Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barbed or Barbless, the debate continues.

I just read an interesting blog article from several years ago. You can view it here.

The blog discusses the effects that barbed or barbless hooks have on the mortality rates of fish. A study by Westerman is mentioned as finding that barbed hooks have a higher impact on mortality rates than barbless, but that there is no analytical data to show such. A study by Taylor and White agree with Westerman's findings using meta-analysis.

But a review of the Taylor/White study by Dan Schill and RL Scarpella show that some studies were not included in the Taylor and White findings. They then did their own study and included data up to 1997, which is when the their study was done.

Their findings show that there is NO evidence in higher mortality rates using barbed hooks compared to barbless. Their study showed that some studies showed higher mortality rates using barbed hooks and some studies showed no difference; but the higher mortality rates were minimal (just a few percentage points.)

The article then showed findings from studies released since the 1997 article:
-Dubois & Dubielzig (2004) - showed no biological advantage in using barbless hooks
-Dubois & Dubielzig (2004, different study) - no difference between barbed and barbless, except when fish deeply swallowed the hooks, in which case barbless were better.
-Schaeffer & Hoffman (2002) - no significant difference in mortality between barbed and barbless.  Barbed hooks landed 22% more fish.  Quicker hook release time with barbless.
-Meka (2004) - higher injury rates with barbed hooks, however she did not compare mortality, so results are not applicable.
These studies would show something that I had always suspected; that proper handling and release of the fish is more important than the hook that is being used. A fisherman using proper catch and release(C&R) techniques with barbed hooks will have a lower mortality rate that someone using barbless hooks and but will gill-grab the fish, use pliers to twist out the hook and then unceremoniously toss the fish back into the water.

I think that it is almost ironic that most of the fisherman that I know that firmly follow C&R almost exclusively use barbless hooks when it would seem that they might not necessarily need to.

The one situation where I believe that a barbless hook would be beneficial would be when  fish inhales the fly and gets hooked in the gullet. While I have not done any studies, I do not find it a stretch to think that having a barbed hok lodged in a fishes gills or stomach will cause more tissue damage and trauma during the fight than a hook with just a single point.

And unless you typically fish with Nostradamus it would be very difficult to determine when a strike such as that will occur. It is for this reason alone that I would advocate and recommend consistently using barbless hooks. (Not to mention the "human hooking" factor, which is a discussion in itself.)

So whether you use barbed or barbless, thats you personal choice, but I would whole-heartedly ask all fisherman to use proper C&R techniques. It promotes the health of the fish and arguably prolongs the life of the fish as well. If you do not know proper  C&R, or need a refresher, check out these online resources or contact your local Trouts Unlimited chapter. i'm sure they would be more than happy to discuss it with you.

Looking to buy barbless hooks to tie your flies? 

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