A hugely important part of my own fishing is about respect for the fish I chase and sometimes catch - chucking lures at bass is what really floats my boat these days, but it worries me increasingly that so many of our hard plastic lures come with at least two, and often three sets of treble hooks. And on these razor sharp treble hooks are barbs that I personally do not think need to be or should even be there - I have no research or data to back up any of my feelings, but I just don't like the thought of potentially nine little barbed hooks having to be removed from a fish. You can "slide" barbless hooks out, but whichever way you look at it, you can't "slide" barbed hooks out. I have crushed all the barbs on my treble hooks for some time now, and I can see no reason why we should not all be doing it.
This has nothing to do with taking or not taking the odd fish to eat - however much we love fishing, at the most basic level we are still going out as hunter gatherers. I "hunt" for fish, but for the most part I choose to return them. The angler that hunts and gathers a few is doing nothing wrong at all. But I do firmly believe that getting rid of all those barbs on the hooks gives us a far better chance of swiftly and safely unhooking and then returning a fish such as a bass - if and when we choose to do so. The more I go lure fishing for bass especially, the more I feel "uneasy" about the damage that a bunch of treble hooks can do to a fish when it slashes and churns around - and I feel increasingly uneasy about the thought of having barbs on those hooks as well. I had to kill the first bass I caught in Ireland the other day because so much blood was pouring from the gill area. I could not understand why as the hooks were nowhere near that part of the fish, but these things happen from time to time. It's called fishing after all. I want to catch the fish, but I also want to give that fish the best possible chance of being safely returned to the water.
At first I started off by removing a treble hook from a few lures that had three on them, but with so many of these finely tuned lures I found that this threw the thing off balance. OK, so it seems that a lot of the lures do actually need the presence of two or three treble hooks to work as they are meant to. I also want to catch the fish that grabs at my lure - what I am not talking about here is trying to lessen our ability to hook and land fish. I am an angler and I want to load the advantage as much as possible in my favour.
I have heard all kinds of arguments and various reasons from a number of anglers who advocate the need for barbs on their treble hooks - but how many of those people have gone and actually fished without barbs on their treble hooks ? Some fish are simply going to come off whatever you do - remember, it's called fishing. Not catching. Fishing. I personally believe that some fish simply come off because the angler is not putting enough pressure on the fish, and they are not keeping the line tight enough. We come back yet again to people not knowing how hard they can push their gear, and how hard they can play a fish. I don't subscribe to such statements as "well, I might never see a fish like that again so I need the barbs", or "fish come off on barbless hooks when it's rough", or "bass thrash their head and throw barbless hooks" etc. Barbless hooks don't lose fish. Fish just get lost or anglers lose them. And let's think about the largely mandatory use of barbless hooks throughout the coarse fishing world. How many complaints do you hear about that ?
I have photographed on the remote outer atolls of the Seychelles three times now, and the first thing that the guides do on the flats is to make sure that all their clients' (single hook) flies have the barbs flattened down. There is no other way these FlyCastaway guys will operate, and bear in mind that the clients are paying serious wedge to fish these waters. I have never heard one complaint, and I have never seen one single fish lost (on a single barbless hook remember) that anybody could put down to the fact that the barb had been crushed.
Give me the fastest and most efficient way of unhooking a fish and I will take it - some guys will say about me "well, Henry then goes and works a lot of the fish for his cameras". But then go and ask anybody who has worked with me just how much attention is paid to the welfare of the fish, and how strongly those fish then swim off. I will take on board any justifiable criticism, but that is not an argument that can be used when trying to justify the use of barbs on treble hooks. Having to rip three sets of barbed trebles out of all manner of places on a fish plain and simple is not the way forward for the good of the fish, and also the good of our sport. I passionately believe that not only should we be doing the right thing by the fish, but also that we should all be doing our bit to make our sport look as good as possible. The better we make it look, the more that people will look come into fishing. And the more people that come into fishing means the stronger voice we all have to try and safeguard both our sport and our fish stocks. This might be a hugely simple way of looking at it, I grant you that, but I firmly believe it.
I have put a bunch of photos up on my website from my trip over to south east Ireland the other day - check them out here.
Anyway, enough about barbs - how about a fantastic new album for a Monday morning ? Rammstein is the kind of band I imagine you either love or hate, but they do write some incredibly catchy and heavy music that gets inside your head in a big way. Their new CD "Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da" is, I reckon, their finest since the monstrous "Mutter" a few years ago now. Check out a few tracks right here. What I think is really touching is that these mad Germans all love their cats so much, they decided to write a song about them called "Pussy". What lovely guys.