Sometimes, more than the fish gets hooked

DALLAS — Though I try to be careful unhooking fish, the inevitable happened when a small bass caught on a topwater plug flopped at an inopportune moment, slipping from my grasp as I was trying to secure the fish.

One of the rear treble hooks on the lure penetrated the fleshy fingertip of my right ring finger, and the bass and I were hooked on the same lure.

The fish then fought harder than it had fought in the water. I was holding my fishing rod in my left hand and had a pair of forceps in my right, my thumb and forefinger already inserted into the rings on the forceps’ handles.

I felt like the guy in the old joke. Locked in hand-to-claw combat with a leopard in dense bush, he screamed to his buddy to shoot the leopard. When the buddy yelled that he couldn’t see to make the shot, the first guy yelled, “Just shoot in here among us — one of us needs some relief.”

If I dropped the rod, it would have further impacted on my hooked finger so I reached out with my left forearm, cradled the fish and hugged it tightly to my chest to control the wild flopping.

It was impossible to extricate myself from this self-imposed Chinese puzzle so I yelled to my wife, who was fishing on the other side of the small lake. I told her I had a fish hook in me and needed help.

All I could do was hold the fish as tightly as possible while Emilie covered the quarter-mile of shoreline. While I was reflecting on my unlikely situation, I was relieved to notice the fish’s wild gyrations had jerked the hook through my finger, exposing the barb.

Working together, Emilie and I managed to free the fish and return it to the lake. Then we walked to the car to look for a multi-tool with enough leverage to cut the hook. Emilie wasn’t strong enough to do it, and I couldn’t make it work left-handed.

We were only 15 minutes from home where there was a substantial pair of cutting pliers so we headed that way. Emilie wanted to go straight to the hospital emergency room but it wasn’t the first time I’d been hooked, and I knew it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Once we got the proper tool, it was a simple matter of cutting off the barbed end of the hook and pulling the hook out of my finger the same way it went in. Then I soaked my hand in warm, soapy water with a shot of bleach as an added disinfectant.

The next move was the worst part. I held my damaged finger in a small bowl of rubbing alcohol, mashing around on the wound to get the alcohol through the wound channel. Emilie then applied two Band-Aids.

By the next morning, the finger wasn’t even sore. My tetanus shot was up to date so I just kept an eye on the wound to make sure it was healing properly. I also made a trip to the hardware store and bought an even more substantial set of cutting pliers to carry in my tackle bag.

For people who fish a lot, it’s not a matter of “if” you have a hook mishap, it’s more a matter of “when” it happens.

If the hook is close to an eye or an artery, or if you just don’t feel comfortable with you or a fishing partner playing doctor, head for the nearest emergency room. Otherwise, you can probably do it yourself. Single hooks are easier than treble hooks.

Go to YouTube and type in “fish hook removal” and you’ll find multiple videos showing how to back out a hook the classic way, using a length of fishing line to pop it out the way it went in. Veteran fishing outfitter Billy Chapman, Jr., even sticks a hook in himself to demonstrate how to remove it.

I don’t recommend that degree of preparation but the videos are good instructional tools for dealing with a hook in human flesh.

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Ray Sasser/The Dallas Morning News