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Ronan's report

Sunday October 14th, 2012

My mate runs stocked rainbow trout fishery. He runs it exceptionally well in my opinion. It's really well kept, stocked with high quality fish, in a nice part of the world. Like most fisheries he offers a variety of day tickets to meet different angler's needs in terms of hours and whether or not you want to take any fish home.

So the fishery isn't 100% catch and release. I suspect most people take a fish or two and then switch to C&R for the rest of the day. There aren't too many rules to worry about and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. The exception to this is the rules around fish handling.

If a fish is to be killed it must be killed straight away, no messing about. If the fish is to go back then the first principle is that the fish doesn't leave the water. You can use a landing net or grab the leader, the choice is yours, but the fish mustn't be handled or lifted out on to the bank. The only way to ensure this is for anglers to fish with barbless hooks.

The fishery owner is really careful to explain these rules to everyone who turns up, and checks that they understand them. He also says "if you have any problems or concerns over handling a fish, keep it in the net and in the water and call me over". It's a small fishery, he can see all the anglers, and with his quad bike he can get to them in a few seconds.

The point is that he tries really hard to be clear as to what to do. But most days he sees bad fish handling, and people struggling to get hooks out of fish. It seems anglers either overestimate their fish handling skills, underestimate the fragility of stocked rainbows, or are just too embarrassed to ask for help.

High among his problems is people not debarbing their hooks. It's easy to forget, I've done it myself. So now I debarb before the hook even goes in to the vise. But he suspects that lots of guys don't debarb because they fear losing fish and think he won't notice if they stay barbed. He says it's dead easy to tell when someone's not debarbed as they spend ages trying to get the hook out. He then wanders over and checks their hooks. Busted.

The consensus on the board is that barbless hooks are a good thing. Our experience tells us that they reduce fish handling and damage to the fishes' mouth, and also that they are a lot easier to remove from your hand, ear, head if things go awry.

However some people do think there are problems with barbless. Some people think they can penetrate too far, move around more, and cut through flesh more easily. The carp fishing world is very ambivalent about barbless hooks and many fisheries ban them because of fears that they increase mouth damage.

I'm happy to accept that the relative benefits of barbless hooks could vary from species to species, and between fishing methods. But I don't think that any issues with barbless hooks should mean we all meekly go back to using standard barbed hooks.

If a barbless hook is found to move around more, manufacturers could put a bump on the point where the barb was (a la debarbed?); if a hook is found to cut mouths more, make the wire thicker on the bend. If a particular method is resulting in deeper hook-ups, change it. The point is (ugh!) if we think a hook is regularly doing more damage than it should we should look around for solutions, not go back to something worse. It'd be nice to see hook manufacturers offering guidance, solutions and advice here, but I won't hold my breath.

Me? I'm happy that the debarbed hooks I'm using, for the fishing I'm doing, cause minimal damage to the fish I catch. I'll carry on crimping.


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