Go Barbless For Big Pike

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Jason Tucker

“One sunny afternoon in Labrador.” I love saying that phrase.

One sunny afternoon in Labrador, the dry fly bite for land-locked salmon and brook trout had trailed off to nothing and we were looking for a distraction. We decided to fish for pike.

One of those things you almost never hear about in Labrador is the tremendous pike fishing. The waters are absolutely full of big pike, and when we weren’t targeting them we had to be careful not to toss a streamer into still water, lest it be instantly engulfed by a pike. Every now and then we got surprised in fast water when a pike would dash in from the still water to grab a streamer meant for a big brook trout.

We targeted pike several times during our trip when the fishing got slow. The pike were always willing to entertain, and there were plenty of bays and sloughs in which pike in the six- to fifteen-pound range were stacked up. You could fish for an hour at a time and have a hit or a fish, if not a melee, on every cast without moving location. It was some of the most exciting and memorable fishing of the trip.

We started fishing our streamers on floating lines because the takes were amazing to watch. The fish would zoom out of the depths and crash our streamers on the surface, often coming out of the water in a vicious predatory strike. So on the afternoon in question, we got this brainstorm of doing a photo shoot with mouse flies with the hooks cut off. All we wanted was to get shots of the top-water action and the vicious strikes and aerial maneuvers of the fish, without having to mess around with fighting and unhooking them.

The problem was that it didn’t work.

The fish kept sucking down the mice, sometimes without breaking the surface, and without the hook not much seemed to happen. So we tied on a hooked version, but pinched the barbs down tight to make it easier to release the fish.

The transformation was marvelous. If the fish didn’t come out of the water on the eat, they did on the hookset. We got great shots. But best of all, using barbless hooks made handling and releasing the fish a much faster, easier and safer proposition for us, with much less damage to the fish, and easier hook-ups too. With the barbs mashed down, the hooks went in easier, and there was no noticeable increase in fish coming off without the barbs. We had been losing some fish before that merely had fly material in their teeth without actually being hooked up.

I’ll never fish for pike or musky again with barbed hooks. It completely changed the game for us for the better, and if I was a guide I would insist that all flies for pike be barbless. It made a tremendous difference in unhooking and handling the fish, from being a dicey and time consuming proposition, to being a quick and easy affair, for us and for the fish. You should try it too.

Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker

Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Go Barbless For Big Pike

  1. I fish barbless for everything, almost all the time.

    The only exception is when I get in a hurry and forget…and I smash the barb as soon as I get a remember.

    I do it for the fish, because it’s the right thing to do…but also for me…sooner or later I’m going to stick myself again…and I want it to be as easy to remove from me as it is from the fish.

    There’s a slim chance I’ve lost fish because of barbless hooks…but I doubt it…and I don’t care. I’m long past the point of having to touch every fish I hook.

    • Couple years ago, a guy in a nearby boat got the trebles in a Zara Spook or something stuck in his hand. I listened for a loooong time while his dad tried to get them out and he howled in pain. Finally, as they were about to head to the ER, the old man got them out.

      Buried a barbed hook into a knuckle myself once, Didn’t hurt so much but would not come out.

      Yeah, 100% barbless.

  2. While fishing with a guide in MT for trout with streamers they suggested that for anything size 8 or larger for trout that barbless is better because barbless hooks have less resistance to penetration, and you will get deeper hook penetration with a barbless hooks (not deeper like hooking them in the gills, but the point will drive farther into the fish wherever the hook lands). And that the deeper penetration generally offsets the barb for fish holding.

    I’ve always wondered if that’s accurate, but I’d think that for Pike, with how hard their mouths can be that it might also be a factor….

    Has anyone heard anything else like this?

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