Barbless rules extended up the Columbia.


Active Member
It's an interesting decision.
To lower mortality rates from sport anglers? Or maybe just an opportunity to help the native/wild fish?
When netted, i think that would have a higher mortality rate for fish needing protection/help. It must be easier to mandate the barbless hook than to go after the netters. Almost seems like a political decision or trying to paint a picture of being compliant and/or complacent. I wonder where the SPORT of fishing is going to be in 20 years.


beads are NOT flies and snagging is just ghetto
They still allow treble hooks and nets, that has to make you wonder why?
no doubt, better move would have been a ban on treble hooks. nets are a different animal, not a sportfishing issue. barbless hook rule is a good move, a step in the right direction, but sparkys law does alot more for cnr survival than banning barbs.

no bait, single barbless hook, no junk added to the leader (n umpqua style) and no fishing from the boat would make both myself, and especially the fish happy. guys swinging spoons probably wont complain much either. everyone else will have to learn that steelhead fishing is not suppose to be about numbers, and if they cant live with that, then they can just suck it.

zen leecher aka bill w

born to work, forced to fish
Neah Bay is barbless and that never caused any losses because of a lack of a barb. We landed plenty of fish on barbless salmon plugs and barbless hootchies behind flashers. They also come out of hands easier.


Active Member
Honestly, I thought there was already a barbless rule in place on those tribs. I guess my personal choice to always fish barbless somehow planted fake rules in my head. Either that, or the rules I saw and heard about only applied to salmon, which is probably the case.

When I tie, the first step (assuming I'm not tying on barbless hooks) is to pinch down the barb in the vise jaws. This ensures that I can't get over-excited when I start my fishing day and start fishing a fly with a barbed hook. When I buy trout flies (I hate tying anything under a size 12 or so, so I buy a lot of the small stuff AT MY LOCAL FLY SHOP), I sometimes forget to pinch barbs in my rush to start fishing. I usually realize my mistake before it's too late, but I've overhandled and likely killed more trout than I like to think while trying to remove a small, barbed hook from a delicate spot. Those tiny hooks with barbs are especially grabby and tough to back out in my experience.

But enough about me (not sure why I thought the bought fly tangent was necessary). On to the matter at hand: barbless rules extending up the Columbia tribs. As I said, I try to always fish barbless, so this change would be no skin off my back. HOWEVER, the Cowlitz, in particular, is one place where I think barbs should not be illegal. Nearly all the fish in that river are hatchery-reared, which means the vast majority are intended to be harvested. Wild encounters are nearly non-existent on the Cowlitz, so I see no real reason why folks shouldn't be allowed to use barbs. Besides, while barbless hooks are definitely easier to remove from smaller fish, the difference is not as clear with salmon and steelhead. The larger hooks, combined with the weight of bigger fish, seem to create holes that a barb can be backed out of fairly easily. I'm not sure whether that's good or bad, but anyway....

Folks who like to use barbs when legal have a legitimate claim in that barbs lose fewer fish. Especially when it's a kid catching his first ever steelhead, it can be a real shame to lose one to a barbless hook. Of course, the more fish we fight on barbless hooks, the better we get at using rod position, line stripping, and other methods to keep the line tight and prevent most such losses.

I can go either way with this rule, but I would like some explanation of how wild fish, the WDFW, or anyone else really has anything to gain from adding this restriction, especially on the Cowlitz.


Sculpin Enterprises
I'm surprised that this was not mandated earlier. Regardless of the huge hatchery operations on the Cowlitz, there are remnants of wild steelhead populations there (with significant introgression from hatchery steelhead). Under the Endangered Species Act, those wild populations must be protected by law, even if their provenance is questionable and their recovery is problematic. Not only would barbless hooks make it easier to release wild adults, but they are likely to do far less damage to wild juveniles, especially given the frequency of bait and small corkies that are fished on the Cowlitz. There is a tendency to treat the Cowlitz as if all are in agreement that its one purpose is as a meat fishery. That is not supported by law and WDFW (and Tacoma Power) have had to alter their activities (much to the heart-burn of some old-school Cowlitz fishers) to reduce impact on wild steelhead. This includes halting the release of early winter steelhead in favor of late winter steelhead. Somehow the latter appear to have gotten lost this year.....



Well-Known Member
This regulation is not about us. Not really much about steelhead either. Not even about ESA recovery. This regulation is a concession by ODFW and WDFW to the lower Columbia River (LCR) gillnetters who suggested it when OR's Kitzhaber alternative to Measure 81 on OR to reduce/eliminate gillnetting from the mainstem LCR was going on. The further evidence that this is a political payback and not a conservation measure is that if it were truly a conservation measure, then WDFW would correspondingly reduce the incidental mortality rate applied to hooked and released fish in the recreational fishery. WDFW hasn't, nor have I heard of any intent to do so. I expect they won't because barbs play such a small role in hooking mortality of adult salmon and steelhead. The main factor is hooking location (regardless of barbed or barbless), followed distantly by handling procedures (knotted or knotless landing nets, etc.).

That said, the rule should reduce hooking mortality of juvenile salmon and steelhead, since tons of them are hooked each spring and summer while anglers are fishing for adult salmon and steelhead. And it will reduce the handling time of adult fish that are hooked and released, but the evidence doesn't indicate a significant increase in survival rate even though intuitively it would seem so. And as so many of us know, barbless hooks are removed from angler anatomy with less handling also, although there is no difference in survival rate.

The thing I like best about this regulation is the entertainment value from the whining of Cowlitz bait fishermen who are concerned that a hooked fish might get away. Just because the Cowlitz has been a hatchery meat fishery since 1968 doesn't make it exempt from the law that requires WDFW and NMFS to try to recover naturally spawning anadromous fish there. Apparently change causes more pain than being hooked with a barbed hook.



Geriatric Skagit Swinger
The thing I like best about this regulation is the entertainment value from the whining of Cowlitz bait fishermen who are concerned that a hooked fish might get away.

I can think of a few guys that are probably about to burst a blood vessel! :)

Jim Kerr

Active Member
I think the point about barbs and smolt is a good one. Barbs mess up smolt pretty bad.
This is one of those rules that might help very little, I could thing of about ten very logical ways to punch holes in it. But why bother, it really doesn't hurt anything, and helps to move the idea forward that our salmon and steelhead need all the protection they can get.
Small steps forward are great, lets keep taking them as fast as we can.
I'm with you Jim. Don't see how this will help a whole lot but it will doubtlessly help SOME. Any little ground we can gain in the arena of Salmon/Steelhead conservation is ground worth gaining.
Well, this doesn't affect me because the first thing I do when tying a fly is to crimp the barb, I don't think it causes the loss of any fish and it sure helps get the fly out of your clothes....however, while I'm sitting there feeling pleased with myself I should share that our late, local biologist pointed out that barbless hooks penetrate deeper and probably result in a higher interesting moral delemma

Latest posts