you are still sceptical about the value
of debarbed hooks, try the following experiment.
Take half or dozen of the lures that you
use regularly, ones that you have plenty
of confidence in, and crush all the barbs
down on half of the lures. Then take them
all fishing. As you go through the session
you will start to forget which lures have
the crushed barbs as you swap baits. Eventually
you will land a fish and only realise
that the barbs were crushed when you come
to unhook the lure. I am not out to convert
everyone to debarbed hooks, but I do think
that they are worth an extended trial.
I was having a bit of a bad patch recently,
with pike failing to stay hooked. My confidence
in crushed barb hooks was starting to
waver. By chance I started using a new
lure on which I hadn't got round to doctoring
the hooks. I soon had a take, and after
a second or two, during which short time
I felt sure that the fish was on', it
promptly fell off! I then lost another
on a different crankbait, again with barbed
hooks, and that had been 'on' for some
time. So I crushed the barbs, and lost
another fish on that lure! A few days
later I landed a couple of doubles without
any problem on a lure fitted with hooks
that had had their barbs squeezed down.
Sometimes pike will fall off no matter
what you do.
am convinced that the better initial penetration
offered by crushed-barb hooks results
in more fish being hooked. You have to
remember that skin, yours and a pike's,
is elastic. This means that a smooth bump
on a hook will 'squeeze' through the initial,
tiny, hole made when a sharp hook pricks
the fish. The hole is unlikely to be enlarged
as it would be by the entry of a full
barb, and it will close up behind the
bump. In effect this helps to prevent
the hook falling out. It has been said
in criticism of barbless/debarbed hooks
that they can penetrate too deeply. This
is only likely to cause severe harm if
the hook comes anywhere near the fish's
heart. While I do not deny that this might
happen when lure fishing, it is so remote
a possibility that I am prepared to live
with it. It hasn't happened to me yet,
but this could be because of the size
of lures that I use most regularly. Only
small lures, with correspondingly sized
hooks, are likely to get far enough back
in a pike's throat to make this a frequent
concern. Far more often you will find
a hook has taken hold outside a pike's
mouth, frequently near a fish's eye socket.
In this delicate area, so vital to a visually
hunting predator like the pike, I like
the quick and clean removal that crushed
barb hooks allow. There is no ripping
of skin, or flesh with these hooks. Because
crushed barb hooks are speedy to remove
the side effect is that pike are handled
for a shorter length of time during unhooking.
This is a big factor in pike welfare.
crush a barb simply apply firm, steady
pressure to it with a pair of fine nosed
pliers until the gap of the barb is closed.
Smooth jawed pliers are best if you can
find them. The result should be a smooth
hump. Now and then a barb will snap off
and leave a sharp lump. Carefully file
this smooth with your hook file. Not only
should a crushed barb penetrate easily,
but it should cause no tearing on removal
from a pike. Broken barbs will do almost
as much damage as full barbs when unhooking.
Test the difference between a well crushed
barb and a broken one yourself in a woolly
jumper to see the difference!
the barb crushed the next thing to do
to a hook is hone it. Few, very few, hooks
on pike lures are sharp enough straight
out of the package. Sharpening hooks can
be a bit of a chore, but it is one not
to be skimped on. Well honed hooks will
markedly increase your catches. This is
probably the one factor that you have
control over that will make the biggest
difference to you lure fishing success,
certainly in terms of converting takes.
Someone asked me at a Lure Anglers' Society
conference how I got my hooks so sharp,
after dipping into a lure box of mine.
"With a file", was my answer. If you use
hooks bigger than size 2, or thereabouts,
and you already have a hook stone do yourself
a favour - throw it away! What you need
to do the job properly is a fine file.
Fine hook files are available, but difficult
to find. A trip to your local ironmonger's
should, however, enable you to find something
suitable. One or two tackle dealers may
have something like the Luhr Jensen file.
Try a sea fishing specialist. Failing
that, send to America for a quality hook
file where the choice is wider, there
are even hook sharpeners which feature
two round files strapped side by side
(like those made by Donmar and Shur-Sharp)
which are simple to use.
filing a hook you should be aiming to
produce a point that is neither too long,
nor too short. Long points, while very
sharp, are easily damaged, turned over
by the slightest contact with underwater
debris or even the lure itself. Short
points are not so prone to damage, but
feel less sharp and don't penetrate quite
so easily. Aim for something in between.
Begin by filing the inside of the point,
on two faces. Then file the sides. These
two stages create the basis for the point's
shape. The final two planes to be filed
are the ones that are critical in determining
the hook's ultimate sharpness - the top
of the point. Long strokes of the file,
moving towards the hook point are what
you need. Two or three on each plane are
generally sufficient. With practice, even
the heaviest gauge hooks can be sharpened
to such a degree that they will puncture
the skin of your thumb under the weight
of two ounce lure. You can tell when the
hooks are sharp enough when you grip the
lure lightly in your hand and can feel
the hook points. It is a sort of 'sticky'
sharpness, the points taking a slight
hold no matter how lightly they touch
your skin. The only thing that you might
dislike about super-sharp hooks is that
they quickly make a mess of the paintwork
of your lures and do a lot of damage to
wooden lures. They are also prone to sticking
in the side of plugs when you cast, this
either kills the lure's action and wastes
a retrieve, or reduces the hooking capabilities
of the lure. I quite happily put up with
these two little niggles because I reckon
they are outweighed by the overall improvement
in hook-ups over un-sharpened hooks. If
all you want are nice looking lures, then
don't hone your hooks!
chemically sharpened hooks have this sort
of sharpness straight out of the box,
they are prone to damage during fishing.
These hooks are also rather more difficult
to resharpen than hooks with traditionally
cut points. I am sure you can guess which
I prefer. Hooks should be touched up as
soon as the points show the slightest
sign of dulling, which means often during
a fishing session. Don't leave home without
your hook file!
consequence of sharpening and re-sharpening
your hooks is that the points gradually
get smaller and smaller, eventually becoming
too short. So, you have to replace the
hooks from time to time. This means buying
replacements. Go for Mustad or Eagle Claw
bronzed patterns with straight points.
Finding them in the right sizes is not
too easy, but they are to be had. Try
the sea fishing sections of tackle shops
for sizes over 2/0. A few anglers I know
opt for short shank trebles as their replacement
hooks on big baits. These have two benefits.
One is that on multi-hooked lures they
don't tangle with each other as much.
The other, so the theory goes, is that
they lie closer to the lure and are, therefore,
more likely to get inside the pike's mouth
when it grabs the lure. This is supposed
to reduce the instances of pike being
hooked outside the mouth, and improve
the hook-up ratio. I have no experience
of short-shanked trebles, but the theory
you start replacing hooks you will soon
learn how quickly you can get through
them, and it is worth buying at least
fifty of a size at a time. Repeated opening
of split rings does them no good, either.
So buy them in bulk too. Strong ones,
stainless steel if you can find them.
Get yourself a pair of split ring pliers
while you are about it, a these not only
save your fingernails, but make the job
of fitting or removing split rings much
quicker. Failing that try the sea angler's
oval shaped D.C. Easy Links which are
very effective for use on spoons and might
prove successful on other lures too.