Single hook lures for trout just make sense. Most trout anglers release their catch but releasing a fish doesn’t guarantee its survival. Scientific studies have shown that spin fishing causes slightly greater post-release mortality than fly fishing. I am sure the type of rod and reel have nothing to do with it. It’s the treble hooks that are the problem. Treble hooks cause more damage and take longer to remove than single hooks. The longer a trout is out of water the greater the chance it will die after release – even if it looks fine swimming away. Single hook lures save trout (or so I thought *).
Lures with barbless single hooks are better yet. They often come out by themselves in the net, making the release very quick and easy. Until you get the fish into the net, though, they hold very well.
If you plan to keep your catch, and if treble hooks are legal where you are fishing, then of course there’s no need to go to a single hook – that is, as long as you can be sure you won’t catch any fish that are too small to keep!
Small fish, all three hook points embedded
After decades as a fly fisherman, I started spin fishing for trout again a couple years ago and also started fishing with an ultralight baitcaster. At first, I used the lures I still had from years and years ago – all of which of course had treble hooks. One of the first fish I caught on my new baitcaster was this little wild brown trout. It had to be wild because New York state doesn’t stock fish that small.
Somehow it managed to get all three of the hook points stuck in its mouth. I eventually got the hook out but I probably killed the fish in the process. Even though it swam away, I was pretty sure it had been out of the water too long. I thought it might die, but I couldn’t keep it because it was too short to be legal. I decided right then to fish single hooks instead of trebles!
Two points from each hook firmly embedded – very hard to unhook
Well, just like a New Year’s resolution, that decision lasted a while (but only a while). A few months later I was fishing in Montana and had some new Japanese plugs I wanted to try out. They worked very nicely – maybe too nicely. Like most of the minnow-shaped lures in the US, they had two sets of treble hooks. The rainbow in the photo above managed to get four out of the six hook points – two from each hook – firmly embedded in its mouth. I thought I’d never get the hooks out. I probably killed that fish, too, but I was staying in a motel and had no way to cook it. I released it and hoped for the best.
Right then I renewed my resolve, and that time the resolution held!
Since then, I have made it a point to find and import single hook lures for trout, and single barbless replacement hooks for spoons and plugs. Single hook lures are not at all common here in the US, but they do exist in Japan, mostly for fishing in “Areas.” Areas are managed, stocked, pay-to-fish lakes, although some Areas also have pay-to-fish streams. Pay-to-fish places are not that popular in the US, but they are quite popular in Japan. The ones I know of here are run very differently than the ones in Japan. Here, as far as I know, you pay for the fish. You are expected to keep (and pay for) every fish you catch. In Japan, as I understand it, you pay for the privilege of fishing, but you must release the fish. “Areas” prohibit treble hooks because they do too much damage to the fish. “Lip rippers” are NOT welcome in the Japanese Areas!
Single Hook Lures – Jigs
Jigs are probably the simplest single hook lures that you can cast easily with an ultralight spinning rod or an ultralight baitcaster. Although jigs are generally associated with bass or panfish in the US, they have a following among trout anglers as well. Simple marabou jigs have caught trout for years and years. Jig heads and small plastics are more recent, and are just as effective.
There is no question that small jigs and plastics work for trout. I’ve had trout grab them near the end of the retrieve,with only a few feet of line still beyond the rod tip – and then start jumping! As exciting as that is, I have found that spoons and plugs elicit an even more dramatic response. When fishing a pool that has more than a few trout in it, it is not unusual for several to race each other to get to the lure first. I don’t know if it is the flash or the action or a combination of both, but something about both spoons and plugs draws strikes from fish that have ignored a jig and plastic.
Although I continually reference spoons and plugs, spinners certainly work also. I stopped using domestic spinners and home-made spinners because they cause line twist (completely unrelated to whether you close the bail manually or even cut the bail off). Baitcasters don’t cause line twist, but if you fish almost any spinner with a baitcaster you will get line twist! It’s the spinner, not the reel.
I had been curious why Japanese trout anglers almost never use spinners. They generally use spoons for stocked fish in lakes and plugs for wild fish in rivers. On my last trip to Japan I learned the reason. Two different anglers told me the same thing: spinners are too easy. They prefer to impart action to the spoon or plug by twitching the rod tip. Learning just what action the fish want that day is part of the challenge.
That said, there are a couple Japanese single-hook spinners that come with a built-in swivel and really do cause much less line twist.
Single Hook Lures – Spoons
Daiwa Crusader single hook spoons
Areas require single hook lures, either single hook spoons or plugs that might have a single hook or a pair of single hooks. The hooks on lures that are designed specifically for Areas are all barbless. Daiwa Crusader spoons, which have been around for 30 years now, are intended for use in streams for wild trout as well as in Areas for stocked trout. They have barbed hooks but the barbs are small and easy to bend down for use in Areas. The Daiwa Crusader spoons come in 4 gram and 2.5 gram weights (1/8 and a little over 1/16 oz, respectively).
Daiwa Crusader 2.5g Single Hook Spoons cast well with a Shimano Calcutta Conquest BFS reel.
Daiwa makes several other spoons beside the Crusader. I don’t carry them all (and not even close to all the colors) but I do have a few of the Vega and Eve spoons, which are intended for use in Areas.
Daiwa Vega and Eve spoons come with a single barbless hook.
Daiwa Vega Eve spoons come with a single barbless hook. The spoons are a little smaller and lighter than the Crusader spoons.but even though the Vega spoons are only 7/8″ long they are not too small to interest nice sized trout!
Daiwa .8 gram Vega Spoon and rainbow trout.
The Daiwa Area Bum 56XXUL-S and the Daiwa Iprimi 56XXUL-S are rated for
lures down to .4g, which is only about 1/70 ounce, and the Tenryu Alter RZA61L-T is rated down to “almost zero.” Small, light, single hook spoons cast nicely with the XXUL rods and they do catch fish!
TenkaraBum 40 tenkara rod and Daiwa Vega .4g Spoon
I have been fishing these single hook spoons for a couple years now, and I am
very impressed with them. Fish smash them. I’ve seen fish chase them
for at least 15 feet before catching them. I’ve seen three or four fish
go after the spoon at the same time. I’ve seen fish miss the spoon because of the wobble and come back again and again until they got hooked.
Single hook lures hold quite well.
Sure, some fish come unhooked, but I think that is because the hook
caught just a little bit of skin rather than catching well in the mouth.
When a fish is solidly hooked – it’s hooked. The single hook spoons don’t come out
with jumps or head shakes or runs.
Update: I have found, though, that small trout – the 5-7 inchers – just will not stay on a barbless hook. At least, they won’t for me. They wriggle way to much and they wriggle their way off the hook. Largely for that reason, I have also added single barbed replacement hooks to the shop. The barbs are small and do not cause much tissue damage when you remove the hook. If you are fishing in an area that requires barbless hooks, the barbs are easy to bend down.
There is a huge movement toward barbless hooks, which I support, but I also recognize that scientific studies have shown that the use of barbless hooks does not significantly reduce post-release mortality.** Follow your conscience.
Daiwa Crusader spoon with replacement single barbless hook came out by itself after the fish was netted.
For my own fishing I remove the barbed factory hooks from the Daiwa Crusader spoons and put on replacement single barbless hooks (C’ultiva SBL-35 or Daiwa Presso “Speed” hooks). With the replacement barbless hooks, the spoon often comes out by itself when you get the fish in the net. Releasing a fish couldn’t be easier or quicker.
I have since added single-hook spoons from Shimano, Smith and Forest.
Single Hook Lures – Plugs
Minnow-shaped plugs are excellent trout lures. My focus at Finesse-Fishing.com is on stream fishing more than lake fishing, but nearly all the Japanese plugs I’ve seen that are designed for use in streams come with treble hooks. The only exceptions I’ve found to date are from Palms. I currently stock the Palms Alexandra and Palms Thumb Shad.
Palms Alexandra (the hooks are barbless, not microbarbed as shown in the photo.
Palms Alexandra and brown trout
I’m very impressed with the Palms Alexandra. I’ve only had a chance to fish it once, but it drew strikes well and held fish well despite having barbless hooks.
Palms Thumb Shad
I haven’t fished with a Thumg Shad yet, but I received the following comment from Les A in Idaho, who fishes with one a lot “The Palms Thumb Shad is
an awesome lure. I could really control the depth by varying the speed. What I really like is a
there is a bit of a delay in the dive of the plug when you accelerate
it. I believe that is why that monster trout reacted to it so violently
when I gave it a bit of a jerk. He truly thought that minnow had
spotted him and was trying to get away!
The Daiwa Step Dart was designed for use in Areas (managed pay-to-fish lakes), but they’ve worked quite well for me in streams.
Daiwa Presso Step Dart – Olive Glow (in bright sunlight).
The Daiwa Presso Step Dart is a lure that has a tight wiggle with a steady retrieve but darts from side to side with a pulsed or jerky retrieve. It sinks, and dives, but the shape of the lure is such that it tends to bounce off rocks rather than getting snagged. On a stream that allows only single hook lures I have found it to be quite effective even with the forward hook removed .
Barbless hooks come out of the net easily
When the Presso Step Dart is used with both hooks, it will not be unusual for one hook to be in the fish and the other to be in the net. A very big plus for barbless hook lures is that they come out of the net mesh as easily as they come out of the fish.
Single Hook Lures – Spinners
So far I have found only a few single hook spinners. Luckily, the ones I have found also have built-in swivels and cause relatively little line twist.
Smith Niakis spinner
The Smith Niakis spinner was recommended to me by an angler who has fished all over the world. He said that he didn’t understand why I didn’t stock
the Smith Niakis spinner. I replied that I had a bias against spinners
because they cause line twist. He said the Niakis doesn’t. In his words
they “genuinely don’t twist line and are lethal on panfish, bass, trout
you name it. Clever design, built in power swivel and offset bodies.
These Smith spinners are the
real deal, fished them lots on mono, no line twist.”
Palms Spinwalk Clevis Spinners
The Palms SpinWalk Clevis spinners share many of the same design features as the Smith Niakis: built in swivel, stirrup clevis, offset body, split ring hook attachment, single barbless hook.
Palms Spinwalk Clevis
Like the Smith Niakis, they work! Also like the Smith Niakis, when I have fished them they caused significantly less line twist than Mepps, Panther Martin or home made spinners.
The Smith AR-S single hook spinner is the only other JDM spinner I’ve found that comes with a single hook. I’ve only had a chance to fish with it once, but it was extremely effective and did not cause noticeable line twist. Like the Smith Niakis and the Palms Spinwalk, it has three features I really like in a spinner: 1. it comes from the factory with a single hook, 2. the hook is attached with a split ring, so you can change it if you wish (I replaced the factory barbless hook with a minibarb hook on the one shown above), and 3. the built in swivel really does reduce line twist.
Replacement Single Barbless Hooks
As mentioned above, for my own fishing, I have replaced the factory hooks on the Daiwa Crusader spoons with single barbless hooks. A number of hook companies offer them. The ones I have in stock are the C’ultiva brand, made by Owner and the Presso “Speed” and “Multiplug” hooks by Daiwa. Use the size 8 for the 2.5 gram Crusader spoons and size 6 for the 4 gram spoons.
For plugs that come with two trebles, I remove the front and replace the rear.
The Japanese plugs designed for trout fishing in streams, like the minnow plugs shown above, are really quite effective. Unfortunately, nearly all come with two sets of treble hooks. I remove the front treble and replace the rear one with a single C’ultiva SBL-55M, size 8 or Daiwa Presso Multiplug size 8.
Daiwa Presso Step Dart with front hook removed
The replacement single barbless hooks for plugs are different than the
hooks for spoons. Replacement single hooks for spoons have horizontal
eyes. Replacement hooks for plugs have vertical eyes. However, if you
add a second split ring, as seen in the photo above, you could use the same horizontal eyed replacement
hooks for plugs that you would for spoons.
Plugs with single hooks still hook and hold well
The plugs draw strikes from some very impressive fish. Despite having only a single barbless hook rather than the two trebles, the plugs still hook and hold quite well.
Once in the net, plugs with single barbless hooks often come out by themselves
As with the spoons that have barbless hooks, the plugs with the replacement single barbless hooks often come out by themselves once you get the fish into the net.
Replacing hooks on the plugs is straightforward although it is not as easy as on the spoons, and is not always painless (even with split ring pliers). To me it is worth it though.
* Although it would seem logical that a single hook lure causes less post-release mortality than a treble hook lure, the science does not support that view.
Most scientific studies are not freely available online. Luckily, “The Truth About Hooks and Lures” reviews a number of studies and presents the conclusions. The article was written by a fisheries biologist and was published in the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Digest (pdf download pages 12-14). According to the article, the results are clear. Quoting from the article “The data is based on two major scientific papers which reviewed multiple studies; Taylor and White (1992, review of 18 hooking studies); and a review by Mongillo (1984). Both concluded that the number of hooks did not show a statistically significant relationship to hooking mortality”
**By the way, the scientific studies reviewed in the article also conclude that there is no statistically significant difference between barbed and barbless hooks with respect to post-release mortality.
Both of those conclusions are not what I would have expected but how can I argue with Neil deGrasse Tyson who said “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” I guess you have to follow your conscience.
For me, that will mean single barbless hooks (unless I am on a stream where nearly all the fish are under 7″, which I find to be almost impossible to keep on barbless hooks).
There is another reason for single barbless hooks, though. I doubt ultralight spin fishing for trout can ever achieve the cachet afforded to fly fishing, but to be accepted even as “almost-equals,” spin fishermen will have to get rid of their barbed treble hooks. Even though the science doesn’t support the need, this is clearly a situation where perception outweighs reality. Fly fishermen who fish barbless hooks and release all their fish will never accept the thought of fishing with barbed trebles. Perhaps you don’t care what others think, and that is a perfectly valid stance. However, I do believe that replacing your barbed treble hooks with barbless singles will help elevate spin fishing for trout – and that will help everyone.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee’s hot.The fish are slippery when wet.