Approximately 4 to 6 years ago hook manufacturers introduced "micro barb" hooks. I can only speculate as to what the hook manufacturers were thinking but there is evidence they didn't do their streamside testing. Here's my Steelhead experience with these new hooks. I was staying in Ron Zeelor's Altmar, NY Victorian home, when he owned it, and during a fly tying session a fellow tier showed me some new Mustad Signature hooks. These hooks were good looking and very strong compared to the older Mustad Classic hooks; so I began to replace all my flies tied on Mustad Classic series hooks with the newer Signature hooks. Imperceptibly my percentage of hook-ups landed declined each year in a proportion corresponding more or less with the percent of the newer Signature hooks actually used each year. My hook-up and landing nadir was reached in the Fall of 2010 when I rolled many fish, hooked a few, and landed maybe one or two fish in two days. Frustration! My guide, Ed Martin (expertguideservice.com) said:
"Set the Hook! The reason you're losing fish is you don't set the hook properly. You're getting older and losing it!"
Ed's diagnosis was entirely plausible, but I resisted the full implication because the only change I was aware of was the increasing use of the Signature hooks. Could the Signature series hooks be the reason? A comparative examination of the new "micro-barb" hooks with older hooks with regular barbs under a magnifying glass provided some confirmation. Unfortunately, I had discarded most of my older Mustad Classic hooks; so a new supply of classic hooks or some other non micro barb alternatives were needed. Mustad had ceased producing their Classic hooks so they were becoming very scarce. After a considerable amount of scrambling on the internet, my search succeeded. While searching I discovered that - not just Mustad - but all the hook manufacturers were currently only producing new "micro barb" type hooks; furthermore, during a telephone conversation with a JS Stockyard representative I asked are there any non micro barb hooks available? He said:
"If you can find any, please let me know."
As a test, on November 3, 2011 at the Salmon River's School House pool Ed Martin and I agreed to fish with only Mustad Classic or equivalent hooks and netted and released roughly 100% of all the fish we hooked - approximately 10 steelhead - the only escapees were the ones that managed to break-off. Hooray! The good-old-days were back again! Why?
Lighter leaders stretch more than their heavier counterparts, so one explanation could be that the Classic hooks "stick" better with lighter leaders. We use 3 to 6 pound Drennan™ leaders for Salmon river steelhead. The result seems to be more hook-ups in situations where the strike is towards you resulting in slack line, and a better retention rate for actual hook-ups.
Here are three comparison photos of Mustad 3906 Classic and Signature hooks; the first photo shows Mustad Classic and Signature hooks side by side; the second photo is an enlargement of the first photo showing each hook's point and barb; the third photo shows only the enlarged hooks side-by-side.
In my book: Buck Bug Magic: Catch More Atlantic Salmon (available for sale on this web site and also amazon.com), I mention that my Atlantic salmon hook-up retention rate exceeds 80 percent, but this percent is based on use of Mustad Classic 3399A and 9671 hooks. Well, based on my Steelhead experience with "micro barb" hooks, I suspect this 80 percent number would be dramatically reduced. This proposition will not be tested by me since I have a supply of Classic Atlantic salmon hooks sufficient to last my lifetime.
How long will it be before the hook manufacturers produce fly tying hooks that are as effective as their older models? I would appreciate reader hook feedback; and if I discover any answers, I will post them on this web site. Currently I am testing egg hooks for Steelhead. In the meantime you are on your own and should look very closely at your own hooks through a magnifying glass (hopefully you will have some older hooks to compare with the newer models). Do not assume that your current hooks will perform as well as the older non micro-barb hooks! So, for the time being, look with favor on older single down-eye hooks with non "micro-barbs".