Ben Wrote:

I’m a relative newbie to chasing Steelies, is there a consensus on pinching barbs on your nymphs with these beasts? I did my first trip, lost a few fish and thought they are less fragile than those little trout and obviously don’t need any more advantages. That said, I’m kind of wondering what you and your other readers do.


It is a great question. Over the years I have read opinions, followed the regulations when applicable, and listened to input from others. I have tried to formulate a solid opinion on the subject. I have failed, I think…. Here is what I have learned from my experiences.

A barbed hook will hold a fish longer, especially if the angler is inexperienced at playing a fish to net or hand, or is in a difficult fast water lie. Because of the size, power and acrobatics of a steelhead at almost any size, an angler will most likely have a better chance of landing a steelhead on a barbed hook.

A barbed or barbless hook lodged in the eye of a fish will likely cause mortal damage. Although I have caught steelhead and other fish with only one eye, I would imagine the chances for survival would be much lower.

Removal of barbed hooks do more damage to the fish whether mortal or non-mortally hooked.

As anglers, whether we plan on harvesting the fish or not, the goal is most likely to bring the fish to hand. With steelhead, as well as with other big game fish, we have attempted to even the battle or maybe even put ourselves at a disadvantage because of the tackle/tactics we use. The stakes to complete this process can be high, both mentally and physically.

IMO, it is the mental/emotional/ethical state of the individual angler and how they define themselves, in their relation to their journey in fly fishing, as to the choices we make. These choices tend to be determined over time and experience, and can change as more information on the subject is uncovered. There is no doubt that losing a hooked steelhead brings on a flood of emotion, especially realizing the chances of hook up are quite low to begin with. Sometimes a barbless hook may be thought to be at fault if we choose to use it. Sometimes a break-off, a bad knot, a broken hook is the failure. Many times it has nothing to do with the hook. Each battle is unique and for the angler there is no way to anticipate what will happen next.

I have had the good fortune of hooking and landing some steelhead. Some fish have come on barbless hooks and others on barbed hooks. I tie on both styles. I remember going two full seasons fishing barbless, then read some technical articles on the subject. I realized, I thought, a decision on the hook I fished was unnecessary. Call me a flip flopper but here is where I am at. When needing a little love and feeling like I have missed a steelhead on a barbless hook, I will sometimes look for a barbed pattern in my box. Any time I remove a barbed  hook from a fish and believe it has done too much damage, mortal or not, my next choice will almost certainly be barbless.

In reality both types of hooks can do damage to the fish. Those who have spent serious time on the water know this. Most fly anglers strive to practice conservation ethic at a high level. Learning the best practices to preserve and to angle, is the beauty of catch and release.  The barbed and barbless discussion will continue. For now, the issue has probably moved to my back seat. That way I can spend more time dreaming about shimmering water and outsmarting my next hook-up .

Thanks Ben