How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Going Barbless for muskies

by Brett Erickson

Muskie fishing is a game centered on confidence. If something worked once, we'll try it again. Sometimes our confidence is so strong, like in a lure, that we'll use it for an entire day - even though the patterns aren't conducive to it. The one place where most fishermen's/women's confidence waivers is when the subject of fishing with barbless hooks comes up. The most common reaction is "won't I lose fish?" No! In fact, you may actually catch more fish, release them better, wreck less clothing, and save a trip to the hospital. Let's start at the point of contact. A muskie eats your bait, you set the hook, and sometimes you get to touch them and sometimes they give you the "fin". What happened on those lost fish? Most would say "That's muskie fishing. You can't catch them all." True, but we can up the odds in our favor. Like gamblers, we muskie people are playing the percentages, or odds. I am going to do everything I can to put more odds in my favor than in the fish's. One way to increase our odds is the make hook penetration more efficient. It has been shown at poolside demos and different muskie meetings that by setting a hook against a spring scale, a REALLY strong hookset puts about twenty pounds of pressure onto our bait. Consider that our usual hookset is a fraction of this, the muskie is biting down on our lure with a firm grip, and we've got up to nine different hook points dividing the force of the hookset, we don't really have a lot of hook setting force to drive the hooks home. The easiest way to increase the efficiency of our hookset is to pinch the barbs down on all of the hooks. This streamlines the hook and reduces the force necessary to get the hook to fully penetrate. I believe that some of our lost fish never made it over the fully exposed barbs on our hooks and made it easier for them to throw the bait because they weren't anchored onto the holding part of the hook. Meaning, we didn't get the hooks to fully penetrate. The barbs actually inhibited the hook from penetrating any farther.

Let's do a little experiment. Grab a corrugated cardboard box and a couple of big barbed hooks like a 7/0 Siwash hook found on a big Eagletail (sorry George). Pinch the barb down on one hook and slowly run it through the cardboard. Note how little effort it takes to get the cardboard past the streamlined barb. Next, slowly run the fully barbed hook through the cardboard and note the extra effort it takes to get the cardboard over the barb. Now, try it again. Only this time, sharpen both hooks. It should be even easier yet.

Ok, so we can get the fish onto the hook. Some may say "How are we going to keep th fish hooked without a barb?" What's the first thing your father, grandfather, friend, etc. taught you about fighting fish? Keep your line tight! Tension is a big key. With tension, you're keeping the fish on the rounded, bottom part of the hook that has the greatest holding power. You don't need a barb if you keep pressure on the fish, and even if you relax a little, there's still the little nub of the pinched down barb to minimize the chance of a 'long arm release'.

Other benefits of going barbless are almost better than landing more fish-almost! First, when you boat a fish, it is much easier to release it. Barbless hooks take a fraction of the time it takes to free fully barbed hooks. Plus, they do a lot less damage to the fish. In delicate areas like the gills, throat, and around the eyes, going barbless could be a matter of life and death for the muskie. Another benefit of barbless hooks is that you can (with minimal damage) easily get them out of nets, clothing, boat interiors, or wherever a hook can mysteriously find their way into. Lastly, you can get them out of you, your buddy, or your dog named Buddy with minimal damage. With a couple of quick pinches of the pliers, barbless hooks can prevent your fishing trip from being a trip to the emergency room. Have fun and be safe.