Atlantic salmon anglers have an ongoing controversy between fishing with single barbless hooks and barbed single or double hooks. We salmon anglers are quick to make our opinions known over this argument but have we really thought it out.

Many opinions are put out to the fly fishing public as fact from individuals, media, government agencies and Atlantic salmon conservation organizations about this issue without any survival data.

Barbless or barbed hooks might be a mortality factor in trout fishing and other game species that are engaged in feeding. In this case we are specifically discussing Atlantic salmon fly fishing and the use of what type of hook gives the best survival rate for the fish.

The known fact is that once an Atlantic salmon reaches fresh water it no longer continues to feed. Their digestive system goes into dormancy, the throat tightens, and stomach shrinks and no longer functions for digestion. Subsiding on their high fat reserves and muscle mass their reproductive system begins to develop. We have therefore substantiated the fact that Atlantic salmon no longer swallow when taking a fly as they physically cannot.

The known fact that Atlantic salmon are not feeding is a big part of the mystery “as to why Atlantic’s take a fly.” “Take” and take they do, no other game fish takes so violently looking to kill the fly, not eating it. Just thinking of a feeding trout sipping not wasting any more energy than it needs too, as for an Atlantic its vengeance.

When Atlantic salmon takes a fly and if the angler is lucky enough to hook the fish where does the hook penetrate? The hook set is most likely right in the hinge, or the skin surrounding the jaw bone. Mister of Misses Salmo Salar have not been mortally wounded, unlike a feeding fish that has a hook down its throat or lodged in the gills. Your salmon has now been safely hooked. Whether it has been hooked by a barb or barbless the fact is a hole has been pierced in the jaw of the fish. I am sure we can all now agree to the logic stated in the above paragraphs.

With a spectacular fighting Atlantic salmon on your line what do we want to happen next? We want to fight the fish hard with the right tackle putting enough pressure and landing the salmon in due time. Unlike the thinking of yesteryear when an angler wanted to set records with the lightest tippet, which lead to the longest fight necessary to land the salmon. The end result of this practice was a dead salmon, even if it was released. The conservation practice of releasing a fish back then was not really given much consideration and how the fish met its eventual demise was unimportant.

Here is this writers reasoning for the necessary use of small barbed single or double hooks.

First point; Now that the salmon has a hook in its jaw as stated above, landing the fish in reasonable time and in good condition is most important. A barbless hook angler tends to play the fish longer using less pressure fearing loss of the hook set.

Second point; When a leader wraps around the head and should your hook pop out it will follow the line hooking the salmon for the second time, but in the gill or eye.

Third point; The most important reason for keeping a fish hooked. We want to have the absolute highest chance of landing the salmon. A landed salmon gives us the time to rest, resuscitate and release the fish after it has returned to good condition. The worst thing is to have your fish get off midway through a fight, rolling over not being able to revive itself. Without a good hookset a salmon will most likely get off early in the fight with no consequence.

Atlantic salmon conservation is what we all strive for and it is this writer’s wish that you give my opinion on salmon hooks some thought.

–William Hartnett, 3/19/2016

Driving the “point” home on barbed vs barbless hooks.

In reference to the article in the last newsletter on hooks. There has been some feedback, an interesting point has been made by RRL partner Patrick in the UK.

“Something you might like to think about is that in the UK fishing for carp in lakes is extremely popular. As these fish can be very pressured and are caught and released regularly, several years ago many lakes made their anglers go barbless. However they found that the barbless hooks did much more damage to the fish because they move about and tear a hole in the fishes mouth, so most of these lakes have now banned barbless hooks and require anglers to use barbed.”