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October 26, 2001

Fishing Barbless Isn't Pointless

Simply put, for catching most game fish in most situations, barbs on treble hooks are unnecessary.

If your tackle box resembles mine, it's probably loaded with plugs of all shapes, sizes and colors. But these varied plugs all have in common one point - or, more accurately, six. Most come equipped with two treble hooks.
That means not only six points but six barbs. And what are these barbs for? To catch fish, you say. Wrong: They're there to catch fishermen.
Simply put, for catching most game fish in most situations, barbs on treble hooks are unnecessary. I really believe anyone who says otherwise hasn't spent much time fishing barbless plugs. Almost never do I fish plugs without first pinching down the barbs. Here's what I gain:

  • The ability to release fish quickly and easily without harming them;
  • The ability to release myself quickly and easily after a careless or unlucky move puts a hook deep in my thumb; and
  • More hook-ups, I suspect, since when using light lines it's initially easier to drive a narrow, barbless point into a jaw than a thicker barbed point.

    And here's what I lose by fishing barbless plugs: 

  • Nothing.

    Keeping in mind fundamental angling skills (always remembering the old adage to "keep a tight line"), there's no reason for your catch rate with barbless vs. barbed trebles to decline.
    Yet it seems safe to say that very few pluggers bother to take a couple minutes to debarb their hooks. Why not? I know of no surveys offering hard data, but think it's safe to say that most anglers feel it's not worth their time to bother pinching down the barbs, or they fear losing more fish by using barbless hooks.
    Since that's wrong on both counts, I present this appeal to readers: Pinch down the barbs on every plug before you take that first cast. My guess is that most who try won't go back to fishing barbed trebles.
    But I have another appeal to make, this one to those who manufacture plugs: Start offering your lures with barbless treble hooks.
    This isn't a naove call to stop selling plugs with barbed treble hooks; that won't happen. But manufacturers should offer anglers a choice (at least for most plugs) so they can buy their favorite plug in either a barbed- or barbless-hook version.
    Manufacturers have an ethical responsibility to promote wise use of the resources. Offering barbless trebles is the right thing to do.
    But more than that, it's also the smart thing to do. With increasing numbers of anglers putting more and more pressure on coastal game fish, the health of the tackle industry itself is at stake. Anything the industry can do to help conserve the resource it must do. And what a great opportunity this offers lure manufacturers to take a leadership role in conservation.
    At a recent national symposium in Virginia Beach on catch-and-release sport fishing, I noticed most of the focus on circle hooks - truly a fabulous innovation. But little was said about treble hooks, and there are an awful lot of plug-tossers out there.
    The time has come for anglers to start pinching their plugs' barbs down and for the industry to start offering barbless trebles so no one will have to pinch anything. Doing so will keep all elements of recreational fishing healthier: the industry, anglers and, of course, the fish on whose availability we all rely.