Barbless hooks have been suggested as a way to reduce hooking mortality by shortening fish handling time during hook removal and by causing less tissue damage. A drawback to barbless hooks, however, could be more lost fish due to poorer hook retention.
The effects of barbless hooks on survival has been examined for a number of species, but not for walleye, according to researchers.* They studied mortality of walleyes (9 inches to 16.5 inches in length) caught by bobber fishing with leeches on barbed and barbless #4 octopus hooks and on barbed jigs (1/16 ounce) with #4 hooks.* Fish were held in holding cages for 120 hours after being caught.
Fish length and handling time did not significantly affect mortality. Hooking damage (hook location and bleeding level) was found to be related to mortality and was also related to hook type. Barbed jigs caused less hooking damage than octopus hooks and there was no difference in hooking damage between barbless and barbed octopus hooks. The authors hypothesized that walleyes in their study were possibly too small to swallow the jigs and that was the reason why they experienced less hooking damage than those caught on hooks. Different results may have occurred if smaller or larger hooks (or walleyes) were tested in the study, the authors report.
Hooking mortality was highest for fish that bled heavily and were deeply hooked. At a water temperature of 77°F, it was predicted that mortality of shallow-hooked fish with little bleeding was 7.6 percent and 29 percent for deeply hooked or heavily bleeding fish. Handling time was similar among the three hook treatments,and no difference was found in the percentage of fish that came unhooked among the three hook types.
*Reeves, K. A., and D. F. Staples. 2011. Relative hooking mortality among walleyes caught on barbed and barbless octopus hooks and barbed jigs. N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt 31:32-40.