We love Jay Kumar’s media work, and religiously read his Bassblaster newsletter weekly. If you’re into bass fishing, you should, too—sign up here: https://bassblaster.rocks.
Jay not only gets interviews with all the top tournament anglers the week after top events to reveal most of their secrets—including photos of their winning lures—but he also makes the whole thing totally wacky and fun to read.
However, Jay quoted our recent TWW item from the University of Florida Marine Sciences Department to take a shot at the researchers for suggesting we fish with basically debarbed hooks for saltwater spotted seatrout, or just plain “trout” as all of us in the Southeast call them.
Jay expressed concern that the seatrout study could also be redirected at freshwater bass, which we all agree can deal with being hooked and released pretty well.
Not to worry, scientists are pretty specific about this stuff, by nature and also nurture, and are not about to extrapolate a saltwater trout study to a freshwater bass rule.
That’s not to say that some overzealous Nature Firsters might not glom on to the study and try to push something like the reduced or debarbed hooks on all of us—many of them would like to put an end to recreational fishing all together--but in terms of any likelihood of regulations in the foreseeable future, it’s not gonna happen.
And there is a problem on catch and release trout, well documented and understood by experienced inshore anglers. They are a delicate species. There are never any weigh-in/release sea trout tournaments for this reason—if trout were put in a livewell and transported to weigh in, every one of them would be dead at the scales.
Trout are soft-bodied fish with tiny bone structure, much less robust than largemouths and smallmouths—or than redfish and snook, for that matter.
They have a hard time surviving the usual catch and release process in warm weather. If you catch them on a topwater with multiple trebles, dehooking can take several minutes, and that’s way too long for a trout to survive out of water, particularly in summer.
Even when caught on jigs or other single-hook lures, or on live bait on a standard live bait hook or octopus style, they sometimes don’t make it if you grab them with a dry hand and put any pressure on them as you work the hook out.
It’s not uncommon for trout anglers to leave a string of dying trout floating in their wake when they get on the big schools over the deep grass flats in summer in some areas. This not only wastes the resource, it could impact the fishery since all those casualties will not be around next year as keeper-size fish.
(There’s a whole other, unrelated problem in the trout fishery, at least in Florida, where we have accidentally trained the cormorants and bottle-nosed dolphin to dog trout fishing boats and pick off the releases. In some areas, these fish-gulpers literally follow the boats from spot to spot, and few released fish escape. But that’s a story for another time.)
In any case, the reduced hooks, which basically have no barb, work really well for quickly releasing trout or other species—but you can be sure there are also plenty of “Palm Beach releases”, in which the fish gets off before it even gets close to the boat. Not something you want to see when the gator-trout of your life happens to take hold, to be sure.
There is no documented problem with catch and release largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass, particularly in the weigh-and-release formats now possible. Even hauling them back to a central weigh-in point causes very limited mortality, except in the dead of summer where water temperatures are approaching their survival limit. That’s why most of the big national tournaments requiring centralized weigh-in are held during the cooler months.
And we certainly agree with Jay that using hooks that don’t work as well is a non-starter for bassheads. This is particularly true for the thousands of anglers who cast for cash, both in the big national tournaments and in the friendly Friday night competitions where everybody throws 10 bucks in the pot.
In fact, companies that produce bass hooks do everything they can to make sure fish DON’T come off their hooks prematurely, and that’s as it should be.
Bottom line is that reduced or debarbed hooks may be a noble effort for spotted seatrout, but are neither needed nor practical for freshwater bass fishing.
-- Frank Sargeant