John Merwin on the "Hookless" Moffitt System

Field & Stream‘s John Merwin weighs in on a new hookless-fly rig that has recently caused disagreement among even the purists. Does it provide another way to reduce fish mortality, or does it rub against the collective zeitgeist of the sport? Merwin says, “The advantage lies not in hooking more fish but in doing less damage to those you want to release. The mechanics of Moffitt’s system are such that it’s virtually impossible to hook a fish in the tongue or gullet, inside the gills, or in the eye, as sometimes happens with conventional flies.”

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  • Rather than comparing this system to snagging, what it really is is an Alaskan bead rig used with regular flies.
    The problem comes with the “inventor”‘s use of circle hooks; Merwin doesn’t mention the hook up rate but my guess is you’ll miss a hell of a lot more strikes than you would with an ordinary fly. And let’s face it, gill-hooking, deep-hooking, foul-hooking; what are these but symptoms of bad technique? If an angler isn’t experienced enough to quickly set a hook after a take (quickly enough to avoid having the fish swallow the fly), then that angler doesn’t need the added complication of this rig. Stick with what works and learn to do it right and you’ll damage less than 0.5% of the fish you catch.

  • ken morrow

    interesting. raises all sorts of practical questions in my mind – moreso than ethical ones. i don’t have a problem with the outside/inside the lip thing, and state laws could easily be revised if the rig is scientifically tested and proven to decrease mortality. but i’m thinking: hanging up on the bottom, wind knots, and stuff like that.

  • ken morrow

    i was thinking the same thing, zach. that’s just about what i wrote about it in my blog yesterday. another “mechanics” issue that came to mind is leader wear. friction of the rubber against the leader is what holds the fly in place. that same friction when the hook is set is going to burn through leaders, especially on light leaders. and i agree that if u set the fly 12″ or so above the hook, there is no way that this is not going to reduce hook-up rates for someone with good technique vs conventional flies. that extra 12″ of slack is extra rod bend before hook-up no matter how you slice it. that means a later hook-up and a harder hook-set, which can break leaders and even pull a hook all the way through a smaller fish’s flesh.
    like i said before…i’m not nay-saying so much as i have a lot of questions. the guy is a retired wildlife biologist trying to reduce mortality. so i’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • Chris Wheatley

    I don’t understand why people who choose to go angling end up pandering to the animal rights brigade.
    If you’re concerned about fish welfare then don’t take part in a sport that involves putting a hook into their mouths.
    Isn’t it as simple as that?

  • ken morrow

    no, chris, it is not as simple as that.
    with sustainable fisheries disappearing at a scary rate all over the planet…fresh and saltwater…the enlightened angler understands that reducing mortality in catch-n-release angling is an important part of the equation for the future of our sport.
    of course, if one is not concerned about the future of the sport (or the health of the planet), then there is not reason to give a thought to such things. but most intelligent and moral folks consider that irresponsible and selfish.

  • G Force

    I would try the system in a heartbeat to see how it works. I just want to know how to tie my own flies. My fishing in Pennsylvania is over heavily fished trout. I let them all go, and if I can let them go with the chance of less damage, I would do so. In judging the system I would be comparing how the fish are hooked to actual hook up ratio. While I never get upset about a “long arm release” I would not want a rig that caught less fish. Hope that makes sense.

  • I am having problems registering, I apologize for the anonymous post.
    We had a interesting, sometimes heated discussion about this method on UpperMidwestFlyFishing. Most folks who posted think that the method is snagging or flossing. However, here is the real problem – it is probably illegal in many states, at least the ones in the Upper Midwest. One of our posters contacted the company which acknowledged that the method may be illegal in some states. Nowhere on Moffitt’s site does the company mention the fact that this product maybe illegal.
    I think that Zach gave the best advice in the first post: “Stick with what works and learn to do it right and you’ll damage less than 0.5% of the fish you catch.”
    – David Dornblaser

  • Gene Zacckey

    From a hobby perspective if you want to try this technique and it’s legal where you fish then try it.
    From a protect the fishery standpoint hooking mortality of fly anglers isn’t at the top of the list of causes for declining fisheries. In a perfect world it would be but right now it’s riparian ownership issues, various types of pollution (chemicals, agriculture run off…)and degrading habitat due to various causes (silt, bank errosion, climate changes…)
    So just hookem and release them in a timely manner. Then you’ve done your part for the fishery.