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JEFF KNAPP: Getting hook out of flesh can be tricky

by JEFF KNAPP on July 29, 2014 10:10 AM

The subject line on the email message was titled “ouch.” It was an appropriate tag for the cyber-sent image, one taken by my friend Mark, that depicted a Rapala X-Rap with two tines of a treble hook firmly embedded in my flesh.

A few hours earlier Mark Transue and I had been fishing the Allegheny River in the East Brady area. During the summer months my boat partners and I catch a lot of fish — smallmouth bass mostly — on Rapala X-Raps. We’ve had many 50-plus-fish days, which also means a lot of unhooking.

It’s this phase of the experience that can be tricky, as a lively fish hooked on a multi-treble hook lure has the potential for a bad ending.

During a typical year I’ll log a couple “assists” in helping a guide client remove a hook implanted when a slippery fish was dropped during the unhooking process, when a dangling treble grabbed and then penetrated epidermis during the fall.

So while not a new experience, this was the first time in about 30 years that I’d been on the receiving end (the last one from an encounter with a Keystone Lake walleye and a Lindy Shadling).

This latest adventure was extra challenging. A smallmouth in the 2-pound range had t-boned the X-Rap, managing to hook itself in both the top and bottom lips; all three tines of the front treble were buried, effectively clamping shut the fish’s mouth. The “lip grip” is the safest way to hold a bass as you work on it, but not much of an option in this case. As I tried to penetrate the smallie’s mouth (which was still in the net at this point) with my thumb, to get somewhat of a grip on it, it thrashed. A split-second later tines of the lure’s tail treble were in my 1) thumb and 2) index finger.

Ah, and interesting situation: a spirited bass with its mouth locked shut, hooked to my hand, similarly clamped in thumb and forefinger. It was clear a multi-stepped operation would need to take place before we, or at least I, would be back to the fishing. The first step was to cut the line, so the rod was untethered.

The next was to free the bass. Using long-nose pliers we were able to free one tine of the treble, open the poor bass’s mouth, get the rest of the treble loose and the fish back in the river.

Now the fun part: getting the hook out of my hide. An accepted method of removing an embedded hook is to tie a piece of fishing line to the bend of the hook, push down on the eye (to ease the tension on the barb) and give it a quick yank. I carry a Baker T-handled hook remover that does the same basic thing. They’re great when dealing with deep-hooked fish, as well as hooked angling partners. But this deal was more complicated, as two tines were stuck.

I asked Mark to get the side-cutters I keep on the boat’s console. But as sometimes happens, in a Murphy’s Law kind of way, they were missing. Fortunately, Mark had a Leatherman multi-tool in his tackle box, a new one with sharp cutters. While not as ideal as side-cutters, since the Leatherman’s cutters are located behind the needle-nose portion of the tool (rather than out at the tip), I was able to work the pliers in deep enough to cut the hook hanger on the X-Rap, freeing the lure.

Then it was a matter of cutting the hook so only the two embedded tines were left. This accomplished, the hook-out did a fine and painless job of plucking out the remaining bronze. A quick wipe of the punctures with an antiseptic towelette from the first aid kit, application of a couple Band-Aids, and we were soon back to casting.

I’ve always believed a person should learn something from any day on the water or in the field, even during the slow days. On this one I learned the need to keep a set of side-cutters in the first aid kit, ones dedicated to such use. I was lucky Mark had the Leatherman.

This situation was one where we were able to deal with an embedded fish hook. But some circumstances call for medical attention.

According to the Internet website Web MD, you should not try to take the hook out yourself: if the hook is in or near an eye; the hook is in a joint, in a bone, or deep in muscle; you’re concerned that removing the hook may damage nearby blood vessels; the person who is injured is not calm and cannot help with the procedure; or you are afraid to remove the hook.

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