Catch and release fly fisherman should always pinch the barbs on their hooks.
Sometimes however, this important safety step is forgotten. Fish long enough and you or someone you are with will inevitably get stuck with a barbed hook. Whether you forget to crush it or you just don’t manage to crush it all the way down, I can almost guarantee it will eventually happen.
The time spent with a hook buried in your skin is uncomfortable to say the least, and the sooner you get it out the better. These are a few of the best ways I have found to get the hook out quickly and cleanly. Different methods work better than others depending on the hook size and the part of the body it is stuck in.
I hooked my friend. What Now?
The first method is the quickest and usually the most painless. Pull the skin tight, grab the hook firmly with your pliers, and yank it out hard and fast. Make sure to pull directly back the way the hook went in. Pulling up will actually tear the skin and hurt way worse. This is much easier to do with a small hook. The bigger the hook and the barb, the more damage it will do to the skin on the way out.
Method number two is the most complicated and good only if you have help, or if the hook is in someone else and you are the “surgeon”. You will need a two foot section of the heaviest monofilament you have in your bag. The minimum size necessary is 2X but heavier is better. Tie a sliding loop knot to the curve of the hook or simply loop your tippet a couple of time around the hook bend as gently as possible, leaving a long section to grab firmly. A simple clinch knot works best.
Next, push the eye of the hook down against the skin and pull the back of the hook out with the monofilament in your other hand. This disengages the barb and is without a doubt the cleanest method. It is important to pull as hard and fast as you can so the hook actually pops out. Save this one for small to medium sized hooks.
When your buddy sends that barbed size 4 weighted streamer through your shirt and in your shoulder on a windy day, your only option may be to “turn the corner”, pushing the hook all the way through the skin so the barb is exposed. Now you can crush it all the way down and back the hook out easily. If you have a Leatherman or some other heavy duty wire cutters handy you may also just want to cut the tip of the hook all the way off to be sure it will come back out cleanly.
This one is the least enjoyable and should be saved as a last resort for big hooks. When in doubt don’t try it.
First aid after the hook is out is crucial.
Go to an emergency room and let the professionals remove the hook. Especially if it is embedded near an eye or in a hand where nerve damage may occur.
Although the wound may be small or not even bleeding, it is important to thoroughly clean the entire area. Make sure to apply an antiseptic ointment, and cover the wound. Fishing hooks are dirty and infection can occur if the wound is neglected.
As noted earlier, the smart move is sometimes to leave the hook in place if removing it is likely to cause further damage. If you decide to leave the hook, tape it down to keep it from moving. Never attempt to remove a hook from inside or near the eyes. If possible, tape over both eyes so neither eye is moving and get to an emergency room immediately.
The best time to think about crimping the barb on your hook is before you ever cast it. Nothing will help you remember to de-barb every single hook like the experience of removing one from your own skin.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer