Barbless Hooks and Playing Trout

Written by: Paul Procter


Absorbing violent lunges whilst maintaining tension, a 45 degree angle is recommended in general when playing trout.
Photo by Paul Procter

These days, it seems more and more fly fishers’ are switching to barbless, or de-barbed hooks. This makes perfect sense where catch and release is practiced. However there can be times when for no apparent reason several trout are lost on the trot, which if we’re all being honest, dents our confidence. In truth, my first thought is always the hook point and whether it’s sharp or blunt. Assuming all is well, I then attempt to analyse what might of gone wrong and if any slack occurred at any time.

Naturally, we’re taught to maintain a tensioned line at all times when battling fish, but this doesn’t necessarily mean subjecting the rod to a constant groaning curve. When a hooked fish decides to bolt, it’s wise to ease off on pressure and let him run. Now, unless all loose line is gathered on the reel then this will be paid out through clenched fingers, which is where problems might occur due to juddering movements. In turn this creates momentary slack that’s just enough for the hook to slip free, especially if the trout leaps.


Side strain is a great way to exert maximum pressure on a fish, so long as they’re not running hard in the opposite direction.
Photo by Paul Procter

First up, I’m a great believer in gathering line back onto the reel where possible. I say “where possible” as a hooked trout running directly towards you often requires fly line to be stripped through the fingers in order to maintain tension. Given those acrobatic trout, drop the rod tip when a fish breaches. If you sense a trout is about to break surface then laying the rod sideways, or even plunging the rod tip subsurface sometimes persuades them otherwise that in turn reduces the odds of them shedding your hook. Hooks tend to pull free on leaping fish because the pressure we exert pulls them slightly towards us once they leave the water that in turn, causes unwanted slack.


A vertical rod reduces pressure so there’s less likelihood of a break off if the fish decides to suddenly scarper.
Photo by Paul Procter

Use a rod’s leverage to your advantage and understand that the angle you position the rod when playing a trout drastically affects strain. It’s an easy assumption to make, but some believe that holding a rod high and leaning back means massive pressure can be applied to fish. Whilst this looks quite impressive, actually the opposite is true. Placing the rod to an angle of approx 45 degrees will see the blank flex through its mid section where sufficient pressure can be realized to subdue a trout. Dropping the rod further and in some cases, almost pointing it towards the fish will bring the powerful butt section into play, exerting the greatest force.

Applying the above into actually fishing scenarios might go something like this.
Initially hooked, fresh and energetic, trout often make fast, strong runs. So, to prevent break offs or the fly pulling free, assume a high rod position to reduce pressure. An almost vertically held rod only brings the tip section into play with a minimal amount of force, which is adopted when trout are held on a short rein prior to netting. For playing fish in general, a rod of 45-60 degrees will provide adequate pressure to tire them relatively quickly, especially where side strain is used.


About Paul: Life long Orvis supporter, AAPGAI Master Instructor, Orvis Endorsed Guide and Wild Trout Trust vice president, Paul Procter is a dedicated flyfisher with over 40 years experience under his belt. Aside from being a regular on the Orvis Blog, Paul is a leading contributor to Trout & Salmon, Trout Fishermen and the Fieldsports Magazine. Travelling extensively throughout the UK, Europe and Southern Hemisphere, Paul has gained extensive knowledge in both fresh and saltwater disciplines. His abiding love though is to target large wild brown trout using dry fly techniques.

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