Do treble hooks kill more fish than single hooks?

Wild Brown Trout 1688 Ps

I recently received an email from a reader responding to a photo that ran with one of my newspaper columns about trout fishing. The photo showed a colorful, stream-bred brown trout with a treble-hooked spinning lure hanging out of its mouth. The email was short and not-so-sweet:

Mark – “Take those treble hooks off the spinners and add a single hook. Just try it, you will catch more trout and you will kill 60% less trout to boot. Good luck.” — Bob [not his real name]

Hello, Bob. Thanks for your email. It gives me reason to address widely held falsehoods. Wishing me luck — thanks, but I would certainly need a lot of “luck” to match your unrealistic claims.

You don’t know me; I don’t know you. I do know that you must have little or no experience fishing with treble-hooked spinning lures. On the other hand, I have been fishing almost exclusively with in-line spinners for almost 50 years — thousands and thousands of trout caught on spinners. I have a science background, I like to experiment, and I keep accurate records of my fishing.

It appears that you have fallen for the “treble hook myth” — if it has three hooks, it must kill three times as many trout! This myth is typically spread by some Trout Unlimited members and a few “holier-than-thou” fly-fisherman to make themselves feel superior to anglers like me. By the way — I feel just fine.

First off, only a small percentage of trout caught on treble-hooked lures are actually impaled with all three hooks. Because we get the question often, both my brother (and fellow spinner angler) Frank and I kept track of the number of points actually hooked into the trout. Our results were similar and, rounded off, they were approximately: 65% one hook; 30% two hooks; and 5% with all three hooks.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no biological studies to support your contention that I would kill 60% fewer trout if I used single-hooked lures. In fact, science supports the opposite.

Mike Kaufmann, now retired area fisheries manager with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, dealt with this issue during his long career. He wrote this on a fly-fishing message board:  “Treble vs single hooks have been tested scientifically and the results published in the scientific literature. Angler lore and emotions aside, here are the results. Single hooks on spinners cause significantly greater delayed mortality due to the deep hooking in vital areas of the mouth and esophagus. The vital areas, such as the tongue, bleed excessively, resulting in delayed mortality.”

Where did you get that 60% figure from?

Having been a long-time TU member, I also bought into “the myth.” Many years ago, I had my brother Frank make me a half-dozen spinners with single hooks. These were identical to my usual treble-hooked lures, except with single #10 hooks. My plan was to catch 100 trout on those lures and compare the data to what I already had with treble hooks.

I caught eight trout during the first hour using single-hooked spinners. Three of those had swallowed the lure deeply and were hooked in the gills — blood everywhere. A few others were hooked so deeply that I had difficulty removing the hook. In addition, almost all of the trout caught on single-hooked lures took longer to be released (also a mortality factor). With a treble hook, there is almost always a free hook to grasp, which makes it much easier to remove the other one or two points.

I care deeply about the wild trout resource. Since I had already killed more trout in one hour than I would normally hurt with 100 trout caught with treble-hooked spinners, I abandoned my study. Why kill another 25 trout to prove a point?

I cringed when I fished the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Regulations demanded that I fish single-hooked spinners. The results were not good. National Parks have stupid, likely Trout Unlimited-influenced, un-scientific regulations.

I also know from my fishing data that I catch fewer trout per strike with double-hooked lures. I have no significant data on my catch rate with single-hooked lures. However, I would gladly catch fewer trout if I knew that I was protecting the wild trout resource.

Real data — On Friday, May 27, I caught 59 wild brown trout on treble-hooked spinners. One of those trout, a 12-incher, swallowed the treble-hooked lure and was bleeding profusely. I ate it for lunch. The other 58 were carefully released with no bleeding, and no jaw damage. I mortally wounded less than 2% of my catch. So, if your 60% contention were true (which it isn’t), if I used single-hooked lures, I might save a half trout in the next 100 trout that I catch. I fear that the actual result would be many more trout dead.

If you want to use single-hooked lures, that is your business. Although you are entitled to your opinion, I wish that you would deal in facts. I stand very firm on what I know to be true. I will be using trebles. You should, too.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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