The Barb, The Pliers, The Same Old Question

This post is about two things related to fly tying and fly fishing: the barb and the pliers needed to remove a hook from a fish. It usually should be an easy deal right? You barbed all the hooks as you tied the flies or you barbed the flies as you stuck them into your fly boxes. Right?

My waders hanging between uses. The telltale sign of hardware store pliers sticking out of my chest pocket.

Admission: Note to self to correct! I have at some point fallen into a habit of not barbing my hooks at the vise. I have become neglectful re this simple task. I rationalize that I will ‘simply’ de-barb the hook out on the water..no muss, no fuss. I suppose that is alright, but I have taken to using old, needle nose pliers. The groves extend up to the very tip and getting the barb between the grooves and flattening the barb has not been effective. How do I know this?

 When I hook a fish, the hook, which should, if de-barbed, easily back out of the fish doesn’t. It stays stuck because of the slightest elevated barb my pliers failed to flatten. I also notice this on the off chance the hook catches fabric. Again, the hook should back out through the fabric without snagging. Hmm? it seems to snag. So, I ask ‘the same old question’ Why don’t you barb the hooks at the vise where the process is easiest? Well, I kind of ask it like that…it is more like a sigh, an utterance and some thought of me at the table blowing off the process and pay for it now.

Beautiful Fly…but, there sets the barb.

So, two, no three obvious solutions: (1) barb them all at the table (2) buy barbless hooks (3) buy better pliers.

I cannot, personally, justify the $125.-175. spendy/trendy pliers suitable for freshwater/saltwater applications you see in shops. I imagine I would if I dealt with heavy wire, heavy mono etc. I know there are less expensive needle nose pliers out there so I will find them, if for nothing else removing the occasional fly that is inhaled deeply by the fish charging up from the rear.

So, the best solution for me, if I am adhering to Catch and Release, is to buy barbless hooks or de-barb all the hooks in advance and then proceed to tie….really no big deal. I just need to break the lazy habit I adopted.  

A Euro style Barbless Hook…Barbless hooks have been available for sometime. I never bought them preferring to barb my own. We see where that went……

Another side note here…a practical on the water issue: if you are teaching someone else and providing them the flies, a problem arises when they hook a fish on a fly you did not earlier barb and did not barb on the water. You assume they know to do that. They don’t. They might not be fully outfitted. Now if they get that fish in, they will most probably stress the fish repeatedly attempting to remove the barbed hook. If they hook themselves the hook will not back out nice and easy. If you are teaching someone make sure they have the tools and that their flies are barbless.

5 Responses to “The Barb, The Pliers, The Same Old Question”

  1. May 29, 2012 at 07:12

    Good reason to debarb at the vise: How many time have you broken off the point when debarbing? Have had it happen too many times to count. I usually debarb while I count out the hooks I need for the flies I’m tying.

    Side note. Met an OSP that carried a piece of the soft side of Velcro. Stuck the hook in there to test for “legally debarbed” when required. Surprising how often it may look debarbed but isn’t actually.

    BTW, barbless hooks cost considerably more because they are harder to make. Nothing to grip while doing the bend in the hook.


  2. May 28, 2012 at 21:59

    I understand the frustrations and debarb at the vice, an inexpesive lever action one makes that a lot less trouble. However you may like to try this. With “toothed” pliers you can usually remove the barb pretty effectively by pinching as normal but then rocking the fly hook in the jaws. This will usually cleanly remove the barb, at least on trout sizes.


  3. May 28, 2012 at 21:11

    The problem I have is that I’m just way into instant gratification. The fly shops around just don’t carry a wide selection of barbless hooks. I, like you, don’t think about it while at the vise and fumble around with (harbor freight) pliers when on the water.

    I suppose it might be laziness. But I also believe that most fly anglers follow suit in this same belief. So, why can’t we get our local retailers (you know, those that keep the stock to help feed our instant gratification needs lest we resort to the interwebs) to keep up with us?


    • May 28, 2012 at 22:01

      Geeze Isaac…I was truly trying to avoid my self absorbed instant gratification side! Now you raise that. Good thing you didn’t pick the Every Day in May topics 🙂


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