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Hooked on no hook

A fly fishing experiment with the hooks cut off

Fly fishing with barbless hooks, especially for trout, has been the standard for a long time. It is less harmful to the fish, and with practice you won’t lose many fish. While fly fishing, not long ago, I remembered reading a comment a fly fisherman made. His spouse, not SWMBO, had asked him “Just how many more grip-and-grin photos do you need? How many more fish do you need to touch? Why not fish hookless?”

It was a slow day, and my mind was wandering. But it made me think, why not? So I decided to conduct a two-day experiment on fly fishing hookless.

The experiment was conducted on two of my favorite small streams that have an abundance of brook trout. The plan had me fish a half day with the hook cut off, and a half day with just the barb pinched flat. The reason for two days on small streams was, if I could duplicate the experience, I was probably onto something.

To start the experiment, I picked my favorite dry fly, a Royal Wulff, size 16. The size was determined for two very important reasons. First, my 73-year-old eyes can see the eye of the hook for threading purposes. Second, those same eyes could see where to cut the hook. I cut the hook just above where the barb starts. This allows a fly fisher to feel the tug of a strike, but not hook the fish. If the fish should get the bend stuck in the lip, it easily comes out with some slack put in the line. For the afternoon, I tied on a new Royal Wulff with the barb bent down. Now, fly fishing in a conventional way, I was hooking trout. To add credibility to my experiment, the next day I went to another favorite small stream, and repeated the previous days activities. I had the same results.

Having an inquiring mind, you are probably asking yourself, what were the results? First and foremost, I had as much, if not more fun, hookless as I did with a hook. That same mind is now asking, how can that be? Well, I didn’t have to take a fish off my hookless fly. So, not having to spend time holding the fish to remove the hook, I discovered my fly spent more time on the water. With my fly on the water more, there was more opportunity for fish to strike my fly. I also discovered, with a fish not able to hold my fly in his mouth while I used forceps to remove it, it stayed together longer. I wasn’t having to replace a fly as often. That meant not only were the fish being treated more gently, I was saving money on flies. That seemed like a win-win deal.

What was the downside? I discovered that after fishing hookless for the morning I stopped trying to set the hook. If you don’t have a hook to set why bother trying? Therefore, for the afternoon, I missed a large number of fish. I think this has something to do with muscle memory. But, even missing lots of fish, I found I was having a great time. It was just more relaxing, I wasn’t playing the who catches more fish game. Will I the get same thrill fishing hookless for bigger fish? I don’t know. I’ll just have to take my scientific study to rivers that have larger fish.

There are two groups that should not try fly fishing hookless, youngsters and people new to the sport of fly fishing. When I’m fly fishing with folks from those two groups, I really enjoy hearing them yell in excitement when they hook and land a fish. Hookless will come, just many years and fish, in the distant future.

Reach Don Oliver at durango.fishing@gmail.com.