A wave of growing angler sentiment could eventually push the barbed hook into extinction, but for now, anglers are pretty much left on their own to decide whether to use barbless hooks.
Many anglers and fisheries experts believe the use of barbless hooks helps ensure the survival of released fish and during the last couple decades, they have gradually increased peer and regulatory pressure to use barb-free hooks.
In some states, barbless hook regulations have been limited to select bodies of water, but other regions have gone to more extreme lengths. Some Canadian provinces have gone much farther in banning or tightening the regulations on barbless hook use.
Some studies on fish caught and released with barbless versus barbed hooks have shown little difference in survival rates, but most of those studies have involved trout fishing, and a trout fly rarely makes it past a fish’s lips. In other studies, such as, a study on striped bass in Maryland, showed a significant difference in survival rate between barbed and barbless hooks.
One thing is evident. Barbless hooks certainly make the release of a fish quicker, especially with the use of multiple hooks. When a treble hook gets down deep in the back of a fish’s mouth, it can cause a lot of damage trying to get it out.
Although studies do not always back it up, fisheries managers tend to agree that the use of barbless hooks will increase the chances of a fish’s survival. Anglers get the hook out faster and it reduces the amount of time the fish is out of the water.
Even if a fish does not die after being caught and released with a barbed hook, it may have sustained additional injury that might have been reduced or eliminated through the use of a barbless hook. Common injuries include ripped mouths, broken jaws and gill damage.
A growing number of anglers believe barbless hooks can help prevent such injuries, but opponents say barbless hooks can cause more damage, because they can set deeper. Yet the barbless hook movement continues to grow, and increasing varieties of barbless hooks are appearing in tackle shops.
Despite some controversy over the benefits of using barbless hooks, the ban on barbed hooks in some areas has not caused any significant angler outrage. Most fisheries departments have reported few complaints or negative responses, because many anglers feel that there are benefits to using barbless hooks.
As the barbless hook movement grows, anglers can expect to see more barless hook regulations in waters across North America.
Anglers who want to use barbless hooks do not have to buy special hooks. They can just remove the barb by crimping it down with a pliers or filing it off. Fly anglers can choose from a variety of barbless hooks on the market. Mustad, Tiemco, and other brands are sold in barbless models.