Barbless Hooks Are Increasingly Common Outside of Fly Fishing. For the Uninitiated, Here’s How You Fish Them Right.
By Terry Otto
Trout anglers have been doing it for decades. Ocean salmon anglers have adopted it, too. However, with more and more salmon and steelhead rivers going barbless, including the Columbia, many anglers are just now having their first experience with barbless hooks.
Barbless gear presents notable challenges when playing and landing the fish, and many anglers struggle to master them. Even tested, seasoned fishermen often have trouble, and it’s no secret that whatever you do, you will lose more fish when you fish barbless. Whether you agree or not with the new barbless hook rules, they are here to stay, and it is possible to increase your odds of landing that big salmon with just a few changes.
So, how to adjust? Here are a few tips.
Tips for fishing with Barbless Hooks
First, constant pressure is a must. Many anglers used to barbs simply don’t keep enough pressure on that fish. Some fishermen have increased their line size and use heavier gear to accomplish this, but others have found success without doing so. Still, sizing up and using heavier gear will help the barbless rookies land more fish. It simply takes a lot of practice to succeed with lighter gear.
Also, a leaping fish will often throw a barbless hook. That’s why many savvy barbless fishermen will keep their rod down low to keep the fish from leaping. It’s true that a jumping steelhead is exciting, but you increase the chances of losing that fish. To stop this, when you see a fish coming to the surface keep that rod tip down in the water.
While treble hooks are a dirty word with some fishermen, they will help you land more fish. This is especially true when fishing plugs. Of course, many waters require the use of single hooks, which help wild fish escape mortality. I fish barbless on some rivers that don’t require it, but when I do I often keep the treble if most of the fish I land will be from a hatchery.
Offer quality baits for best results
However, the absolute best advice is to use a lure or bait that the fish really want. For instance, using good, well-cured salmon roe will get the fish to take the bait deeper, increasing your chances of hooking him well enough to land. Poor quality baits may get bit, but often result in a poorly hooked fish.
Another common mistake is to take too long getting the net out and ready. Keeping tension on that fish can be tough if he comes to the boat too quick. This often allows the fish to thrash on the surface, or shake his head and lose the hook. As soon as the fish hits, someone in the boat should be getting that net ready, and quickly!
Study after study has shown that,compared with anglers using barbed hooks, those fishing barbless will lose one more fish for every five hooked. This is a reality, and it can be tough medicine when you want to keep a fine eating fish like a spring Chinook. However, it’s also true that barbless hooks make it easier to release fish without harming them. Those lost fish are probably worth it for the sake of ensuring quality sustainable fisheries in the coming years.