I have been fly fishing since 1960, catch and release since 1971 and around 15 years ago started to become troubled at the trauma inflicted by dragging some poor unfortunate fish around by it’s lips and the numbers of fish that actually did not make it after being released. They seemingly swim away ok but the lactic acid build up from the fight eventually, within an hour or so leads to shock and their death. It’s also tough to see the damage done to smaller fish, ie, the hook through the eye. Does not matter if the hook is barbless, the damage is done.
My solution was to just cut the hook behind the tail of the fly so that there is actually no hook. The objective for me has always been fooling the fish into taking something that I created and presented. Now I get to experience the thrill of the take without having to put the fish at risk. Their experience amounts to spitting out something distasteful and they are on their way none the worse for being fooled. It’s especially fun when you are skating something big and hairy for steelhead or big rainbows and browns. Very big fun fishing for Mahseer in Thailand this way.
Oh, and all of you out there clicking away on the counter hanging from your vest. Just. Go. Away.