams. Both hooks had barbs on them.
So I am hoping that we can all avoid the use of images of barbed hooks, that we can continue to influence others in terms of being more responsible, and promote sustainable angling and safety at the same time. Once one realises that fishing with barbless flies is a win win, for you and the fish, the decision to switch is a no brainer.
Books by the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords. (just click on the image below to find them)