THE SELF RELEASING SYNDROME - A SOLUTION?
I use a leach pattern that I have recently begun to call "The Orangutan". It has been extremely effective in attracting fish - saving the day for me many times when no other pattern would produce. However, at least two out of three fish hooked would self release at some point during the "fight". I have had days when, out of dozens of fish hooked, I only landed six. If you're a catch and release purist, you might think this is a good deal; after all you did fool the fish and get to play it, and you didn't have to get your hands slimy releasing it - which is what you were going to do anyway - right? (and all the rest of the bull that goes with this).
I'm no purist, I like to land the fish I hook, and when a lot of them get away I become very frustrated. So, solving this problem was placed high on my priority list. I reasoned that the fish might be striking short and thus be barely hooked, which would allow them to pull loose, so I added a smaller "stinger hook" to the fly, and it worked! but the fly was no longer as effective in attracting strikes, so my score didn't improve much and I didn't get to play as many fish - idea #1down the drain. Well, maybe tying the pattern on a long shank hook would work -no, still had the self release problem, shorter hook? no, same as long hook, @#*?! -ideas #2 & #3 also down the drain.
Maybe changing the way the pattern was tied: fuller, sparser, shorter, longer, etc., etc. - no, no, No, NO! @#*?!. By then the drain" was plugged and I was exasperated. The question boiled down to, why did the stinger work while an extra long shank didn't? (the pattern was kept the same size even though the hook was longer). In fact, I lost more fish with a long shank than with a short shank.
I began to pay more attention to how the fish were hooked, when I was able to land them. Almost always, they were hooked well into the mouth cavity or in the tongue where the hook would fully penetrate. Occasionally I would land one that was hooked in the jaw cartilage and the fly would fall free as soon as the line tension was released. ????? Was this the problem? Were most of the fish being hooked in the jaw and the point wasn't fully penetrating? That might explain why the smaller hook used as a "stinger" worked - the finer wire of the hook would penetrate more easily. Thinking along these lines I realized that by pinching down the barb, to make the hook "barbless" the hook has nothing to lock it in the jaw (of course) and the bulge created by the pinched down barb would inhibit penetration and enlarge the hole, where the point went in, as the hook worked back an forth during the "fight" making it easier and easier for the fish to throw the hook as time elapses. Pursuing this idea I began filing the barbs off the hooks and thinning and shaping the point to give it a knife edge.
This seems to be the answer. I have landed most of the fish that the "Orangutan" has hooked since I began this practice. The fish I lose now usually take the fly with them. With this revelation I thought about the much larger hooks used for salt water fishing and the fish I would lose if I didn't strike vigorously at the take (something you can't do when using fine leaders for trout). Since I use barbless hooks for everything except jigs the bulge of the pinched down barb would be a greater problem for the larger hooks.
I have now filed off the barbs and thinned the points on all my salt water flies and have used them enough to suggest that this solves most of the self releasing problem.
Based upon my experience I suggest that barbs be pinched down only on small hooks (size 12 or smaller). Use hooks that have "micro barbs" so that the bulge is small. All hooks larger than size 12 should have the barbs removed by filing and the points formed to a knife edge on the inner surface of the bend. Flies heavily weighted at the eye, "jigs", should have the barbs left intact or filed to micro barbs because a fish can easily throw these due to the inertia of the weighted "head".
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