The Battle With Barbless…

Written by: Paul Procter


A lot more popular these days, barbless hooks are fish friendly when practicing C&R.
Photo by Paul Procter

With catch and release on the up, for a number of years now there’s been a definite shift towards using barbless hooks. This makes perfect sense when turning fish loose as in many cases, we rarely need to handle our quarry. Equally, when removing the fly there’s less likelihood of causing injury a trout’s mouth parts. In particular the maxilla bone is susceptible to damage from rough treatment now.


Although intact on this wild trout the outer upper jaw bone of fish is prone to damage during rough handling.
Photo by Paul Procter

It all sounds like a rational choice, that is until you lose several fish in quick succession and suddenly, doubt creeps in as to whether fish are slipping the hook due to their barbless configuration! Trust me, I speak from experience here and have more than once queried the holding properties of barbless hooks. Over time and chatting it through with other experienced anglers, it’s more likely just a run of bad luck. That said there are certain measures we can take to stack the odds in our favour. Much of what is discussed here will be old hat to the seasoned rod, yet there’s a few gems for beginners and some reminders too.

Firstly, when playing trout, it’s vital to maintain tension at all times. I know this sounds logical, but you’d be surprised the number of times anglers overlook this, especially with other things on their mind, like getting line back onto the reel, or reaching for the landing net. Where possible, drop the rod tip when a fish leaps. I say “where possible” because it’s hard to judge when a fish may leap. As a guide though, look at the angle your line enters the water, so you know when a fish is nearing the surface. Equally, laying the rod sideways (flat) or even dropping the tip into the water sometimes makes fish less incline to jump and shed the hook.


It’s easy to drop your guard when landing fish. Any slack at this crucial moment can see our prize slip the hook.
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 pressure applied. It’s an easy assumption to make, but beginners believe holding a rod high and leaning back applies maximum pressure. Whilst this looks impressive, actually the opposite effect occurs. An almost vertical rod only brings the tip section into play with a minimal amount of force. 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.


Side strain or sweeping the rod to one side often knocks a fish off balance to prevent it from leaping.
Photo by Paul Procter

Applying the above into actually fishing scenarios might go something like this.
When initially hooked, fresh and energetic, trout often make fast, strong runs. To prevent the fly pulling free, assume a high rod position to reduce pressure. Equally, when fish are either hooked at close quarters or when a trout is nearing the net with only a short length of working line exposed there is little stretch in the outfit. Again, a vertical rod helps. For generally playing a trout a rod of 45-60 degrees will provide adequate pressure to tire them relatively quickly. If fish are hooked at range when there’s the potential for lots of stretch throughout an entire fly line, following the initial lift to set the hook, dropping the rod to below 45 degrees (applying max pressure) will help you hold and control fish at distance.


If in doubt, you won’t go far wrong with a 45 degree rod angle when battling a fish.
Photo by Paul Procter

Another ploy here is to actually angle the rod into a horizontal plane (side strain) which piles on even more pressure and will often help bring a struggling trout to hand that much sooner. A common mistake the newcomer often makes when connected to trout close in, is to yield to a bolting fish by allowing the rod to be pulled over. Ultimately bringing the powerful butt section into the equation with virtually no give in the system, either the hook will pull free, or worse still the leader breaks. Remember to pay out line when a trout does decide to take off.


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.

One thought on “The Battle With Barbless…

  1. MICHAEL HORNER

    I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNETY TO CONGRATULATE AND THANK ORVIS UK FOR THEIR
    SPEEDY AND FINE SERVICE.
    I HAD A DAMAGED CLEARWATER ROD, BROKEN SECTION I PHONED FOR HELP FOLLOWED THE INSTRUCTIONS , SENT THE ROD OFF AND IT HAS BEEN REPARED AND RETURNED FIVE DAYS AFTER i DISPATCHED IT.
    FANTASTIC SERVICE, WELL DONE!! WE OFTEN COMPLAIN OF BAD SERVICE, SO NOW I SAY THANK YOU AND WELL DONE

    REGARDS.
    M.G.D.HORNER.
    .

    Reply

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