Spend enough time fishing and you’ll eventually get hooked. Even worse, you may accidentally give your fishing partner an unwanted earring. Like it or not, getting hooked is an occupational hazard that we’ve all experienced in some form or another, either to ourselves or someone nearby. The unfortunate incident is very much like falling off a bike, getting hit with a baseball, or wiping out on a skateboard.
Accidents happen, that’s the sad reality that comes along with playing with sharp objects. Countless hours are invested designing and engineering fish hooks that are highly effective at puncturing a fish’s tough flesh and bony jaw structure with the least amount of resistance. As a result, soft human flesh stands no chance to the business end of a surgically sharpened fishing hook. Worse yet, a barb strategically placed below the point prevents fish from shaking the hook free. The innovation is great for leaping billfish…not so great for the victim of an accidental hooking. While it is impossible to avoid every misfortune when dealing with sharp objects on an unstable platform, there are certainly measures we can all take to help reduce fish hook trauma.
...a minor laceration or puncture is no cause for concern, but the damage a deeply embedded hook can cause isn't something to be taken lightly.
First and foremost, pay close attention to what is happening around you. This is called situational awareness and applies regardless of where you are fishing. Worry more about what your fellow anglers are doing than what you are doing, especially in a casting situation. Take a crowded pier for example. Drop your guard even for a brief moment at the end of Sebastian Inlet’s famed north jetty and you risk a Krocodile spoon or parachute jig impaled in the back of the head.
A boat is no different. Turning your back on a fellow deckhand deploying a high-speed wahoo lure in choppy seas could result in the 11/0 hook catching more than what it was intended for. Never take anything for granted by assuming everyone around you is paying attention and taking the same safety precautions as you are.
Securely fasten hooks and lures. Most guys simply hang the hook or lure to a rod guide and hope for the best. Most of the time everything ends up fine, but not always. During a chaotic moment like scurrying up to the bow with a hot fish, a rod left in a holder could result in an accidental impaling. Inshore rods are designed with hook keepers just ahead of the foregrip for a reason. With offshore outfits I recommend attaching the hook or lure to the reel seat. This will prevent damage to the equipment and keep the sharp object low and out of the way.
Use a dehooking device, or pliers. Grabbing a frisky game fish anywhere near the head when a swimming plug is dangling from its mouth is a recipe for disaster and likely the leading cause of accidental hookings. During the heat of the moment, when you’re anxious to get back into the action, prematurely grabbing a green fish without thinking about what you are doing may come back to bite you.
Just so we are perfectly clear, I am a fisherman. I am not a trained medical professional and other than basic first aid, I am in no way qualified to provide medical advice. I simply recommend that you lean on the side of caution and that you use common sense. It’s obvious that a minor laceration or puncture is no cause for concern, but the damage a deeply embedded hook can cause isn’t something to be taken lightly. If you or your fishing buddy is accidentally hooked, seek medical attention immediately for everything other than the most minor incidents.
If the barb of the hook has not entered the skin, simply pull the tip of the hook out in the opposite direction it went in. However, you do not want to attempt to remove a hook that is deeply embedded in tissue, lodged within a joint or tendon, or located in or near an eye or artery. If you are at all unsure, seek emergency medical care as quickly as possible. The area should be shielded or otherwise secured to avoid further movement, and the victim should lie still until professional medical care is obtained. Do not close the wound with tape or a bandage. Doing so can greatly increase the chance of infection. After all, hooks are far from sterile. And no, consuming a large portion of alcohol will not make the situation any better.
The only thing worse than being accidentally impaled with a fish hook is being stuck with a gaff and it happens more often than you think. This means gaffs, too, need to be securely fastened and affixed with some sort of hook guard. A tennis ball impaled on the gaff point is the perfect solution for crews who mount their gaffs horizontally along the gunwale.
Fishing is a hazardous sport, and while it is important to remember that big game fishing for blue marlin with large hooks and heavy gear is far more dangerous than fly fishing for bonefish with a 7-weight, it’s all relative and accidents can happen anywhere and at anytime. Hopefully paying a little extra attention to what you’re doing and what’s happening around you will mean you’re never on the receiving end of Poseidon’s revenge.