Barbs: A Limiting Factor in Hook Penetration

by Joe H. Hughes

Editor’s note: I’ve known Joe for nearly 15 years. He’s a full-time pro in factory end of the tackle business for Pradco. He knows what he’s talking about. As a personal note, I’ve mashed barbs for years for stripers, bass, trout and exotics and know barbless hooks simply mean more hookups. Smaller hooks penetrate easier too! It's simply a case of physics! Fly flingers figured this out years back. It works in saltwater too!

In April of 1984, I had an opportunity to fish with the late, Peter Barrett, then a contributing editor for Field & Stream Magazine. The quest was for walleye on beautiful Lake Ouachita, near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The lessons of this trip, with one of the most knowledgeable outdoor writers of our time, were many. One lesson was immense.

Chris Lubbat with a nice catch taken on a Mystic Shad-R


During the first hour of fishing Mr. Barrett asked if he could smash down the barbs on the Cordell Spot he was using. It was my lure and prior to modifying the hooks, Peter thought he should ask.

"Why would you want to do that, I asked?

"Let me ask you this first, "Joe, said Peter. Why do you think the barbs are on these hooks anyway? What are they there for?

Well, I’d been around the block a few times in my fishing career and the answer was obvious. "To keep the fish from throwing the lure," I answered.

"Wrong," smiled Peter. "The barbs were originally put on hooks to keep live bait

from wiggling off. Imagine trying to keep a worm or minnow on a hook without a barb."

"Smash ‘um down, was all I could say. All the time trying to figure out what important piece of information had just been handed down.

Learning Takes Time

It was about a year later that I finally gathered enough courage to smash down the barbs on my lure. Just a test, you understand. Four largemouth in the two to three pound category had consumed a long-cast Spot, surfaced and flung it back. This herd of bass was roaming on a shallow flat and after smashing down the barbs, I caught and released 12, all hooked securely.

As each bass was caught, a serious eyeball investigation of the hook-up occurred.

In every case, each point that made contact was driven home past the barb and the bass was landed using the bend of the hook.

Spreading the Word

Since that first personal experience with semi-barbless trebles, I’ve made it a habit to relate this barb story at seminars across the country. The Cordell Spot is my best example. You cast it for long distance and if a strike occurs when there’s a lot of line out, it simply hard to get a good hook set. There’s line stretch and, under windy conditions, there’s always a bow in your line that you have to fight and wind through.

There weren’t many enlightened faces in the crowds that initially heard this smash-‘um-down story. There were even some looks that suggested that this was the silliest tip that had ever been heard. Never-the-less, when returning to the same areas the next year, there was always one or two anglers that would get me off to the side and tell me their personal smash-‘um-down- story. Sort of kept me going.

Now, for you remaining skeptics, here’s another thought. Striper guides almost always have a story about that big striper that straightened out their hook. Granted, stripers can be pretty powerful. However, one might suggest that the hook-bending fish simply never got that big hook past the barb. Its pretty easy to straighten out a strong hook if you grab it by the point with a pair of pliers. But, you grab that same hook by the bend, where the pressure would be once the barb is passed, and you are simply going to get whipped trying to bend that hook. Editor’s note: You can simply try this yourself.

No Barb - No Bucks:

There’s no doubt that in the world of bass fishing, it is really hard to make and promote a barbless hook. That little sliver of metal that juts out just gives us all a little extra confidence. One just can’t argue successfully against it.

However, we can all understand the reasoning behind very small, yet effective barbs. You get almost maximum penetration of your hook whether it be a single or treble.

You fight the fish in the bend of the hook and if you keep pressure and the fish doesn’t do something magically creative, you’ll land him. This philosophy works.

To illustrate this point, check out the barbs on the Heddon Rotating Excalibur Treble Hooksª (left)These hooks are on all of the Pro Autograph Series, Excalibur Series and most of the Mystic Series lures. The barbs are small. And, yet, this hook continues to grow in popularity because it is so effective. The small barbs are a part of what makes these hooks so good. A very important part.

And, the next time you loose a jumping bass, check the size of the barbs on the hooks you are using. Notice, in particular, the diameter of the metal that had to penetrate the tough part of that bass’ mouth. You might fight it, like I did. But, in the end you may realize that Peter Barrett was right when he suggested that for barbs, a whole lot less is better.