Dealing with and preventing common fishing injuries
There’s nothing like a day spent fishing. Listening to the waves lapping the hull of the boat, enjoying the company of a good buddy and landing a catch that’s the stuff of legends – these are what beckon anglers out on to the water.
But as with any other sport, fishing entails some risks. The unexpected can happen, and an angler who begins a day out on the lake may end up in the emergency room.
And that is where many injured anglers will meet Sheila Meyer, RN. She’s the emergency room manager at Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff, and she has seen many fishing-related injuries while on the job.
By far the most common ones she sees involve embedded fish hooks. In fact, display cases at Howard Young and at Eagle River Memorial Hospital house a number of lures extracted from injured anglers, anglers who became members of the hospital’s People Catchers Club. Over the years hundreds of anglers have joined this club –membership even includes kids and dogs.
Of course, while the People Catchers Club is a light-hearted way of dealing with an unpleasant situation, it’s a club no one really wants to join. The good news is that fish hook and other fishing-related injuries can be avoided.
Below are a few common fishing injuries and some tips for preventing them.
Getting hooked can occur in a variety of ways: while trying to unhook a fish, while back casting or while stepping barefoot from one part of a boat or dock to another. Meyer has seen people in the ER who were hooked twice because, after removing the hook from the initial wound, they set the extracted hook aside in an inappropriate place and subsequently stepped or sat on it.
What should an angler do when hooked? “Stabilize the lure so it doesn’t move and create further injury,” Meyer says.
Use sharp side-cutting pliers to remove the part of the embedded hook that’s attached to lines, lures, bait or fish. If dealing with a treble hook, cut the embedded hook free from the lure with needle-nose pliers or a multitool. If the culprit is a musky lure, a more heavy-duty tool, such as a bolt cutter, may be needed. A doctor can remove the hook, usually fairly quickly.
A hook embedded in or near an eye is a very serious matter. It’s critical to get medical attention immediately. If it can be done without causing further damage, separate the body of the fishing lure from the hook with a wire cutter or multitool. Cover the injured eye with a plastic or foam cup, goggles or glasses. Do not apply pressure and do not cover the eye with a pressure patch. Carefully tape the cup, goggles or glasses in place to secure them while the injured person is being moved to the emergency room.
It should be noted that four-legged fishing buddies are also susceptible to injury. If a dog gets hooked, cover the area to prevent the dog from chewing or licking it and get the animal to a veterinarian.
Unfortunately, dogs may swallow baited hooks and cause serious damage to the esophagus and stomach. If there’s fishing line hanging from the dog’s mouth, do not pull on the line. Keep the dog calm and get him to a vet immediately.
Simple precautions can prevent hook injuries. “Make sure the container holding your tackle equipment has a cover on it,” Meyer says. “When changing lures, put the old lure back in the container, rather than setting it on the seat next to you. I think that saves a lot of injuries.”
Using needlenose pliers instead of fingers to unhook fish may prevent an angler from fish hook injuries. These injuries also occur when someone is casting. “When casting, people should make sure they know who’s in front of them and who’s behind them,” Meyer says.
Those fishing with a buddy should always make sure there’s at least a rod’s length between themselves and their companion before, during and after casting. Before casting, always look behind and to the sides to ensure that no one else will be hooked.
If a pet is present, be sure to keep unused lures and bait covered and out of the dog’s reach.
Finally, don’t push off from shore without making sure there’s a first aid kit on the boat. “Have some type of dressing to stop bleeding,” Meyer says, “some bandages, an antiseptic to clean wounds.”
Other good items to have in a first aid kit include tweezers, scissors, sterile wipes, antihistamines and antibiotic ointment.
Falling from the boat
Sheila Meyer has also seen these injuries on occasion, which may happen when someone loses his or her footing while stepping into or out of a boat. The results may range from sprains to broken bones to head injuries. Less common, but dangerous, are incidents when someone falls out of a boat while the driver is making a sharp turn out on the lake.
To avoid the potentially devastating injuries that can result from falling, take the time to make sure the boat is stable before getting in or leaving it. Ask a companion to hold the boat so it’s steady, and don’t rush to get in or out of the boat.
Before going out on the water, Meyer says, “Make sure the person driving the boat is experienced and knowledgeable about the lake they’re on.” Wear a personal flotation device when on a boat. Keep boat cushions and life preservers easily accessible and in the line of sight.
Cuts from fins or fish bites
The dorsal fins with their sharp spines and the gill covers on some species can cut an angler’s hands. And on occasion, an angler may be bitten while unhooking a fish.
When injury occurs from fins, gill covers or a bite, clean the wounds gently but thoroughly and cover with a sterile bandage. Then, “Watch it for signs of infection,” Meyer advises. If an infection is suspected, see a doctor.
Keep in mind that different fish species should be handled in different manners. Some fish species, such as bass and crappie, are best held by their bottom lips when removing hooks; other species that have spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins should be held from beneath, or if they’re small enough, like sunfish, carefully slide the hand over the dorsal fin from front to back.
In most cases, bee or wasp stings don’t require medical attention and can be treated on the spot or at home. For some people, stings can be life-threatening.
When a sting occurs, remove the stinger. Unlike bees, wasps have smooth stingers and when they sting a person, they usually don’t leave their stingers behind. If a stinger is embedded in the skin, remove it by scraping it with a fingernail or credit card. Don’t use tweezers or try to grasp the stinger with fingers, as that can release more venom.
Some people will take an antihistamine to counter itching and burning, and acetaminophen for pain. Another option is to apply vinegar if one knows the sting is from a wasp, or a paste of baking soda and water if the sting is from a bee.
If the victim is known to be allergic to stings, remove the stinger and use the victim’s epinephrine auto-injector immediately to stop anaphylactic shock. Seek medical help immediately. If the victim isn’t known to be allergic, but experiences difficulty breathing, swelling in the mouth and throat or develops widespread rash or hives, get immediate medical attention.
Medical attention is needed if someone has been stung in the eye or in the eye area, has received multiple stings or has an infection.
To prevent stings, avoid wearing scented skin products like perfumes, powder or scented soaps that may attract stinging insects. Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing, and note that sugary foods and drinks will attract bees and wasps. If fishing from shore, avoid areas that have bee or wasp nests.
Instances of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, are on the rise. Protection from sunburn is important, and this is especially true on the water, where the sun’s effects are magnified.
This isn’t an easy sell during warm weather, but hats, long sleeve shirts and long pants are the best protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Be sure to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to exposed skin and reapply after sweating or getting wet.
Seek medical attention when a sunburn is accompanied by severe pain or a high fever; if swelling occurs in the burned area; if blisters cover a large part of the body; or if an infection has resulted from scratching sunburned skin.
To treat sunburn, apply cool compresses or 1 percent hydrocortizone cream to the sunburned area; apply calamine lotion to ease itching; soak in a cool water bath to which ½ cup of oatmeal or baking soda has been added; apply aloe vera gel; or use over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or antihistamines, to help alleviate discomfort. Remember to stay hydrated.
A day of fishing is a great way to bond with family and friends. With some foresight and a few precautionary measures, injuries can be prevented and anglers can stay out of the emergency room…and out of the People Catchers Club.