Increasingly my personal feeling is that a lure angler who reckons they are practising catch and release while at the same time potentially sticking nine barbed hooks in a fish's mouth (and quite often anywhere around the head/gills/eyes etc.) is in my book not making a great job of catch and release. Agree with me or not, I don't care one bit - it's how I feel. I can't prove anything here, but having ripped little barbed hooks from all over the head, eyes and mouth area of a few bass and winced at the damage, it just doesn't sit comfortably with me as a means of successful catch and release. And as for not de-barbing hooks? Come on then, give me the various excuses - because they are all crap at the end of the day. If you fight fish properly, you don't lose fish on barbless hooks, end of. Either do it or don't do it (it is of course entirely up to you!), but please don't give me any garbage excuses that you kinda want to, but can't actually do it for so and so "unique reason".
It's personal choice of course. Some anglers fish to eat and some don't. I do what I am comfortable with and because it's my blog, I am going to say what I want to say. I trust that the vast percentage of you here are open-minded enough to accept my opinions for what they are - merely my opinions. A while back I started removing the middle treble hook from my hard lures that have three sets on there - partly because it makes for easier unhooking (I hope better for the fish and I know better for my fingers), partly because it makes me feel a little better, and partly because I started to wonder why on earth these lures need so many treble hooks. Take off brand new trebles and split rings and you soon end up with a bunch of spare hooks for replacements as well.
Obviously I started to remove the middle trebles with a degree of apprehension - was it going to adversely affect how the lures swam, and as a result would it affect my catches? Well believe me, I have tried, but so far I can't find a hard lure here (I have a couple!!) that seems to be remotely affected by the middle treble not being there. All I am doing is looking at the lures in the water and trying to see if they might be swimming any differently, but to my eyes they all seem the same.
Has doing this affected my catches? Not that I am aware of. Again, it's hardly scientific, but never once have I felt that I am not say catching bass when I should be - imagine a mate continues to catch fish and you resolutely remain fishless on the same/similar lure. OK, so it's not as if I am top of the tree when it comes to anglers I tend to fish with, but I never once have I felt my lures aren't doing their proper things with that middle treble not there.
On a few occasions last year I managed to convince myself that the odd hard lure was in fact behaving a little bit differently, but that was my head playing tricks on me. Just yesterday for example I took Storm for a walk with a rod and a few lures that I had wondered about last year - the Gataride, Nabarone and Feed Shallow - one of each with the three trebles on there, and one of each with the middle one removed. It may be me and the fact that I haven't been lure fishing since before I was born, but for the life of me they all look like they are swimming exactly the same to me (just like when fishing with them last year) - with or without the treble, which to me then makes it a no-brainer.
I never worried about losing bass because of a missing hook, and thinking back I can't recall ever having cause to blame a fish that came off on a missing treble hook - and of course all my treble and single hooks have their barbs crushed flat. And yes, I do tend to fight my fish very hard. I trust that my rods do actually like to bend into a fish, I trust my line and knots, and my personal opinion is that green fish go back better. Can I prove it? Nope, but then neither can anglers who piss around fighting a fish for ages longer than they ever need to prove that it's a good thing. As I quite often say, wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same?
Bear in mind here that I am rarely if ever carrying a hard lure over about the DUO Slim 140/MegaBass X140/IMA Sasuke 140 sort of size, and if I was using some of those big 170mm plus minnows then I am not sure I would be removing that middle treble straight away. It's an awfully big gap on a lure that long, but if I fished with lures that big then I also know I would come around to removing the middle treble to see what happened. One can speculate all one likes, but in reality you need to try it out for real and see how it goes. I remember worrying about going from crushing the barbs on my trebles to doing it on my single hooks as well (jig heads/weedless etc.) - would I lose fish? Well the only way to find out is to try it, and of course I didn't then lose more bass because of it.
What does any of this prove? Nothing really, save for the fact that I am not getting stuck by hook points so much when I am unhooking my fish, I've got brand new, spare trebles which I can replace knackered hooks with, and I just feel better if you like that I am doing what I believe is a degree less harm to a fish that I respect and want to try and return to at least give it a chance at growing bigger and perhaps breeding some more. A mere drop in the ocean? Perhaps, but plenty of drops can end up causing a sizeable ripple.