Ask the Experts: Unhooked

Everybody loves a fun day on the water but, as we all know, problems can arise at any moment. I experienced one of those unexpected problems recently when my son ended up with a treble hook in his finger after trying to unhook a feisty seatrout. Fortunately, the barb of the hook didn’t penetrate the skin so it was easily removed, but it got me thinking – what should I do if that happens again, and the situation is more severe?  — Michael Edmunds

No matter how safe you try to be out on the water, it can always be dangerous. Situational awareness and attention to detail when it comes to boating safety are imperative. However, in some cases, unfortunate situations are just unavoidable, and you have to react in the best way you possibly can.

To answer your question, the best thing to do is avoid a hook in the finger, or any part of the body, for that matter, altogether. We realize this isn’t always possible and catching a hook in the skin is just part of the life of an avid angler, but there are some things you can do to avoid it. First of all, even though it may seem tedious to put a glove on for every fish you catch, that is an option. For those of us who don’t want to commit to wearing hand protection, use common sense when handling hooked fish.

There are several effective de-hooking tools out there that are long enough to allow the angler to remove the hook with the fish still in the water. This is healthier for both the angler and the fish. If you must hold the fish, carefully find a place on the fish where you can establish a firm grasp and use pliers to remove hooks. Another important tip you should note is when you’re handling a caught fish and removing the hooks, particularly in the case of treble hooks or swallowed hooks where it requires a little more effort to get the hooks out, never have another person use the pliers. The person holding the fish should always be the one to remove the hooks. I once accidentally put a treble hook into my uncle’s index finger when a fired-up jack crevalle decided to give us the shakes as he held the fish, and I used my pliers to try to remove the hooks. Here’s another helpful tip – switch out treble hooks with single inline J hooks whenever possible.

However, as I said before, sometimes a hook in the skin is just going to happen, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. When that does happen, there are a few things you should try, depending on the severity of the situation. Before you do anything, ask yourself if you’re even willing to handle the situation yourself. If you have any hesitations about it, go home and seek medical attention. By the same token, if a hook is embedded deep into the skin and neither the hook point nor the barb is showing, I recommend a trip to Urgent Care. This is particularly the case when the hook is near any bones, joints or ligaments (again, sorry, Uncle Ray!).

Though any hook can be dangerous, slow pitch jig assist hooks are particularly likely to jab you where you least expect it.

But, if the hook isn’t embedded too terribly deep, but the point and barb have penetrated the skin, see if you can push the point and barb out through the other side. First, remove any attached lure, bait or fish from the hook. It might be painful for a brief moment, but once the point and barb are exposed, you’ll be able to cut the hook at the shank with a pair of pliers and remove it. Remember, this is only a viable course of action if the hook can be pushed through the skin to come out on the other side with relative ease. If you have to force it, things are probably not going to end up going well for you.

If you determine this push-through technique is not going to work, you have another option that can be a little tricky to get right but is effective in a pinch. This is called the “string-pull” method. First, tie a piece of fishing line or wax thread to the hook where it enters the skin. With one hand, firmly grasp the line or thread and get ready to pull. With a finger on the other hand, push down on the hook to loosen the barb beneath the skin. As you push down on the hook, usually just above where you tied the string or thread to it on the shank, firmly yank the line in your other hand in the direction opposite of where the hook entered the skin. This requires a bit of force, so this is not the time to be hesitant. If you don’t think you can do it, don’t.

Despite these tips on removing embedded hooks, I urge you to always err on the side of caution. Nobody wants to end a day of fishing because of a hook in the skin, but safety always comes first. By the same token, if you are able to get a hook removed, put your first aid kit to use and clean the area with hydrogen peroxide or disinfecting wipes and cover the wounds with a bandage. If you feel pain or inflammation, seek medical attention.



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