Let’s keep talking about actually fishing. I certainly have a few more biases to share. And it’s just fine if folks don’t agree with what I say or the positions I espouse. I prefer that you to listen to a number of people and then make up your own mind based on a rationale that makes the most sense to you.
Mash the barbs on your hooks. It’s easier and safer for you and it’s less stressful on the fish because you can more easily back the hook out of the fish’s mouth if you don’t twist it and often remove a chunk of the fish’s mouth parts. I’m not an especially accomplished fly tier, and I don’t really enjoy sitting at the tying bench when I could be out somewhere fishing. But some flies are so simple to tie that I even tie them rather than spend a couple of bucks or more to buy them. On those flies I tie myself I mash the barbs before putting the hook in the vice. There are those who will argue about the proper technique for mashing barbs. I use a pair of small curve-jawed pliers. And, yes, I break a few hooks. But the barbs on my hooks get mashed flat. On flies that I buy or that are given to me by fishing partners, when I get them home I sit down at the kitchen table and mash the barbs before adding them to my fly boxes. In some states, on waters designated “barbless hooks only”, wardens have tests to see if your barbs are mashed flat enough. On the White River in Arkansas wardens put your fly through a piece of silk. If it snags when it’s pulled out you get a ticket.
I’ve never mastered the technique of removing a barbed hook from human flesh, so for me it’s better not to get a hook imbedded in the first place, even a barbless one. I once fished with a person who got a small dry fly through their own lip. The “how” is another story, but they still carry the scar. It’s a boat rule in my drift boat to use only barbless hooks. When I fish in someone’s boat that does not use barbless hooks I’m constantly on the alert and always a bit afraid because in the heat of the moment, or due to simple inexperience or ignorance, some people will put a backcast right across the other people in the boat. I wear a big floppy hat to try and help ward off errant casts by my boat mates. Within the last month or so, someone I was fishing with hooked the hat. When I’m bank fishing I stay far enough away from other fishers to avoid them putting a hook anywhere near where I’m standing. You may encounter some folks – even some of your best fishing buddies – who if you start catching fish will get right in your pocket. Especially if they aren’t doing as much catching as you are. Move away from these folks. Let them have that hot spot. It’s not worth it to endanger getting yourself hooked.
When you are bank fishing, move around some. Don’t stand in one place and flail the water for hours on end. You’ll pick up more fish and you will enjoy the change of scenery. Harley Reno, one of the finest fishermen I know, says that if you make 5 casts and don’t get a strike you ought to change something. He isn’t just talking about location. Change a fly, change a weight, change the speed of your retrieve, but change something. I’m lazy so I often just take 10 or so, or more, steps further down the bank. That’s easier than changing flies or weights. I do typically change rate of retrieve before moving, if I remember. And I don’t always follow Harley’s Rule of Five. It might take me 7 or 8 casts before I think I’ve adequately presented my flies to any fish in the area. Joe and I take a lot of fishers out who haven’t had a whole lot of experience. That way we get to pretend to be pretty good fishermen. But we often forget to suggest that they not just stand in a single place doing the same thing over and over.
Are the fish biting today? You’ll never know until you go!