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Merwin: Fair or Foul Hooked?

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March 20, 2009

Merwin: Fair or Foul Hooked?

By John Merwin

In the April 2009 print edition of F&S, I describe a new "hookless" flyfishing system designed to enhance fish survival in catch-and-release fishing. Click here to read the article. Flies with no hooks are tied on short rubber tubes that can be looped on your leader. A bare and barbless circle hook trails the fly by a foot or so. When a fish chomps on the fly, the fly itself is pulled from the fish's mouth, and the circle hook becomes embedded on the outside edge of the fish's jaw where it will do the least damage. No more hooking fish in the gills or throat as sometimes happens with common J-hooked flies.

The  1-minute video above will show you exactly how this all works. Meanwhile, answer me this: Is the fish foul-hooked or "snagged" by this method? Or hooked fairly? Remember, the fish is hooked on the outside edge of its jaw and not directly in the mouth.

There's been a lot of controversy over that question since Pat Moffitt at Moffitt Angling  introduced this system last fall. I've fished with Moffitt and found the system works as intended. But fair or foul? That is the question....

Comments (25)

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from Joe_Cermele wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll kick it off and say fair. Snagging to me implies hooking the fish without making it eat and trying to stick it any old place. With this system, you are still fooling the fish and making them eat a fly. The hook just happens to not be right at the fly.

I'm not 100% sure why this is so revolutionary. Egg beads in Alaska are pretty standard. The hook rides a few inches below the egg. Lots of fly guys (Deeter) frown upon beads, but even with offset, barbed hooks swinging underneath I have NEVER hooked a fish anywhere but just inside the mouth or on the outside of the jaw.

For all intent and purposes this is the same thing, just with nymphs instead of beads.

This is also great for fish that give you a solid take, but what about pecking trout? What about false albacore that are moving 80 MPH when they strike?

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from elkslayer wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll also say fair because in my state it isn't snagging if it is hooked in front of the gills. But regardless of that you're still hooking the fish and I don't care where you hook it it still gets hooked. If you're worried that every once in a while your fly will do damage to the fish then stay home or suck it up and keep the fish for dinner.

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from kirkdeeter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll surprise you Joe, and concur with "fair." If the system works as it was designed to... and the hooking of the fish happens as a result of an "eat," that can only be fair.

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from timromano wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Not sure I understand it. Seems pretty gimmicky to me. Why not just put the hook where it's supposed to be... with the bug. The system seems like you'd have a far greater chance of hooking a fish in the eye or anywhere around the face, rather than in the mouth.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Don't ask me. Ask the game warden.

If I was to play game warden for a day I'd say fair but who is to say the hook will not bed in the pectoral fin while being pulled through? Assuming the fishes head is facing upstream the hook will ride down stream and have to be pulled along side of the body.

I like the idea but I don't think my vise will hold a tube.

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from alabamahunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'm with Romano on this one. It really seems like a long shot for the hook to end up actually being pulled directly into the fishes jaw. Not to mention the fact that if the line comes out of the fish's mouth your never going to hook it. I would like to hear from someone who has actually used it.

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from MLH wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'd say foul hooked, at least in Michigan, though will confirm with the DNR. I believe our laws say that a fish must be fair hooked in the mouth or it has to be released. Hooking anywhere else but "in" (meaning the inside of) the mouth is foul hooked. Probably due to prevalence of snagging during salmon runs. Flossing for steelhead still happens, though.

I have a feeling that using a hook setup like this might be considered intentional foul hooking and could be fined under the law. The letter rather than the intent of the law ... sigh. Takes awhile for the DNR to respond but when they do I'll pass it along.

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from MLH wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

By the way, if Merwin says it works I have to believe him. Even though I have to scratch my head that he didn't miss many strikes.

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from benromans wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

MLH raises a good point about missed strikes. I'm assuming this system works best with streamers and some nymphs. But what if you have to make a downstream presentation? If you're trying to force feed a fish, or the fly is at the end of a swing, and you set the hook, won't the whole system just slip out? And to Tim's point, circle hook or not, I could still see it grabbing a gill plate or something, especially if you're casting directly upstream.

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from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Here is a copy and paste from the Ohio laws.

"SNAGGING with a hook to pierce and hook a fish in a part of the body other than the inside of the mouth is illegal for all fish except forage fish"

I guess it's illegal in Ohio.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Alex Pernice th... wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Lol, Cermele I remember that thread about steelheading I started and Deeter was "Ragging" on you for the bead idea. (Now back to the real topic)
there is nothing wrong with snagging carp or paddlefish ect. but when the game fish are the ones under attack, I get mad, and then fish and game is called (By me) and the culprit is ticketed\ arrested if need be. This, in my opinion, is not snagging, but it is still wacko, this "Barbless, no lead" craze is a load of BS, we have been using barbed hooks and lead sinkers for what? 150 years or so? there is still enough fish for all of us, and the birds that "die" because of eating lead sinkers are still here. The problem is people killing the protected species and not following C&R limits or creel limits. we have been fishing thousands of years and keeping what we catch, its ok to keep the occasional leagle fish, but keeping 20 smallmouth bass when there is a C&R only limit is wrong.

AP

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from deanlikes2fish wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

why not put the circle hook in the regular fly like we use in salt water artificials. i fish mostly for red drum and i am a huge fan of circle hooks, (they work great for fishing with young'uns too). i appreciate the extra effort in trying to conserve the fish i just dont know the difference between outside and inside the fishes lips, as far as surviving the hooking.de-hooking.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

If the system works as intended, I would think it to be the opposite of foul hooked. You know what's foul? Gut or gill hooking. If this really prevents that, and gets lip/jaw hooks all the time, this is a very good thing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from alabamahunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Sorry, I missed the part of the story were Merwin said that he had used it. I'm still not sure about it though. And-as dean pointed out- why not just tie the flie with a circle hook? Then you don't have to worry about some kind of goofy stinger hook hanging off the back end of your fly, and you still don't gut hook fish.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from tourneyking734 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

i am not 100 percent sure how this will work. I know they probably know what they are talking about but when fishing small creeks for little trout I can see fish getting hooked all over the place. I am also not sure how it would feel while casting.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from FloridaHunter1226 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I wonder if that 1 foot of distance from the fly to the hook is too long... Seems to me like a fish might bight on and let go and by that time, you already lost the fish. But then again I do not do that much fly fishing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

To all of those asking. There are vital organs located in the mouth of a fish. That's the ideal of hooking a fish on the outside of the mouth.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ReelLifeBassAssassin wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I think its fair because think of it as a trailer hook, which is often used in bass fishing it is pretty much an extention of the lure in this case a fly.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from joycey989 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I go both ways with this one. i am all for it because if you are not going to keep the fish then this is perfect because it causes less harm but it is almost considered snagging. which where i live is ilegal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 5 years 3 weeks ago

I won't switch my gear over to fish this way. I normally catch and release just so that if I do badly injure a fish I have room in my limit for it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from kbkayakin wrote 5 years 3 weeks ago

I'm with you elkslayer. Most of the trout I catch, I eat. Except where phohibited. With some states stocking programs, HAVERSTING is part of the plan.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MLH wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

Well, it's as I figured ... the Michigan DNR will go by the letter of the law not the spirit. Here is their response to the question of whether this method is legal in Michigan ...

"This is not a legal method. Michigan law requires fish to be hooked in the mouth, not on the outside."

Michigan DNR
Law Enforcement Division

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 870 wingmaster 101 wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

I think this new gear is not worth it just use what you will know will work.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from drewod52 wrote 4 years 25 weeks ago

the fish is going for a fly without a hook. once it swallows the fly you pull your line SNAGGING the fish outside of the jaw. foul all the way

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from drewod52 wrote 4 years 25 weeks ago

the fish is going for a fly without a hook. once it swallows the fly you pull your line SNAGGING the fish outside of the jaw. foul all the way

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Alex Pernice th... wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Lol, Cermele I remember that thread about steelheading I started and Deeter was "Ragging" on you for the bead idea. (Now back to the real topic)
there is nothing wrong with snagging carp or paddlefish ect. but when the game fish are the ones under attack, I get mad, and then fish and game is called (By me) and the culprit is ticketed\ arrested if need be. This, in my opinion, is not snagging, but it is still wacko, this "Barbless, no lead" craze is a load of BS, we have been using barbed hooks and lead sinkers for what? 150 years or so? there is still enough fish for all of us, and the birds that "die" because of eating lead sinkers are still here. The problem is people killing the protected species and not following C&R limits or creel limits. we have been fishing thousands of years and keeping what we catch, its ok to keep the occasional leagle fish, but keeping 20 smallmouth bass when there is a C&R only limit is wrong.

AP

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joe_Cermele wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll kick it off and say fair. Snagging to me implies hooking the fish without making it eat and trying to stick it any old place. With this system, you are still fooling the fish and making them eat a fly. The hook just happens to not be right at the fly.

I'm not 100% sure why this is so revolutionary. Egg beads in Alaska are pretty standard. The hook rides a few inches below the egg. Lots of fly guys (Deeter) frown upon beads, but even with offset, barbed hooks swinging underneath I have NEVER hooked a fish anywhere but just inside the mouth or on the outside of the jaw.

For all intent and purposes this is the same thing, just with nymphs instead of beads.

This is also great for fish that give you a solid take, but what about pecking trout? What about false albacore that are moving 80 MPH when they strike?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll also say fair because in my state it isn't snagging if it is hooked in front of the gills. But regardless of that you're still hooking the fish and I don't care where you hook it it still gets hooked. If you're worried that every once in a while your fly will do damage to the fish then stay home or suck it up and keep the fish for dinner.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Don't ask me. Ask the game warden.

If I was to play game warden for a day I'd say fair but who is to say the hook will not bed in the pectoral fin while being pulled through? Assuming the fishes head is facing upstream the hook will ride down stream and have to be pulled along side of the body.

I like the idea but I don't think my vise will hold a tube.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from alabamahunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'm with Romano on this one. It really seems like a long shot for the hook to end up actually being pulled directly into the fishes jaw. Not to mention the fact that if the line comes out of the fish's mouth your never going to hook it. I would like to hear from someone who has actually used it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from kirkdeeter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'll surprise you Joe, and concur with "fair." If the system works as it was designed to... and the hooking of the fish happens as a result of an "eat," that can only be fair.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from timromano wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Not sure I understand it. Seems pretty gimmicky to me. Why not just put the hook where it's supposed to be... with the bug. The system seems like you'd have a far greater chance of hooking a fish in the eye or anywhere around the face, rather than in the mouth.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MLH wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I'd say foul hooked, at least in Michigan, though will confirm with the DNR. I believe our laws say that a fish must be fair hooked in the mouth or it has to be released. Hooking anywhere else but "in" (meaning the inside of) the mouth is foul hooked. Probably due to prevalence of snagging during salmon runs. Flossing for steelhead still happens, though.

I have a feeling that using a hook setup like this might be considered intentional foul hooking and could be fined under the law. The letter rather than the intent of the law ... sigh. Takes awhile for the DNR to respond but when they do I'll pass it along.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MLH wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

By the way, if Merwin says it works I have to believe him. Even though I have to scratch my head that he didn't miss many strikes.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from benromans wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

MLH raises a good point about missed strikes. I'm assuming this system works best with streamers and some nymphs. But what if you have to make a downstream presentation? If you're trying to force feed a fish, or the fly is at the end of a swing, and you set the hook, won't the whole system just slip out? And to Tim's point, circle hook or not, I could still see it grabbing a gill plate or something, especially if you're casting directly upstream.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Here is a copy and paste from the Ohio laws.

"SNAGGING with a hook to pierce and hook a fish in a part of the body other than the inside of the mouth is illegal for all fish except forage fish"

I guess it's illegal in Ohio.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from deanlikes2fish wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

why not put the circle hook in the regular fly like we use in salt water artificials. i fish mostly for red drum and i am a huge fan of circle hooks, (they work great for fishing with young'uns too). i appreciate the extra effort in trying to conserve the fish i just dont know the difference between outside and inside the fishes lips, as far as surviving the hooking.de-hooking.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

If the system works as intended, I would think it to be the opposite of foul hooked. You know what's foul? Gut or gill hooking. If this really prevents that, and gets lip/jaw hooks all the time, this is a very good thing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from alabamahunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

Sorry, I missed the part of the story were Merwin said that he had used it. I'm still not sure about it though. And-as dean pointed out- why not just tie the flie with a circle hook? Then you don't have to worry about some kind of goofy stinger hook hanging off the back end of your fly, and you still don't gut hook fish.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from tourneyking734 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

i am not 100 percent sure how this will work. I know they probably know what they are talking about but when fishing small creeks for little trout I can see fish getting hooked all over the place. I am also not sure how it would feel while casting.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from FloridaHunter1226 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I wonder if that 1 foot of distance from the fly to the hook is too long... Seems to me like a fish might bight on and let go and by that time, you already lost the fish. But then again I do not do that much fly fishing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

To all of those asking. There are vital organs located in the mouth of a fish. That's the ideal of hooking a fish on the outside of the mouth.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ReelLifeBassAssassin wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I think its fair because think of it as a trailer hook, which is often used in bass fishing it is pretty much an extention of the lure in this case a fly.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from joycey989 wrote 5 years 4 weeks ago

I go both ways with this one. i am all for it because if you are not going to keep the fish then this is perfect because it causes less harm but it is almost considered snagging. which where i live is ilegal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 5 years 3 weeks ago

I won't switch my gear over to fish this way. I normally catch and release just so that if I do badly injure a fish I have room in my limit for it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from kbkayakin wrote 5 years 3 weeks ago

I'm with you elkslayer. Most of the trout I catch, I eat. Except where phohibited. With some states stocking programs, HAVERSTING is part of the plan.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MLH wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

Well, it's as I figured ... the Michigan DNR will go by the letter of the law not the spirit. Here is their response to the question of whether this method is legal in Michigan ...

"This is not a legal method. Michigan law requires fish to be hooked in the mouth, not on the outside."

Michigan DNR
Law Enforcement Division

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 870 wingmaster 101 wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

I think this new gear is not worth it just use what you will know will work.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from drewod52 wrote 4 years 25 weeks ago

the fish is going for a fly without a hook. once it swallows the fly you pull your line SNAGGING the fish outside of the jaw. foul all the way

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from drewod52 wrote 4 years 25 weeks ago

the fish is going for a fly without a hook. once it swallows the fly you pull your line SNAGGING the fish outside of the jaw. foul all the way

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

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