Barbless Hooks: The Fish-Friendly Alternative Anglers Should Consider

Last updated on March 28th, 2022

fisherman holds barbless hook

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Many anglers today choose to fish with barbless hooks because they want to conserve our fish populations and natural resources. Fishing with barbless hooks is safer and more humane.

These hooks are designed to catch fish without injuring them which is better for the angler, fish, and wildlife. It has become as valuable to today’s recreational fishing as using circle hooks and the practice of catch and release.

These fish-friendly hooks can be used by anyone and for all types of fishing from freshwater fishing to deepsea and for a variety of the most popular species including bass, trout, striped bass, and snook.

Barbless hooks have a variety of advantages over traditional fishing hooks. They are significantly safer for the fish and can be used by anyone from children to adults to help minimize injury to fish and allow their populations to thrive. 

If you’re looking for a way to make a less invasive impact when fishing, then barbless hooks may be your best choice. Their use is on the rise and they are making the overall fishing experience less damaging to fish and potentially more rewarding for anglers. Perhaps you should also give them a try. 

What Are Barbless Hooks and Why Should You Fish With Them?

As you might have guessed, a barbless fishing hook is a type of fishing hook that does not have barbs at the point of the hook. They are really simplistic in design yet offer so much in terms of minimizing damage to fish and increasing their survival rate when combined with catch and release. As a bonus, they are also safer for anglers as they reduce the chances of injury.

Anglers are using them for different types of fishing, including fly fishing, baitcasting, and spinning due to the many benefits they offer, including the ones already mentioned here.

In some of the best fishing locations in the US and Canada, they are the law and must be used when fishing those bodies of water. So, in these situations, it is not a matter of choice.

A “barbless hook” typically refers to the standard J-hook without a barb, but other hook designs such as treble hooks, fishing lures and fly fishing flies can also be made without a barb, hence barbless.

For now, barbless hooks may not be as popular as the more traditional barbed hooks, but they can be found in most fishing tackle shops and online fishing supply stores at comparable prices. You can also make your own barb-free hooks, and we’ll talk more about that a little later in this post.

The Benefits of Using a Barbless Fishing Hook

Barbless hooks have a variety of advantages over traditional fishing hooks. One of the key benefits of using non-barbed hooks is that they are much easier to remove from a fish’s mouth after a catch has been made than their barbed cousins. Another important feature is that they will not get stuck in the gills or stomach if they miss their mark.

One of the things I really dislike about traditional hooks is that sooner or later you are going to hook a fish in a part of the mouth that is going to take time to work out without causing excessive trauma to the fish because of the barb.

If you gut-hook the fish, the chances of the fish serving greatly diminish with the increased amount of time out of the water as you carefully try to remove the hook.

The barbless hook is an excellent choice for situations like these. You will most likely be able to remove the hook with very little injury to the fish in most circumstances. In the case of a mouth hook, the fish may even be able to dislodge it with its own movement.

Barbless Hooks Are a Natural Complement to Catch and Release Fishing

This type of hook is popular with fishermen, in particular those who practice catch and release, who want to avoid causing unnecessary pain and injury to the fish.

Catch and release is probably the most popular term in sport fishing today as anglers of every style of fishing try to do their part to make the sport more sustainable. Barbless hooks are a natural complement to catch-and-release fishing.

They improve the practice by allowing anglers to get the fish off the hook and back into the water sooner. The faster we can return fish to their natural environment the better their prospects for survival.

In my opinion, the increased speed of release, though somewhat underrated, may be the biggest contributing factor to reducing the mortality rates of fish caught and released, as this study seems to support.

In a nutshell, barbless hooks make catch and release easier, more efficient.

Barbless Vs Barbed Fishing Hooks

fly fishing with barbless hooks

Proponents will tell you that barbless fishing hooks are safer and more effective than barbed ones. They feature a barb-free design that is much safer for fish, while barbed hooks have a barb that can cause serious injury to the fish.

Fishing hooks without a barb are also more environmentally friendly overall because they do not do as much damage to other wildlife such as birds or turtles when they get caught in them.

However, there are still many anglers who see no advantage in going barbless and, in fact, point out that conventional barbed hooks are still better in most categories, even arguing that they do less harm to fish than hooks with no barbs.

Scientifically speaking, however, the research on the benefits of barbless hooks versus barbed has been a mixed bag. Some show clear advantages, others show slight positive changes in the outcomes while, still, others prove little in either direction.

What I can say, observationally from my own experience, is that not having a barb does make a difference in reducing injury to fish, and I have to believe that will give them a much better chance at surviving once released.

But clearly, there is still a debate and opposing opinions, so let’s take a look at some of them …

The Case for Using Barbless Hooks

Here are some of the most popular and best reasons for going barbless. These are nowhere exhaustive as there are many more valid points to be made.

  • Better hooksets – Yes, barbless hooks give you a smoother, more powerful hookset since there is not the impediment of a barb, however small it may be. Less resistance equals more solid hooksets. It’s just simple physics.
  • Less damaging to fish – Simply put, the barbless hook’s thinner profile will cause less trauma and damage to fish when penetrating and exiting its flesh. This is especially important when practicing catch and release where the goal is to reduce mortality sustain healthy populations.
  • Speeds up release the time for catch and release fishing – In addition to minimizing the damage fish can suffer from the use of standard barbed hooks, barbless hooks are going to be far easier and faster to remove from the fish’s mouth or even when lodged deeper within. Remember, time matters when it comes to survivability.
  • Safer for anglers – Ever hook yourself? We have all done it at one time or another. With a barbless hook, there is no damaging barb preventing you from simply pulling the hook out without ripping out the flesh. It might save you a trip to the ER!

The Arguments for Barbed Hooks

This post would not be complete if I didn’t, at least briefly, also touch on common angler arguments for the use of the standard barbed hooks over barbless hooks. Here are a few of the most frequently voiced opinions about the use of conventional hooks.

As you’ll see, not all of the arguments are based on conservation but more on their practicality.

  • Barbed hooks catch more fish – It may be hard to argue against this one as the barb does keep the fish on the hook more securely. Barbs definitely reduce the chance of the hook being “spit out”.
  • Barbless hooks lead to fish over exhaustion – Some have argued that the fear of losing the catch causes some anglers to overplay and thereby completely exhaust the fish. This also greatly impacts the survivability of the fish, they add.
  • Familiarity – Almost everyone who has ever fished has done so using a barbed hook. We tend to feel more comfortable going with what we know, it’s human nature.
  • Availability – Barbed hooks are the standard as of this writing. They can easily be found in various configurations at any tackle shop, sporting goods store, etc. The same cannot be said for barbless hooks. They are not quite in the mainstream just yet.

How to Make Your Own Barbless Hooks and Save Money

For those of us who do not want to spend the money on them and use what we already have, we can simply make our own. Making barbless hooks is easy, and you can do it with simple tools found in your garage or tackle box.

By the way, you can make any hook barb-free, whether it is a single J-hook, circle hook, or a treble hook. The same also applies to the hooks in flies and lures. There are basically two methods for making a barbless fishing hook:

  • The first is to use pliers and vise. Place the hook in vise securely, leaving enough room to work on the barb. Next, bend the barb back and forth with a pair of needle-nose pliers until it breaks off. If the slight bump or any jagged edges that are left bother you, simply use a file to smooth them down.
  • The second method is by far the quickest and easiest as well as my favorite. You can, again, use a vise or simply hold the hook by the shank and take your pliers and simply pinch the barb down as flush as possible against the shank. Walla! … that easy and you’re done!

Conclusion: Why Would You Want to Use Barbless Fishing Hooks?

There are many reasons to use barbless fishing hooks over traditional barbed hooks. They can be used for different types of fishing and they are easier to remove from the fish without causing excessive injury to it. By doing so, they fit perfectly into efforts to protect our fisheries and make recreational fishing more sustainable.

It also doesn’t hurt (not as much as barbed hooks, anyway!) that they are safer for the angler and much easier to remove when those occasional accidents occur and we find ourselves the ones hooked.

Lastly, you may not have a choice depending on where you fish barbed hooks are prohibited in many locations throughout North America and elsewhere.

In the end, fishing with barbless hooks will help to protect one of our most important natural resources and ensure that recreational fishing is an activity that is sustainable for generations to come.

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