Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.


THINK LIKE A FISH Part 11 Barbless Hooks.

I am not a great fuss pot when it comes to tackle, in fact any of my friends would tell you that I'm a fishing tackle philistine. If I need some kit I tend to pop into the small local tackle shop and buy what they have on the shelf. Of course I would not buy anything which I thought was unreliable, so even if it costs a bit extra I tend to go for well known brands. When it comes to hooks Mustad, Drennan and Kamasan are all stocked locally so they are usually the ones in my bag. If I am after small hooks for float or fly fishing for mullet I tend to go for those patterns designed for carp or 'specimen' freshwater fish.

Anyway, to come to the point. Some time ago I looked in my dry fly box (an old film cassette container) to find that I was right out of poly flies (Ladle's Fancies as one of my mates mockingly called them) for thick lips. It was a big spring tide that evening and I was raring to go, so I nipped down to the shop, just before it closed, to buy a few size tens and twelves. I peered along the rows of hook packets to see what was available and soon found just what I wanted. It was only when I got home and began to whip the first bit of foam onto a hook that I realised that my eyesight had let me down. The hooks were barbless! Now my logic has always been that barbless hooks were all right for poncy freshwater species like dace or roach (I like them really) but if I was going to hook a decent bass or mullet I wanted the reassurance of a barb. Anyway, it was too late to get any more hooks so I decided to make the best of it and tied my flies on the barbless size twelves.

The fly rod was set up as usual with a floating number six line and eight feet of five-pound nylon and it was with some doubts in my mind that I tied on a barbless poly fly. The first thing that I noticed as I baited up was that the maggots slid on a bit easier than usual - only a small detail but 'first points to the barbless' (having said that they also slide off more easily - not such a good thing!). I turned to the sea and although the tide still had an hour to come there were fish already feeding right at the water's edge.

I knelt down on the pile of rotting wrack and flicked my little fly out into a group of foraging surface feeders. Within seconds I had a take, the line shot forward and my strike connected with a solid resistance. The head shaking and rushing about suggested that this was no mullet and sure enough a couple of minutes later I slid a nice bass of two and a half pounds ashore. The hook was firmly lodged in the angle of the jaw but it popped out with no trouble at all and the fish was returned within seconds - I was impressed.

The fly was adorned with a few more maggots (I always keep a handful in the inside pocket of my chest waders so I can bait up without going back to the tackle, which may be some distance away) and cast again. A few minutes later and wallop! Another bass took the fly and fought its way gamely to the beach. In all I landed six bass in the space of about half-an-hour and apart from a couple of missed bites I did not lose any - AMAZING! None of the fish were monsters and the biggest went about three-and-a-half pounds but I think that most dry fly (=trout) anglers would have been well pleased with such a catch.

The best was yet to come. As I was fishing I scanned the water for signs of bigger fish and sure enough, just by a clump of wrack about ten yards from the edge, I saw some big mullet snouts skimming the surface for drifting maggots. To avoid being splashed by the waves breaking in the edge I paddled out into about two feet of water and cast towards the milling mullet. For once the fly landed spot on and almost before I could raise the rod to straighten the drifting line I had a take. The fish went off like the proverbial train, straight out to sea. It fought with the tenacity that only mullet can muster and it must have been five minutes or more before I landed it. Five-and-a-quarter pounds, again the barbless hook had done its stuff without any problems. I returned the mullet and turned back to the sea to find that the fish were still there so I waded out again for another go. This time my catch weighed just under four pounds and then I had another one of spot on three.

By the time I released the third mullet the tide had turned and it was getting quite dark so I packed in and began the half-mile walk back to the car park. On the following day I returned to the same spot with three pals. Of course I was full of stories about the excellent fishing I had enjoyed the night before but we only managed three tiny bass between us, all on plug baits. My sole contribution was a firm pull from one bass of about five-pounds which took the fly, rolled to give me a good view and came off.

Anyway, to return the point (or should it be barb) of my account. The barbless hooks acquitted themselves much better than I could ever have imagined. I have since landed quite a few more bass and mullet on the barbless flies and I shall have no qualms about using them in future. They certainly stick in well and even in the wind and waves I was able to remain in contact with the fish. It only remains to file the barbs off my 5/0 Vikings and to try barbless trebles on my plugs but that may take more courage than I can muster.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Think like a fish.

Barbless hooks.

A decent fly-caught bass.

Despite a lively fight this fish was landed, without a net, on a barbless fly.

A typical mullet taken 'off the top'.

Again the barbless hook held firm.

The tough upper lip of a thicklip.

Barbless hooks are easily removed.  Their one disadvantage is that the maggots tend to slip off more easily during the cast.

Another mullet on 'Ladle's Fancy'.

Even small barbed hooks can be the very devil to remove.