The idea of a barb is intuitive and logical, yet it doesn’t always help us land the largest of fish in the surf.
More and more anglers are taking striped bass conservation measures into their own hands. I have seen many fishermen and women on social media removing unnecessary rear hooks, changing some treble hooks to single inline hooks, and crushing their barbs. I find this grassroots swell in personal accountability admirable, and I applaud these anglers. It is particularly important when targeting schoolies, and it seems most fishermen are aware of this and determined to do their part.
However, I also want to point out that crushing barbs on plugs isn’t just a good conservation method, it can also be effective in helping you more successfully land large fish. Like many other opportunistic in-shore species, striped bass have extremely hard mouths that allow them to capture and consume spiky, potentially dangerous prey without incurring significant tissue damage. Case in point- think about what it must be like for a striper to capture, hold, and swallow a lobster. I have spent many hours snorkeling and observing how smallmouth bass attack and consume crayfish in Maine lakes. I can assure you it is not as simple as just swallowing the strong, hard crustaceans. It is a process that often takes several minutes and involves repeated attempts at crushing the prey. I can’t imagine what the same process looks like with a 40-pound striper and a 1-pound lobster! To protect itself, the striper has to have a mouth “made of steel”- and hence, hook penetration on large fish can be a real issue, particularly with treble hooks. Treble hooks disperse penetration force over two or three points, decreasing your ability to drive the hook home versus a single hook.
Yet, I also understand the “anxiety” that comes with crimping barbs on large plugs. After all, we work so hard to finally connect with a large fish these days, to risk losing it because the hook comes out is a panic-inducing thought. However, I argue adamantly: if you fight the fish correctly, and use sharp, properly maintained, and robust trebles, you will have no issues landing large fish with crimped hooks; in fact, by crushing barbs and subsequently increasing hook penetration, you will land more by crimping your trebles. It pains me to see how many fishermen and women fight fish by pumping the rod back dramatically, but then letting off pressure without properly taking up the slack. Be sure to maintain constant pressure throughout the fight and you should have no problem landing fish. Crimping can have a larger difference with some hooks than others. First, while I applaud crimping single non-offset hooks in soft plastics used for schoolies, I don’t think it makes much difference for hook penetration on larger fish. Hooks like the Owner Beast or Lunker City stock hooks are sharp and thin enough to penetrate with little force and do very little damage to the fish. Even with barbs intact, fast in-water releases are easy with these hooks on larger fish. On the flip side, I try to always crimp the barbs on my Mustad 9430 treble hooks. The attributes that make these hooks so fantastic are the same that make them more effective with crushed barbs. They have a very heavy wire for their size, and as a result the barbs are large. Even partially crushing them can make a difference. Also, if you’re not being vigilant with your file, the 9430s can also suffer from dulling more quickly than some other hooks and crushing the barbs can help offset the impact this has on penetration. Conversely, at the urging of a few friends, I began investing in some expensive Owner ST66 Stinger hooks this past season. These hooks rust quickly, but are very strong and incredibly, amazingly sharp, and I like them on specific plugs. The barbs on the Stingers are smaller, and do not impact penetration as much as on the Mustads. Therefore, I don’t worry about crushing them on my large plugs like I do with the Mustads. However, I would still encourage you to pinch them down if you use them on any schoolie-sized lures.
I write often about bias, and our own preconceived notions. The idea of a barb is intuitive and logical, yet it doesn’t always help us land the largest of fish in the surf. I encourage you to take a risk this year, and try crushing the barbs on your big metal lips, darters, needles, and especially pencil poppers (where hook-sets can be extra tricky). After all, with no risk, comes no reward.