Going Barbless

The Fly Box

Listen to the sound of the river, and you will get a trout.  —Irish Proverb

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I grew up bait fishing for trout using a spinning rod, and what some call “plunking.”  The kind of fishing limited to lakes and big rivers that requires fishing with hooks wielding live worms, Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs, or Berkley Power Bait, either egg form, or the kind you mold like clay on the hook.  The kind of fishing done for keeps. 

Bait fishing often meant catching more trout than I could eat.  Too often, fish would end up in the freezer, develop freezer burn, and end up in the trash.  Despite my best efforts of catch-and-release, the fish either swallowed the hook, or succumbed from the length of time it took trying to free the hook from its mouth.  Either way, it ended badly for the trout.  I was stricken with guilt, and something had to change.  

I decided to take up fly-fishing, and retired my spinning rod, the one I’d fished with for twenty years.  A decision I’d contemplated for a long time, but should have done years ago.  Now I needed a fly rod, and didn’t have the faintest idea how to choose one.  Reading about fly-fishing, and watching videos on the subject only seemed to confuse matters that raised more questions than answers.  Why do fly rods come in two-piece, three-piece, and four piece lengths?  Why does rod weight, reel size, and balance matter?  Who were Orvis, Winston, Loomis, and Sage?  What were the differences between weight forward line, level line, and double taper line?  And what in the world was a tippet?  The list went on. 

My first fly rod was an LL Bean Special—a two-piece, nine-foot, eight-weight with floating line, reel, and case.  It was resting against a tent at one of those in-store camping displays, and I had to have it.  Now I could practice catch-and-release, and venture beyond the lakes to fish the streams and small rivers I love so much, but there was a catch.  I don’t know about the fishing regulations elsewhere, but in Oregon, trout regulations are strict.  Many of the trout streams are fly-fishing and/or catch-and-release only.  In some instances, depending on the water, barbless flies are required. 

I learned about fishing with barbless flies the same day I bought the LL Bean Special.  Eager to try the new rod, Chris and I left Bend and drove to Camp Sherman to fish the Metolius River; after all, what better place than the Metolius to try out a new rod?  

In need of leader, tippet, and flies we stopped at the Camp Sherman Store and Fly Shop where we learned a few things about fly rod set-up, and got some helpful suggestions on casting.  The fish we’d be casting to would be rainbows and bull trout, white fish, and kokanee (at that time, sockeye and Chinook had not been reintroduced).  

Rainbow trout caught and released on a barbless Green Drake No. 8

While the man behind the counter demonstrated how to tie a leader and tippet, he went on to tell us that the Metolius is open to year-round for fly-fishing, catch-and-release, with barbless flies only. 

“Barbless flies?  I asked.  “You’re kidding, right?”  “Nope,” he said.  “It allows for a clean release, and puts less stress on the fish.”  “That makes sense, but isn’t it harder to keep a fish on that way?”  I asked.  “A little,” he said, “but don’t worry, once you get the hang of it, it’ll be like second nature,” he said.  “Now, if you fish the Metolius, be sure to fish downriver of Allingham Bridge, but if you’re looking to catch and keep a fish or two, be sure to fish upriver off the mainstem along the North and South Forks Lake Creek tributaries,” he said as he counted our flies.  We had about two-dozen ranging from blue-winged olives and caddis patterns to yellow Sallies and green drakes, sizes 8 to 14.

Having fished our whole lives with barbed hooks, this would take some getting used to.  The Metolius doesn’t give up its fish easily.  Should we be so lucky and catch a fish on this river, how in the world were we going to keep it on the fly long enough to bring it to the net to release?  But regulations are regulations, and that’s just how it is. 

With the fly rod ready, and having finished a couple of chilled root beer sodas from glass bottles, we paid and thanked him for all his help.  As he was about to put the flies in a small cardboard box, he said, “Oh, yeah, one more thing, can I press these barbs for you?”

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I’ve been fishing with barbless flies for almost ten years now, and love it.  While I still enjoy a couple of trout for supper, I like catch-and-release.  One, it keeps me fishing longer, and two, no more fish end up in the freezer.  As for loosing fish on barbless flies, it’s never really been a problem.  It’s been my experience that when a fish is lost, it’s not the barbless hook, but the angler who’s at fault.  


All rights reserved.  Copyright 2012



4 thoughts on “Going Barbless

    1. Thank you, Bayman, for visiting Nature Chronicles, and reading my blog post “Going Barbless.” I’m also anxious to put my fly on the water. Cheers to good fishing!

  1. I love fly-fishing, but also love eating trouts. Nothing taste as good as a freshly caught trout fried on the burner out there in the wilderness – maybe with a dash of sour cream. So for me – at least while fishing in Norway – there is no catch and release or using barbless flies…

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