Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

My experiences so far with the new barbless hooks called Firehole Sticks has been great. Overall, they are a joy to tie on and make for some attractive looking flies. Firehole Sticks are a no brainer for freshwater flies, but I wondered how they might hold up under saltwater conditions. If you read just about any blog or article on fly fishing for speckled sea trout or snook, authors encourage anglers to pinch the barbs to protect the tender mouths of snook and trout. A 2010 article in Saltwater Sportsman went into a lot of detail on the best hooks for de-barbing flies and their use in saltwater. Clearly there is an application for barbless fly hooks in the saltwater environment.

In discussing this with Joe Mathis of Firehole Outdoors, he related that some of his customers in the Southeast had been using Firehole Sticks in the salt with some success. Most saltwater hooks are either made from stainless steel (Mustad, TMC, etc.) or tin coated (Gamakatsu) to combat corrosion. On a per hook basis, stainless steel hooks are more expensive to manufacture than tempered steel hooks, so the idea of producing purpose built barbless hooks from stainless steel has some economic issues. Since Firehole Sticks are coated with Black Nickel, they weren’t purposely designed for the saltwater environment. Joe told me they probably won’t fair well in a saltwater spray test, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work well for the saltwater fly angler.

A recent 10-day November foray down in the Tampa-Sarasota region of Florida gave me the opportunity to field test a few saltwater patterns tied on Firehole Sticks. In preparation for the trip, I tied several dozen typical patterns I use for sea trout, snook and redfish. Patterns included deceivers, clousers, disco shrimp, bonefish style shrimp, surf candy, flash minnows, some bend-backs, bottom bouncers and small tarpon styles. The patterns were tied on either model 811 or 718 Firehole Sticks. The heavy wire and straight eye on the 811 was ideal for the larger flies and the 718 was useful for the bend backs and bottom bouncers. I purposely kept the flies tied on Firehole Sticks isolated from my regular saltwater fly boxes in plastic envelopes to protect them from the saltwater.

I didn’t get to fish all the patterns, but those that I did use were handled two ways. About half the flies I used were washed in freshwater at the end of the day. The others weren’t washed until the end of the trip.

One observation I made during the tying portion of the experiment was that the Firehole Sticks did not fair well when creating bend-back or bottom bouncer patterns. Bend-backs require bending about ¼” of the hook shank behind the eye up about 5-10. Bottom bouncers require the same degree of bend down toward the hook point. The model 811’s heavy wire broke almost 60% of the time before the bend was completed. The 718 was easier to bend, but when bent, the black nickel coating fragmented leaving bare steel exposed. TMC used to make a model 411S bend back out of stainless but discontinued it several years ago. However, the TMC 811S is easily bent without any impact on corrosion resistance. Bend-backs and bottom bouncers are effective flies, especially around mangroves and in shallow grass but they aren’t a good choice for Firehole Sticks.

The fishing turned out to be pretty decent for a variety of species, despite the recent red tide problem that impacted the offshore and inshore waters around the Sarasota-Tampa region. Despite extensive fish kills, trout were plentiful in their usual haunts. Additionally, bluefish, a notoriously aggressive and toothy predator showed up in good numbers. The 4-7 pound bluefish put the Firehole hooks through a torturous test with their extremely sharp teeth. Jacks, ladyfish and snook were also taken on the Firehole Sticks.

Overall, the flies that got fished and survived the bluefish during the trip held up well from a corrosion standpoint. Whether I washed them or not, after ten days, none of the flies showed any corrosion. From a hooking standpoint, the Firehole model 811 did extremely well on trout. I don’t think the barbless hooks caused any more missed strikes than typical barbed hooks. Once landed, the hook was extremely easy to remove. The most successful fly of the trip for trout was my “Identity Complex” pattern in chartreuse pictured. Fished on a 30’ 200 grain sinktip, this unweighted fly was consistently slammed by trout lying along the edges of deep potholes.

For inshore saltwater fly fishing, for species typically found around the grass flats and mangroves typical of the Sarasota-Tampa Bay region, I can think of no reason not to use Firehole Sticks if you want to fish with a truly barbless hook, especially the model 811. They clearly will withstand some abuse without instant corrosion and will perform probably just well as any typical saltwater hook. Plus, saltwater patterns tied on Firehole Sticks really look good.

1 Comment

  1. I fish for snook and trout on the fly predominantly. All of my flys are pinched down barbed hooks. The use of barbed hooks is ok I guess but with our resource being so fragile it is best to fish barbless. I still catch fish and if they spit the hook I still had a great time on the stalk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *