Barbed Hooks vs. Barbless: Know Which Is Best For You

October 22, 2020

Barbed Hooks vs. Barbless: Know Which Is Best For You

When most fishermen think of different types of fishing hooks, single hooks, double and treble come to mind. But the bigger difference has to do with the actual effectiveness of the hook: the barb. While barbed hooks have a higher hookup rate than barbless hooks, are they actually better for fishing? Which is better, barbed hooks vs. barbless?

The short answer is that it depends on your goals as a fisherman. Barbed hooks have a higher chance of keeping a hooked fish on the line (because the barb prevents the hook from sliding out). But they also do significantly more damage to the fish’s mouth. Barbed hooks also are much more difficult for you to remove, which can do harm to both the fish and yourself.

For some species of fish (such as king salmon), it’s even illegal to use barbed hooks. 

In this article, we’ll go over which we think is better in the barbed hooks vs. barbless debate, as well as the different situations we recommend using each. We’ll also go over some of our favorite types of hooks that we recommend for specific species of fish.

Let’s jump in!

Pros and Cons of Barbed Hooks

Traditional Devon Minnow

Let’s start with analyzing barbed hooks since they are the most commonly used type of hook. Just so we’re clear, a barbed hook is the same as a normal circle hook but it has a small sharp notch about a centimeter from the tip that is pointed in the opposite direction. This barb allows the hook to slide into a fish’s jaw but catches when tried to pull out.

Depending on the size of the hook, the barb might stick out several millimeters to centimeters. While the barb might look small, the damage it can do to a fish (or anything it is hooked into) is compounded due to the difficulty of getting it out.

Now that we know exactly what a barbed hook is, let’s discuss the pros of using a barbed hook vs. a barbles hook.

Pros of Using a Barbed Hook

There’s a reason barbed hooks are the most common types of hooks – they work especially well for fishing. Here’s what works well for barbed hooks.

  • They increase your hookup rate. The barb does its job. Once a fish is hooked on a barbed hook, it is really difficult for it to become unhooked. This means the chance of you landing the fish is higher than with barbless hooks.
  • You’ll land more fish. As we mentioned above, not only will you successfully hook more fish but you’ll successfully land more fish. This is because it’s much harder for them to escape after you’ve hooked them.
  • They’re readily available. Since they are the most common type of hook, you can easily find them at your local fishing shop. Barbed hooks are everywhere! It should be easy to find all sizes of barbed hooks where ever you shop for fishing supplies.
  • For fishermen keeping the fish, damage doesn’t matter. If your plan is to keep and eat the fish you’re catching, it doesn’t really matter if you hurt the fish a little extra while catching it. If the plan is to kill the fish when you catch it, it comes down to how comfortable you are hurting the fish before killing it.
  • You don’t need to crimp the barbs. Since they come barbed out of the box, there’s no need for you to do anything to them besides tying them on your line. 

Cons of Using a Barbed Hook

Now that we’ve covered the pros of using a barbed hook, let’s go of the negatives of using a barbed hook. At first glance, it might seem like the way to go, but there are a lot of reasons why you might not want to use a barbed hook.

  • They’re less humane. Fishing is already a relatively inhumane activity (you’re hurting animals), but using a barbed hook tends to hurt the fish more than using a barbless hook. It does more damage while the fish is fighting, and takes more time to get out of the fish’s mouth. The more time the fish spends struggling, the more it hurts itself.
  • They might be illegal where you’re fishing. For some species, only barbless hooks are allowed. Common species that don’t allow barbed hooks in many regions are coho salmonking salmon, and many others. Always check our local regulations website for the up to date laws.
  • Barbed hooks are more dangerous for you to use. Not only are barbed hooks harder to get out of a fishes mouth, but they are also very hard to get out of yourself. If you happen to accidentally hook your finger, you may need to seek professional help to remove the hook depending on how deep it is. This is a quick way to ruin a day out on the water.
  • They remove some of the challenges of the sport. At the end of the day, the fun you have from fishing is knowing you outsmarted the fish and succeeded in doing something difficult. Barbed hooks can be an unfair advantage that makes fishing less challenging. Some fishermen may find it more fun and sporting to use barbless hooks.

Pros and Cons of Barbless Hooks

Fishing hook link ready made

Before we get into why it might be a good or bad idea to use barbless hooks, let’s quickly review what a barbless hook is. It’s pretty simple – a barbless hook is simply a hook without a barb. They’re just as sharp as normal barbed hooks and actually tend to pierce things easier (because there isn’t a barb in the way. 

Now that we know what a barbless hook is, let’s discuss the pros of using a barbless hook vs. a barbed hook.

Pros of Using Barbless Hooks

While barbed hooks may be more common than barbless hooks, there are many reasons why you might want to use barbless hooks instead. Let’s get into the pros of using barbless hooks vs barbed hooks.

  • They might be your only option for certain fish species. That’s right, as we mentioned above some fish species have laws protecting them against barbed hooks. Salmon, bonefish, and many other species fall into this category.
  • They’re considered more humane. Barbless hooks are much easier to remove from the fish’s mouth which prevents them from hurting themselves after they’ve been landed. A fish is much likely to survive after being caught with a barbless hook.
  • They’re safer. No barb means that if you accidentally hook yourself it will be much easier to remove the hook. You probably won’t need a trip to the ER or a special tool to remove them.
  • It makes fishing a bit harder, and more of a sport. since fishing is supposed to be a challenge, why not make it a little fairer for the fish by using barbless hooks?

Cons of using Barbless Hooks

Now that we know the reasons why you might want to use a barbless hook, let’s quickly go over the cons of barbless hooks.

  • You’ll lose more fish close to the boat. When fish are close to the boat, they tend to be able to throw the hook much easier when you’re using a barbless hook. This can be especially frustrating if you’re planning on keeping the fish you catch.
  • They’re harder to find. You can’t always find every size of barbless hooks at your local tackle shop. Luckily it’s not that hard to make barbed hooks barbless by flattening the barb. All you need is a pair of needle-nose pliers and some strong hands.
  • Deforming the hook may weaken it. If you crush a barbed hook to make a barbless hook, bending the shaft might weaken the overall strength of the hook. Most of the time this is not an issue, however, if you are fishing for especially large or strong fish (like Tarpon or Tuna) it might be. If you’re worried about deforming your hooks, we recommend buying barbless hooks that are factory-made.

How to Make a Barbed Hook Barbless

Sharp steel fishing hooks

As we just mentioned, it’s actually quite easy to make barbed hooks barbless. All you need is a pair of needlenose pliers and someone with relatively strong grip strength. Check out the below steps to make a barbed hook barbless.

  1. With one hand grab the barbed hook so the barb is pointed up. Grip it so your hand is safe from the point. If you have a pair of work gloves you should use them.
  2. Take your needle nose pliers and firmly grip the against the barb a shaft of the hook. 
  3. Squeeze the pliers until the barb bends back. Squeeze until the barb is flush with the shaft of the hook.
  4. Be careful not to bend the shaft of the hook. As we mentioned earlier, bending the shaft of the hook can weaken it. You’d hate to lose a fish because it broke your hook.
  5. You now have a barbless hook!

Parting Thoughts

While many fishermen prefer using barbed hooks if they are allowed to, we’ve begun switching all of our gear to barbless hooks. The advantages barbless hooks have in terms of not hurting the fish and making unhooking much easier far outweigh the slightly better hookup rate barbed hooks have. But if you plan on keeping every fish you catch (like when surf fishing for kingfish), then barbed hooks may be best.

We hope you found this article informative and now know what the difference is between barbed hooks vs. barbless hooks. If you have another technique of making barbless hooks or opinions on using either barbed hooks vs. barbless, feel free to hit us up in the comments.

Happy Hunting!

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