Go Barbless

You'll still catch fish!

This writing is dedicated to the memory of Jack Burns. Gone, but never forgotten. To honor his memory and methods, I pinch down all the barbs on my casting baits. "Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them all go." DFDB!

In my 30+ years of working & running Mylie's Place Resort on Lake of the Woods in Morson, Ontario, Canada, I've become very active in the promotion of CPR (Catch, Photograph & Release) fishing practices. There are all kinds of ways to improve the chances of successfully releasing a fish in whatever species you might be targeting or hooking up with incidentally. One of the most often overlooked is using barbless hooks. There are some states/provinces that mandate this, but it is not commonplace. The benefits of not having to rip a barbed hook out of a fish's mouth should be pretty obvious. Those that claim they cut a lot of hooks to lessen the impact on the fish cannot dispute that a fish with a deeply buried treble, or one with a hook through the gills, would not greatly benefit from having barbs pinched down. I've witnessed this myself often.

I'm a muskie fisherman and I pinch the barbs on all of my casting baits. I've even started doing so on some of my trolling baits. All of this is applicable to whichever species you are most interested in landing, whether it be Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye, Catfish, Sturgeon, Carp, etc etc. A lot of anglers are concerned their catch rates will do down if they go barbless. I often try to shame experienced anglers into trying a couple of baits without barbs by asking them if they don't think they are skilled enough to keep a fish pinned without barbs. Their pride seems to be less of a priority than their fear of losing a fish so most anglers just fish on with barbs on their hooks. I could go on and on about how muskies fall off (especially casting) a good portion of the time through massive head shakes, above-the-water tail dances, and acrobatic somersaults, but that doesn't seem to matter.

Justin's cousin caught her first two muskies ever with a barbless topwater bait on the same evening in July 2013 during a weather front. Justin shows his 50

Justin's cousin caught her first two muskies ever with a barbless topwater bait on the same evening in July 2013 during a weather front. Justin shows his 50" caught (and then released) on a figure 8 with a barbless crankbait in August 2013.

During my first full season of completely barbless casting, the number of hooks I had to cut from fish decreased dramatically. Hooks slipped out quickly and easily, which is a tremendous help during warmer water periods in July and August. Less time spent fixing baits in the boat also adds up to more casts during your time on the water. More casts equal more fish. Win, win, win.

If that isn't convincing enough, let me try it another way. It is better for your safety as an angler. In 2013 alone, I had 3 resort guests head 55 miles to the nearest hospital for hook extraction. One other angler used whiskey as a pain killer and did the dirty work himself, but likely should have made that 110-mile round trip as well. Countless other incidents over the years come to mind, but none stand out more than a long-time angler that took a single hook in the wrist near all kinds of vital stuff. The doctor on duty that night a few years back said it was the worst he had seen in his 20 years of working in the area.

Lake of the Woods and surrounding areas are some of the most popular fishing destinations in all of North America so you know he has seen more than his share of hooks buried in anglers. This friend & guest got lucky. He came through it with only one surgery and some leftover numbness in a couple of fingers. Imagine for a moment if he had not been lucky. Then there was the time that a college-aged young man came to me looking for side cutters with one hook from a treble attached to a bass lure through his eyelid. I think you get the idea.

Do you fish alone? Do you fish at night? Do you fish with beginners? Or maybe kids? What about dogs? How about in remote places where medical help is 100s of miles away by land or you need a float plane to get back to civilization? Bad things can happen in a boat. It doesn't have to ruin a day or a whole trip if you take a few extra precautions. So what if one or two fish fall off that you might otherwise have caught?

A good buddy of mine presented me with an unbelievable collage of photos from a few days we spent on the water one October with his brother-in-law. The poster-sized "photo" included the following quotation by Henry David Thoreau,

"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."

It kind of makes you think, doesn't it? Why do you fish?

Unless catching a world record fish is at the very top of your list, consider joining the barbless revolution. Good anglers don't need barbs to catch fish. You can tell anyone that asks that J-Man said so.

Be safe out there on the water.

Justin "J-Man" Gaudry

Mylie's Place Resort, 
Lake of the Woods, 
Morson, Ontario, Canada

Follow Mylie's Place Resort on Facebook

For more information on CPR, please read Justin's article on Catch, Photograph & Release Fishing Practices and why our fishery keeps getting better and better.  

About Justin Gaudry

Originally born in Fort Frances, Ontario, Justin Gaudry is a 3rd generation operator at Mylie’s Place Resort on Lake of the Woods in the Morson, Ontario, Canada area known as Sunset Country. “J-Man”, as he is known by guests & friends, has developed a passion for promoting the ideas of Selective Harvest, CPR (Catch, Photo, Release), fishing with barbless hooks, and safe handling (including proper holds) of the fish you plan to release.

Justin believes in the theory of continuous improvement within fisheries management. Always asking the question. “How can we make this good thing we have going, even better?’  When he can get time on the water, you will find J-Man chasing muskies all over Lake of the Woods looking for the BIG ONE.

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