Airports and anglers; Do barbless hooks help?; Plus, Professor Buzz has homework for you...

Airports and anglers; Do barbless hooks help?; Plus, Professor Buzz has homework for you...

A couple of years ago [March, 2002], John Gierach wrote a brief piece for FR&R about flying with fly-fishing gear in the wake of the terrorism-inspired

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
A couple of years ago [March, 2002], John Gierach wrote a brief piece for FR&R about flying with fly-fishing gear in the wake of the terrorism-inspired safety precautions. At the time, Gierach-and the magazine-promised an update as soon as things became "clearer, and more uniform airport to airport and airline to airline." My question is, where's the update?

Here it is! Thanks for reminding us.

The problem is things have not gotten a lot clearer-not officially at least. I think there are two reasons for this: 1) In the interest of safety, the airlines and airport security folks seem to prefer to remain just a little unpredictable. And they probably have a point: If your procedures and protocols don't vary from day to day and location to location, it becomes a lot easier for someone to figure out a way to get around them. And, 2) Anglers and their problems are not exactly at the top of the list of things for airline and airport security executives to think about these days.

However, in the four years since 9/11, enough anglers have had enough educational experiences flying to and from fishing destinations that we now know what most of the potential problems are.

The main thing is that we all need to give up on the idea of keeping most of our precious gear with us as carry-on luggage; those days are long gone. Flies have hooks, and a single fly reel contains enough line and backing to tie up an entire flight crew and most of the passengers, so you'll need to take these items in your checked luggage. (Though we've yet to hear of anyone having a problem carrying on a reel without line or backing.)

Two-piece rods often get confiscated at the gate and consigned to the limbo of "gate-checked luggage," so you're probably better off just checking them through to begin with. (Just make sure you pack them in a suitable rod case.) If you travel a lot, you should consider buying a multi-piece rod or two; we've not heard of anyone having trouble carrying on a rod of four or more pieces. Another benefit of multi-piece rods is that if you have too many of them to carry them all on, you can just stash some of them in the bottom of your check-in luggage and no one, save the x-ray operator, will know they're there.

As far as film and cameras are concerned, you can still carry them on without a problem. And while the x-rays they use on the checked luggage will destroy film, the less-powerful ones leading into the boarding area probably will not-at least, that's what they say. Still, I don't like to take chances, so when I'm packing my camera gear I remove all my film from of those plastic film cans and drop the naked rolls into a couple of Ziplock bags. Then, when I'm going through security, I hand over the bags and (very) politely request a hand check. So far, it's never failed to work.

Another couple of ideas you might want to consider: 1) Making sure that whomever you'll be visiting has some extra gear to loan you in case the airline misplaces yours, and, 2) shipping gear to your destination ahead of time. -P.G.

Do barbless hooks really help prevent injury to fish?

This is a fairly complicated question, because real-life fishing involves lots of variables. But the short answer is, Yes.

While there have been several studies on catch-and-release techniques in which the results have varied, I think this is primarily because not all the experiments have used the sorts of good controls and tests that let you evaluate one variable at a time. While I haven't performed any formal experiments myself, I base my opinion on my own practical experience, as well as the experiences of many other people I've talked to about it.

First, a brief list of some of the aforementioned variables: We fish with different sizes and styles of hooks and flies; we hook fish in different parts of the mouth (and, oops, in different parts of the fish). We catch big fish and small fish. Some fish have all the fight out of them when they come to hand; some are still full of life. Some fish are hard to hold onto; some you want to be careful about holding. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a few of us have the experience and a certain graceful "touch" with a fish that allow us to release it quickly no matter which style of hook we're using-while others of us struggle to free a fish even when the hook is barbless. The point is, of course, that in fishing there is hardly ever a situation in which only one variable changes.

In any case, barbs invariably work the way they're supposed to: They sink in the fish's flesh easily, then snag when backed out. It's not unusual to remove a barbed hook and find a small hunk of flesh stuck to the barb. Of course, barbed hooks can at times be removed almost as easily as barbless hooks-but the potential for damage is far greater. Conversely, I can't think of any situation in which a barbless hook could be more difficult to remove than a barbed hook.

About the only place where barbed hooks are recommended is when fishing for fast-swimming, high-jumping fish, which can put a lot of slack in your line and toss their heads a lot. And I'm not talking trout here, but tarpon and billfish. Otherwise, I use barbless for everything. -B.B.

In your November/December 2004 issue, you contradicted the experiences of thousands of anglers, including mine, when you said that a floating fly line that has been trimmed at the end will not absorb water and begin to sink. I agree that there might be other causes for "tip-sink," including the ones you mentioned. But 25 years of fly-fishing tell me that water-wicking is the primary cause. In fact, this is the reason for the well-known recommendation to put a dab of head cement at the tip of a section of fly line that has been trimmed. Care to eat your words?

Unfortunately, not everything you-or we-"know" is really true. If you want to test the "my tip is wicking water and starting to sink" theory, try this next time you replace a floating fly line: Cut a few short pieces off the running-line portion of the discarded line (the running line is even skinnier than the tips of most lines). Put them in a glass of water, and weight them down with something, getting them completely underwater. Leave them overnight. The next morning, set them free and see whether they float. Then, just for grins, tie your favorite line-to-leader knot onto a short piece of the shooting line, using a few inches of leader butt material and repeat the above test. -B.B.