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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

Dorsal view of a Glossosoma (Glossosomatidae) (Little Brown Short-horned Sedge) Caddisfly Larva from the Yakima River in Washington
I caught this tiny larva without a case, but it seems to key pretty clearly to to Glossosomatidae. From there, the lack of sclerites on the mesonotum points to either Glossosoma or Anagapetus. Although it's difficult to see in a 2D image from the microscope, it's pretty clear in the live 3D view that the pronotum is only excised about 1/3 of its length to accommodate the forecoxa, not 2/3, which points to Glossosoma at Couplet 5 of the Key to Genera of Glossosomatidae Larvae.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

By Troutnut on July 18th, 2019, 9:04 am EDT
Recently I've been fishing entirely with barbless flies, and I've pinched down the barbs on everything in my fly boxes. To some extent this is because I'm sure it helps a little bit with survival; the scientific research is mixed on whether this is a big enough difference to matter to whole populations, but I know I used to damage a fish once in a while because the barb made the hook hard to remove, and now I don't. However, my main motive is a form of laziness: I fish places that require barbless hooks sometimes, and it's easier to de-barb everything and err on the side of caution than to keep track of the rules about that.

I found an interesting blog post recently by John Newbury talking about barbless hooks for Czech nymphs and how retention wasn't very good on barbless hooks that were manufactured using the same designs as barbed hooks but minus the barbs. I assume the same reasoning would apply to pinched barbs, too. As an alternative, he suggested hooks designed for retention when fished barbless such as the Hanak 333 BL and Fulling Mill Czech Hook. I've never used either of those, but the recently-started Montana brand Firehole Sticks seems to use similar design principles and I have fished those with some success.

However, I haven't really had an opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison between those designed barbless hooks and de-barbed hooks using similar flies. I'm curious if anybody else here has done enough of that to form an opinion.

Comments / replies

NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 398
RleeP on Jul 19, 2019July 19th, 2019, 3:56 am EDT
Interesting stuff, Jason... My relatively few experiences with hooks designed/manufactured with no barbs has been that I lose more fish due to lack of retention. I'm of the view that a pinched-down originally barbed hook is the best of both worlds and retains more fish without making a measurable difference in fish damage (as well as damage to my earlobes from errant casts) compared to fully barbless hooks. IMO, the "bump" matters and is a friend to both us and the fish..
Troutnut's profile picture
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Jul 19, 2019July 19th, 2019, 4:59 am EDT
That is good food for thought!

as well as damage to my earlobes from errant casts

Ha, yeah I forgot to mention my one time extracting a hook that was in past the barb (not an errant cast, but a passing branch on a float trip that yanked things the wrong way) definitely made me lean more toward fishing barbless.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Partsman's profile picture
bancroft michigan

Posts: 321
Partsman on Jul 19, 2019July 19th, 2019, 11:02 am EDT
Jason, so far my experience with barbless vs. pinched is about a wash, I have used the tiemco barbless dryfly black hook quite a lot and really like it, also the barbless nymph and jig hooks have been worked well. I do have a pretty big stash of barbed hooks and I always pinch the barbs, but once there gone I will be going all barbless.
Iasgair's profile picture

Posts: 148
Iasgair on Jul 25, 2019July 25th, 2019, 3:48 am EDT
Jason, I have been using barbless hooks for years. I am sad and sorry to say I have deformed the faces of too many fish, and one is too many to begin with, in my early years with using hooks with barbs. No longer my friend.

Yes, you are 100% correct on how much easier it is to release a fish with barbless hooks, and yes, the losing of fish can become a higher percentage. But I look at it in a different way. Using barbless hooks makes it more sporting for me, and actually has helped me learn how to play a fish better.

As for Fire Hole Sticks, and the Partridge Patriot series, the point of the hook is beaked, which means it is slightly turned upward for more holding power, or better retention as you say.

The Tiemco 100SP-BL is a barbless hook that has the same design as the Tiemco 100 101 hooks, and rightly a fine sturdy hook, it lacks that holding power that the Fire Hole Sticks and Partridge Patriot series has.

Yes, pinching the barbs down leaving that slight bump helps, but say for example, in some waters here in Colorado, that do regulate barbless hooks, when the game wardens or Park Rangers check the hook, they use a cotton ball to swipe the hook where the barb was, and if there's any cotton left on that area of the hook, you'll be looking at a fine to pay. Here in Colorado, they are serious about no barbs.

I only use Fire Hole & Partridge now and I am very pleased with those products. Try them out, or any brand that has the beaked hook, and tell us what you think. If you lose your first fish, count it as a fluke. But like I said, using barbless has taught me to play fish better by being more patient and keeping tension on the line better.

Good luck.

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