Barbless or Barbed, that is the Question.
Over the next few weeks I will be putting a few blogs together about a number of controversial issues around carp welfare and carp rigs. My first ramblings will be around the controversial use of Barbless hooks.
Throughout my carp fishing career I have come across a number of waters where the barbless hook rule was strictly enforced. For some reason I never felt confident in using barbless hooks, but once again this year I have been forced to use them due to fishery rules. 2013 has seen me testing a number of different waters for Angling Lines where the rule once again was in force over barbless hooks, which includes all the Bachelier waters such as Brie, Brocard Large and Brocard Small.
Now over the years I have been tampering with different hooks and hook links, but I always seem to go back to my old favourites, Kryston Merlin and the hook pattern which originated in the Ashima range, now produced as the Smart Point SP 315 barbless hooks and SP310 barbed hooks. The barbed version of these hooks are the same pattern that I used over 10 years ago in the Ashima range. This was introduced to me by Shaun Harrison when we fished together on the Mangrove. At that time I was fishing combi-rigs made up of Seaguar Fluorocarbon and 25lb Merlin. I have tweaked the rig a bit and now fish a straight through rig in 15lb Merlin made up with the Ultimate Barbless hook rig at the business end and a figure of eight knot on the other.
I mentioned earlier about the lack of confidence in the barbless hook! Most anglers have the same feelings about the lack of a barb, and give reasons for not using them, such as, the hook slips, they causes mouth damage and you lose too many fish. Over the issue of mouth damage, if it is true, is this caused by anglers fearing the loss of a fish and putting excessive and unnecessary pressure on it, whilst playing it to the net? Surely, once a hook hold is gained, as long as gentle pressure is applied there should be no reason for the hook to slip, and if it does lose its hold, the chance is that the fish will swim off, lips and flesh still intact.
Rods could also be a cause to losing carp when the angler is using barbless hooks. Carp rods are getting longer and stiffer so that we can cast to the horizon. The rods that I use are 12 footers and behave perfectly when playing in a fish, however they aren’t that stiff that they can be classed as big casting rods. Although I do not, and never have owned bigger rods, I am sure that they must disadvantage the owners when playing in a fish with a barbless hook set up, as they are not as forgiving at the net as a more supple rod.
I have been using barbless hooks and caught and released numerous carp from both French waters and English waters, with no mouth damage at all. The only signs of the fish being hooked, was the small entry wound which appeared the size of a pin prick. They either spat the hook out into the net or the hook was removed from the carps mouth with ease. I have lost 3 carp in the past few months, but I put this down to them not feeding heavily. This incident was on Brocard small, and all 3 fish were lost one after the other. I shortened my hook link and the situation was rectified.
Now we look at barbed hooks. The barb on a hook is there to ensure that a hooked fish cannot escape until the hook is forcibly removed by the captor. Animal activists would have a field day if they saw the damage that can be caused due to the removal of a hook by an in-experienced angler. Even the best anglers can cause mouth damage, even if it is minimal. Even the micro-barbed hooks cause a bigger wound than the barbless hook. If the hook, having penetrated the soft flesh in the carps mouth, exits on the outer part of the mouth, it always has the chance of catching in the netting of the landing net. This is when you can have some real problems in un-hooking your capture. If this was a barbless hook the hook can be removed straight away from the netting, and out of the carp’s mouth with no injury to the fish.
The former barbed hook can cause more damage than is necessary. So why do we prefer barbed hooks? My answer to that is:- that it is not for carp welfare, as many would say, but to please the carp angler, who is frightened of losing the odd fish due to their failings in maintaining steady pressure on the carp during the retrieval process, or putting excessive pressure on it.
Many anglers, even the most experienced maintain that the barbless hook causes excessive damage to carp. I have not found this, and I can only assume that they have been fishing waters where mostly in-experienced anglers are fishing. Also a lot of this is hearsay, not being witnessed themselves, but picked up by word of mouth from another. A lot of the waters that enforce the Barbless only rule, have enforced this rule out of necessity due to excessive weed or snags in the lake. It is irresponsible anglers fishing the weed beds, or too close too or in snags, that are causing the problems. Just imagine the state of the mouths if barbed hooks were used. There would be fish deaths through tethering rather than the odd lip torn.
My conclusion… there are a lot of rules that have been put in place on many waters over the use of leaders, lead core and dropping leads. I am sure that most of these are in place because of poor angling and barbed hooks. If any fish is hooked and gets tethered in weed or a snag, or picks up a bait as the result of a crack off (line breakage on a cast), I am sure that it is far easier for that fish to dispose of a barbless hook than one with a barb in. I am sure that this debate will go on for years amongst carp anglers and the general fishing community, but at present it is down to the anglers choice and confidence in their angling ability.