Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at

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September 30, 2014

They Come Without a Barb

by Stan Fagerstrom

The call surprised me.

When a question comes my way as a result of something I've written about fishing, it most often originates from someone just getting into the sport. This one wasn't.

"Stan," this familiar voice said, "why the devil don't some of those guys who produce all the fishing tackle start making some barbless treble hooks? I know they've they've been making barbless single hooks now for years. I've never heard of barbless trebles and now they're required in places where they've never been required before."

My caller was hollering before he was hurt. Those barbless trebles are available, all right, you just gotta know where to look. I hung my own fishing hat in the Pacific Northwest for a long time before moving to the warm weather country of Arizona years ago.

Hook into a monster salmon like this expert angler did and you'll want the best hooks you can get going for you. The angler is Dave Pitts, of California.

I didn't hear that much about barbless treble hooks back when I lived in either Washington or Oregon State more than 20 years ago. Like my caller said, barbless hooks are now required in many places that didn't require them years ago.

My friend was aware of the barbless regulation as it applied to single hooks. It was the trebles he was unsure about; but if you really stop to think about it, how much sense would it make for such a regulation to apply to only single hooks and then allow lures carrying one or more trebles used in the same water to still have barbs?

Anglers in both Washington and Oregon now are often required to use barbless hooks. One particular such area includes the broad Columbia River, where it divides the two states as well as some of the tributaries flowing into the big river.

The primary fish we are talking about here, of course, are salmon and steelhead. You may have read about certain of the record salmon runs anticipated in the Columbia this fall. If you are one of the many anglers planning on heading West to get in on some of the impending action, by all means, get yourself a current copy of the fishing regulations. Pay special attention to those that apply to the areas you'll be fishing. Get those regulations well in advance so you can study exactly what you can and can't do.

If you're one of the many salmon anglers who prefers to troll lures equipped with a treble hook or two, just what approach are you planning to take where this barbless treble hook business is concerned? You'll be wise to give this some thought.

Note the deep gap on this Gamakatsu barbless treble. More and more Pacific Northwest anglers are now using these fine hooks.

If the caller I told about had read one of my columns here earlier this year, he wouldn't have been asking the questions that he did. I'd written a column before that had dealt primarily with single barbless hooks, but also mentioned the barbless treble variety.

Any time I have a question on hooks, barbless or otherwise, the first people I turn to are the good folks at Gamakatsu Hooks. I was involved in the testing of Gamakatsu's super new hooks even before they were introduced to the American market. They've been right on the cutting edge of hook making ever since.

What I detailed in that earlier column was how the single barbless hooks Gamakatsu has had in its lineup for years aren't just more hooks with the usual pin-sharp points. That they are being made barbless is taken into consideration prior to their manufacture. They are made with a special design.

I outlined what Gamakatsu executives had to say about this design in my earlier column. They pointed out that the special bend of the hooks gives them a bigger "bite" when an angler sets the hook. Anglers all over the world have had excellent success with these single barbless hooks.

Fishermen headed for salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest should be darn sure what the regulations are going to be in the areas they plan to fish. Barbless hooks are a requirement in some places.

What you need to know is that the Gamakatsu's barbless trebles are made exactly the same way. You'll have the same deep bend with its extra holding power available going for you — only now when you're using a lure equipped with one of the new barbless trebles, you'll have three of them working for you instead of just one.

I had another recent call that led to another discussion of barbless trebles. My caller this trip said barbless hooks were no problem for him. "I'll just bend down the barb on my present hooks," he said, "then I'll file them a bit if I have to and I'll be all set."
He can take that route if he chooses. I won't. Why ruin a perfectly good treble? There may be areas other than the Pacific Northwest where you may well want to use the lure involved with its hooks as they were when it came out of the box.

I'll do what I've already mentioned. I'll just remove the original treble, replace it with a Gamakatsu barbless treble and store the removed hook where I can do the reverse if I ever choose to.

Barbless hooks are also a requirement for steelhead fishing in the lower Columbia as well as designated tributaries.

I've heard rumbles that some of the fisheries agents checking where barbless hooks are required have been testing the hooks of some actual fishermen by running their hooks through fabric like that often used in pantyhose. These hooks almost always go through the fabric point first with no sweat.

The problems show up when you try to back them out. If there's anything left of that barb you thought you had carefully pinched down — beware! You could be in trouble.

To sum things up, don't sweat this business of finding barbless
treble hooks. If your favorite sporting goods store doesn't have them in stock, they can be ordered for you. It's my understanding Gamakatsu is currently making these hooks from size Number 8 to Number 1/0.

For that matter, if you continue to have difficulty of any kind give Gamakatsu's Tacoma, Washington headquarters a call yourself. I've already gotten the company's ok for you to do that. Just call (253) 922-8373 and ask for sales.

April 30, 2014

Can You Get By Without A Barb? - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

The barbless hooks turned out by the world's leading fishing hook makers are different critters than those barbed jobs most anglers use.

If you read my previous column here you know I told you about some expert anglers who maintained that barbless hooks can be the most effective fish-catchers you can tie on the end of your line. The way the Gamakatsu folks go about building that style of hook has a whole lot to do with it.

I've discussed this at length with experienced Gamakatsu officials. One of them is Joe Quiocho, of the company's headquarters in Tacoma, Washington. "Study one of our barbless hooks carefully," Quiocho says, "and you'll see that these hooks have a deeper bend than those with barbs. What that does is provide for deeper penetration and more holding power."

Think about it a little bit and you'll find that what Joe says ties right into what the guide I also told you about in my previous column had shared with me. This Pacific Northwest river guide had been rigging his clients with barbless hooks while fishing for salmon and steelhead.

The use of barbless hooks makes it easy to release a beauty like this.

This guide maintained his clients did a better job of hooking fish with the barbless variety and actually put more fish in the boat—unless they screwed up handling a fish once it was hooked.

Hearing comments regarding the effectiveness of Gamakatsu's barbless hooks doesn't surprise me all that much. I've used them successfully myself. I've also viewed with interest the results of a national barbless hook survey Gamakatsu conducted some years ago.

Note the wide gap in this Gamakatsu Octopus style barbless hook. It provides a "deep bite" when you set the hook

Company officials told me the results of that survey were surprisingly positive. At the time Gamakatsu handed out or mailed 20,000 sample barbless Gamakatsu treble hooks to bass anglers around the country. A questionnaire was sent along with the samples asking anglers who got them to let company officials know how they worked.

More than 75 per cent of the questionnaires were returned. The results were 70 to 80 per cent favorable. The respondents said the barbless trebles hooked fish more easily and held bass almost as well as a barbed hook.

The same thing is true where these Gamakatsu barbless treble hooks are concerned.

Gamakatsu officials also sent samples of their weedless trebles to some of the top steelhead guides in the Pacific Northwest. The response from these experts was as positive as that coming from bass anglers.

If you've spent 10 seconds messing with Gamakatsu hooks, you know how sharp they are. The darn things are downright "sticky." These Japanese hooks set a new standard for the industry when they came on the scene years ago.

The hooks have great penetrating power, even with a barb. You can imagine what they're like without it. The point penetrates like a needle.

So far, I've been writing only about the penetrating and fish holding power of barbless hooks. There are other areas where they'll save you time and ease some of the frustrations that are certain to eventually happen with the barbed variety. Let's look at a couple of them.

If you fish bass, certain other species as well, you know how they occasionally get hooks embedded all over their body. It can be a major pain in the butt to get these barbed hooks removed. It's often difficult not to make the fish start bleeding and if that happens, chances are it's unlikely to survive.

That's no problem with barbless trebles. Believe me you'll appreciate having them when it's time to release fish. So will the fish!

Ever netted a wild-eyed steelhead and then had it wrap itself and your hook into the folds of the net six ways from Sunday? If you have, chances are you've spent 20 minutes getting the fish unpinned and the hooks out of the net. You've probably also practiced your profanity in the process. It's much less of a problem if the hooks don't have a barb.

Finally, there's one other time when no-barb hooks really help. It's when you get careless, as we all do from time to time, and wind up managing to stick a barbed hook into some portion of our own anatomy.

This can be downright dangerous and any way you slice it there's certain to be some pain involved.

Ever bury a hook into your own hide? Lots of us have. Barbless hooks eliminates a whole bunch of the misery associated with that problem.

I speak from experience. I've done this five times in a lifetime of fishing. Twice I've wound up having the docs cut treble hooks out because the hook barbs were too deeply embedded to risk anything else. Also, on two occasions I've managed to push a single barbed hook on through my hide and cut the barb off before backing the hook on out the same way it went in. On yet another occasion, I just clenched my teeth and jerked---ouch!

While it's still not a fun thing, hooking yourself when there's no barb involved removes almost all of the misery. And that applies to the fish you're after as well as yourself.

While they're still not top sellers in the extensive Gamakatsu inventory of fish-catching hooks, company officials tell me the sales of barbless hooks are increasing as they grow in popularity. "We think that's a great trend," Joe Quiocho says, "and it's a good one."

As I mentioned earlier, part of these increased sales undoubtedly are coming as a result of more and more waters around the country being restricted to barbless hooks. But that doesn't account for all of it.

Like that guide I've been quoting said, these specially designed Gamakatsu barbless hooks do hook—and hold—the fish that grab ‘em.

Here's proof that the Gamakatsu folks know their barbless hooks get the job done. Pictured is Joe Quiocho, an executive of Gamakatsu's Tacoma, Washington office. This is just one of several salmon Joe caught with barbless hooks the day this picture was taken.

I suppose you can get by on restricted waters by mashing down the barbs on your hook or working them over with a file. Do that if you choose, but it's not the best way to go. As I've made plain, your hooks that came with a barb aren't designed the way the barbless ones are.

As I've pointed out all the way through this two-part column, do yourself a favor and try some of these hooks specially designed for barbless hook fishing.

Chances are you're not going to regret it. Neither will those beauties you slide back into the water with nothing but a pinhole in their jaw and a slight dent in their dignity!