Pinch Your Barbs | Tip & Tricks

In today’s modern fishing world, it is more important than ever to practice good etiquette. The sheer number of people fishing and the many ways in which to catch fish have put tremendous pressure on this precious resource. It is up to us to treat the fish with respect and practice not only catch and release but the many other ways to ensure their wellbeing. Pinching your barbs is one such practice. Here are some reasons to pinch your barb.


The barb itself is the small triangular-shaped metal at the sharp end of the hook that points in the opposite direction of the sharp end. The purpose of the barb on the hook is to securely hold the hook in place after it has penetrated the fish’s mouth.


Basically, take your Hemos (or a set of needle-nose pliers) and gently squeeze the barb down in place. Put enough pressure on to pinch the barb but not too much to break the hook. This can be done on any hook that has a barb. 



The growing concern that barbed hooks were harmful brought about the barbless hook. I believe that Euro Style Nymphing helped bring them to the forefront. Today there are many options of barbless hooks to choose from. I almost exclusively tie on barbless hooks and if a hook that I use has a barb, I pinch it. 



    A barbless hook is designed to pierce the fish’s mouth easier thus creating a smaller penetration hole. This in turn doesn’t tear up the fish’s mouth like a hook with a barb in it would. And when removing the hook, doesn’t rip the flesh on its way out.


     Sometimes the fish inhale the hook. We all hate to see that. Barbless hooks make it easier to get the hook free.


    Barbless hooks are designed to come out of the fish’s mouth easier thus requiring less effort to remove the hook. This benefits the fish because we don’t have to handle it as long. It also allows us to practice the “Keep Them Wet” philosophy because it isn’t always necessary to touch to fish to remove the hook, keeping the fish in the water. 


     A deeply penetrated hook and an active spinning fish can make a quick 5-second release turn into a 5-minute release. This can make all the difference between a healthy release and a dead fish. 


     Net technology has come a long way. One of the best iterations was the addition of the rubber basket. Non-rubber baskets and in some cases rubber baskets can rub off the protective slime of the fish. How does this relate to barbless hooks? The rubber basket doesn’t catch the hook. A lot of times when netting the fish, the hook is spat out. This helps get the fish out of the net and back into the water quicker.


    Fishing with 2 flies has its advantages but one of the main disadvantages is tangles. Even worse is when the fish get tangled up in the line and have 2 hooks stuck in them. Barbless hooks help set the fish free quicker.


If you fish long enough eventually you will hook yourself. This usually happens early in the pursuit however it can happen anytime. When it does, you will be thankful that you used a barbless hook. For the guides who make a living taking predominately new people fishing, it is not a matter of if it happens but how many times. True Story: I’m fishing with a friend, (I’m the one who constantly reminds him to pinch his barbs) and we just launched on a 5-hour float throwing streamers. Five minutes in I hook myself in the back. Of course, I didn’t pinch the barb. After several failed attempts of him wrenching on my back and minutes of agony, I finally have him tape it down on my back so we can continue fishing. I get home around 8:30, make the mistake of turning the tv on and the Wisconsin-Michigan State football game is on. It came down to the wire on a Hail Mary. It is now 12:30 am when I finally check myself into the ER to have the fly removed. Moral of the story…. Never miss a good football game!


Seems like I’m not the only one who likes barbless hooks. Many of the fly patterns we offer in the shop today are now tied on barbless hooks. In addition, for us fly tiers, almost all hook companies now have several barbless hook options to choose from. And in the Euro World, it’s almost exclusively barbless hooks. 


There are still some that believe barbless hooks are more harmful to fish. The reason I suspect and most often hear is that you fight the fish longer and exhaust the fish. Because a barbless hook can be removed easier, it then stands to reason that a fish will spit the hook more often. Yes and no. Yes, a fish can spit the hook easier, but this is more often due to the fisherman. The tendency is to fight fish differently or not as hard because in our minds we know that we are using barbless hooks. The result is not keeping our line tight. This slack in the line is what causes the fish to spit the hook. So as the saying goes…. “Tight Lines To Ya!”

Overall, I believe that barbless hooks are the way to go. They have proven their worth to me for all the above-mentioned reasons and then some. Next time you’re out fishing try using a barbless hook and see what you think.