It’s gonna happen…I guarantee it. You put enough days in on the water and a hook is going to find its way into your skin.
As a full-time guide and dad of a 9-year-old fishing fanatic, I’m in harm’s way more than most – but even weekend warriors are going to get spiked at some point.
It happens fast too. One minute you’re happily fishing and the next your day is potentially over because someone’s got a treble buried in their hand. Been there, done that!
What you can do
How the rest of your day turns out can often be determined by your preparedness.
With a few basic tools and skills, you will be able to handle most hook-in-skin situations — and be able to keep fishing.
But let’s back up here first. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from a serious hooking injury is to always wear quality glasses/sunglasses. A hook in the arm sucks, but if you get it in the eye, that’s a whole different level of bad!
When dealing with hooked fish, it’s a good idea to bonk them in the net before handling them. Give them a good pop with the stick and you wont have to worry about thrashing fish and flying hooks. Of course, when releasing a fish this isn’t an option – which leads me to my next safety tip:
Aside from my fall Chinook fishery, I’ve gone barbless on everything. I keep very few steelhead, trout or striped bass, so why bother running barbs?
For fish you plan on letting go, de-barbed hooks are the way to go. It’s so much easier on them – and safer for you. In that striper plug above the ear story I just told, the big top water popper was barbless and the hook easily popped out with pliers. A barbed hook that deep in someone’s head probably would have resulted in a trip to the ER.
Okay, so speaking of the emergency room – there are times when only professionals should do the hook pulling. Hooks in or around eyes shouldn’t be messed with…in fact nose and face shots are pretty dodgy for the amateur too. In short, anything that looks a bit sketchy is best left to the pros.
For the minor cases, I carry a little kit for hook emergencies with me on the boat that includes a set of needle nose pliers, a really good pair of wire cutters, split ring pliers, a spool of 60-pound mono, a tube of Neosporin, some aspirin and Advil, alcohol wipes and Band-Aids. That pretty much covers me on all minor hooking incidents.
When somebody gets hooked, the first order of business is to cut the line and remove the lure. Your patient doesn’t need any extra pressure or weight on the wound. To remove the hook, I use one of two techniques…
The “Line trick” as it’s often called works great in most situations.
First, take one pass of that heavy mono around the hook and then wrap the two loose ends in your hand. Next, use your other hand to hold the eye of the hook against the patient’s skin.
What you’re going to do next is yank hard with your hand holding the line. It’s critical to pull in the opposite direction of the way the hook went in!
This method is all about commitment! You can’t do a half-hearted pull…it’s got to be quick and sharp. It’s amazing how easily a hook will come out this way when executed properly.
The “Push- hough” system is less ideal but sometimes necessary. As the name implies, you have to pass the imbedded point out through the skin.
Once the barbed portion is clear, take pliers and cut it off and then back the other part of the hook out.
Trust me, skin is a lot tougher than you think and pushing a hook point through is no picnic!
But there are situations in which the line trick just isn’t the best bet. Hooks deeply buried in fingers are a good example. Yanking hard on a line here can potentially bend or break a person’s finger, so you really have to be careful.
Before you try either method, dunking the hooked body part in ice water will help numb it and may make the extraction less painful. Just be sure it’s clean water – soaking in the cooler that’s got fish blood in it is going to cause you infection issues.
In all cases, when the hook is free, thoroughly clean the wound and then coat it in antiseptic ointment. Check the hook for rust…if there’s any doubt there, check your records for the last time you had a tetanus shot.
Tips from Dr. Reilly
Okay, my buddy Reilly isn’t really an MD, but he’s done a fine job of freeing hooks from my skin on several occasions out on the water.
One of his major field surgeon attributes – and one that we all can learn from – is his calmness. When you are dealing with somebody that’s hooked, keep your cool. If you freak out, you’re not doing the person with the hook in his arm any favors!
And Reilly’s biggest trick is distraction.
When you’re getting ready to pull a hook out, try to get the person thinking about something else. hen, do the deed when they are not expecting it. ell them you are going to yank on the count of three…and then pop it on 2 instead. he natural instinct is to tense up at the moment of truth but hooks come out a lot easier from relaxed tissue and flesh.
Follow these basic guidelines and you should be able to handle minor hook issues — and keep fishing!