They couldn’t believe that we might stick nine barbed hooks in a fish we want to protect

Being out on the water fishing and photographing is what trips away are all about for me, but I also really enjoy it when the day is done (after my photos have been downloaded, edited and keyworded) and you all sit around drinking, eating and yapping away under the stars. A bunch of anglers will of course spend the majority of the time talking about all things fishing, and out in the Seychelles at some point the talk turned to the fish I might fish for back home in the UK. Now as much as sight fishing to GTs, bonefish, permit, triggerfish etc. in the Seychelles is in my mind some of the best fishing to be found anywhere on earth, I can’t afford to do it myself and I’ll put bass fishing with lures in a beautiful place as something pretty damn special as well. Bear in mind that a trip like I have just done to the almost ridiculously remote Astove atoll is I believe around $15,000 per person, excluding international flights (six days fishing). It’s a serious amount of wedge, but when I see the sheer logistics involved with running a professional operation in a location such as this, the numbers do actually make a lot of sense. There is no lure fishing allowed and it’s a single barbless hook deal - add on international flights to that trip price and you’re talking about a lot of money to catch fish like I got to see and photograph, yet not on one single occasion did I ever hear even a murmur of complaint or dissent that every hook was debarbed. One could I suppose add up the fish an individual angler caught during the six days and say that in some respects there’s a lot of dosh riding on that hook not coming out.

Which they don’t - if that is you fight your fishing properly, and as regards a GT, you simply ain’t going to ever land the thing unless you pull seven bells of manure out of it. OK, so we don’t have that “problem” with bass, but talk to the incredibly professional and very experienced guides on the trip I was on and they all say the same thing - barbless hooks don’t come out of fish’s mouths if the angler pulls properly, and yet again I come back to the simple fact that perhaps 99% of UK and Irish lure anglers could pull twice as hard on a bass as they already do and still be nowhere even remotely close to breaking rods and lines on fish. Any hook whether barbed or barbless can come out if a fish thrashes around, shakes its head hard etc., but the fact is that a properly tight line negates the need to use barbs for lure and fly fishing. And it has to be better for fish that we intend to release.

I like to think that I can talk about bass fishing with a certain degree of passion, but when I told the guys around the table one night that it is perfectly possible to use a lure with three sets of trebles and therefore in theory stick nine barbed hooks into and all over a bass, they simply couldn’t believe that anglers who love and respect their quarry could contemplate fishing like this. Astove atoll bears no correlation to where you or I might do the bulk of our fishing, I accept that, but at the end of the day for me it comes down to the respect we should have for our quarry and trying to do the right thing as responsible sport anglers. You can’t tell me that ripping barbed hooks out of fish isn’t doing them a lot of harm, and especially treble hooks.

Go on, trot out the age old argument that what’s the point of trying to do the right thing when the commercial sector takes many more bass than we could ever hope to. I have heard that one a million times and it’s never going to wash with me. If every angler had that attitude then where on earth would we be? How about if every sport angler started off by using only barbless hooks for their lure and fly fishing and in my mind therefore doing a lot less damage to a fish when you take the hook or indeed hooks out? (or barbless single plugging hooks, removing the middle treble etc.) Don’t say it wouldn’t make a difference because that doesn’t wash with me either. There might be no commercial fishing in a place like Astove atoll, but that doesn’t mean that from day one of running a sport fishing operation out there that the people involved aren’t working to look after the fish and the location.

With all that I read and hear from anglers complaining about there being less bass around, more lure anglers on “their marks”, the commercials catching too many fish offshore, rampant inshore netting, using/not using a fish grip, lifting fish out of the water to take photographs, taking the odd fish to eat or releasing everything, the fact that not all returned fish are going to survive etc., personally I think that more anglers should be looking at themselves and thinking about the respect they afford their quarry before they do the typical bury the heads in the sand and blame everybody else instead. Lots of small gestures surely add up to something significant?

It also doesn’t wash with me that you can’t use barbless hooks because of some specific set of circumstances with your lure fishing. A steaming pile of horse manure to that as well. GTs fight very differently to bonefish which in turn fight very differently to say triggerfish, and bearing in mind that I am watching and photographing on a trip like I did to the Seychelles (and not fishing, can’t quite afford the price), I am just not seeing barbless hooks fall out of some very hard fighting fish. The ease with which one can slip a barbless hook out of a fish compared to ripping barbed hooks out in my mind makes it a no-brainer if you purport to cherish your quarry and are intent on doing what you can to make even a tiny bit of difference. I’ll talk our fishing up until the cows come home, I think it really is that special, but for the life of me I will never understand certain ways of doing things. Each to their own of course, but I don’t get how sticking nine barbed hooks into a fish we love and then having to rip them out gives us much of a leg to stand on. Small gestures maybe, but from acorns grow some pretty big trees………