Many Kenai River anglers don't consider fishing to be an exceptionally dangerous activity. But, no matter how careful you are, fish hook accidents can happen and you (or another person) can end up with a fishhook in the skin or in the eyes.
Because they can be more effective, anglers often use barbed hooks. These types of hooks have a barbed front end, which makes it easier to get stuck in a fish’s mouth. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier to snag your hand or another part of your body. You may think your injury is minimal, but with the barbed hook, there can be internal damage that can be dangerous if not removed quickly — and in the right way.
Because the Kenai River is a popular area to fish, particularly during the summer and during the salmon runs, you’re often fishing in “combat fishing” conditions, which increases the chance of getting stuck with a hook fish hook. Therefore, it's important that you know what to do if it happens to you or another angler.
Common Fish Hook Injuries
Most fishhook injuries occur on the scalp, back, fingers, ears, and face where the hook punctures the skin. You can easily hook your finger while looking through your tackle box for a sharp hook or trying to remove a slippery, flopping fish.
Casting lines can impale your leg or arm, especially when there's an inexperienced angler behind the pole. However, getting hooked in your eye, tendons, muscles, bones or ligaments can lead to more severe problems that need immediate medical attention.
What to Do When You Get a Fishhook Injury
The first thing on your mind should be to prevent further injury. Before you do anything, cut the fishing line close to the hook. After that, take a look at your injury to see if you can self-treat it or if you need to see a doctor. Sit down and stay calm. It can be fairly shocking when a barbed hook impales you. If you panic, you could be further injured when you're staggering around on a rocking boat or slippery river bank.
Once you've assessed the wound, do you try to remove it yourself or have a doctor do it? This choice depends on how severe your injury is and the type and size of the hook. If you're hooked in an eye, vein, tendon or another complicated area of your body, leave it alone and get to a doctor. This is also true of larger hooks and multi-barbed hooks since they can be more challenging to remove and need special care.
If you have a small hook that's stuck in your finger or another part of your skin you can get to with ease, you may decide you would rather remove it yourself.
Removing the Hook Yourself
Fish hook injuries on the Kenai River that aren't severe should be treated in the following way:
Wash your hands and apply pressure to the injured area for 15 minutes to stop the bleeding.
Cut the fish line.
See if the barb penetrated your skin.
Numb the area with ice for a few minutes.
Remove the fishhook with a method you’re familiar with (see methods of fish hook removal below).
Clean the area after you remove the fishhook using mild soap and water.
See if the injury requires stitches (deep, large, opens with movement).
Dress the wound with a bandage (only after you cleaned the area to prevent infection).
It's important that you know how to remove a fishhook before you even attempt to remove it yourself. You should have this knowledge before you go on your fishing trip.
What Not to Do When You Get a Fishhook Injury
There are instances where you shouldn't even attempt to remove the hook. These include:
It's embedded in your face or eye.
It's in your bone, joint, or deep in a muscle.
It's nearby nerves or blood vessels that could become damaged.
You don't know how to remove the hook.
Seek immediate medical attention from Family Medical Clinic in Soldotna, AK if you're in any of these situations. Ideally, any multi-barbed fishhook injury should be removed by a doctor.
Risk of Infection with a Fishhook Injury
Fish hook accidents on the Kenai River are no fun to begin with, but even the bleeding and pain from your injury might not be your worst problem. There's also the risk of infection. Dirty hooks can become a breeding ground for bacteria, particularly if you used the hook for last year's catch.
If your wound becomes infected, it can cause a number of other problems that can range from swelling and bruising to painful skin rashes. Infection can even lead to a condition called "fish handler's disease", which occurs when the wound in your skin becomes infected with the Erysipelothrix retinopathix bacteria. This is why it's important that you clean your wound thoroughly.
When to See a Doctor for Your Fish Hook Injury
It's time to see a doctor when your fishhook injury is more serious and when:
You're hooked either in or near your eye.
You can't self-treat due to a barbed hook.
Your bleeding doesn't stop or is more severe.
Your wound requires stitches.
Your nerves, joints, bones, tendons or blood vessels are injured.
You're not current on your tetanus immunization.
You have signs of infection like swelling, redness or pus.
As mentioned, it's extremely important to clean your wound right away to prevent infection. Since marine bacteria can contaminate the fish hook, it increases your risk of infection. If you suspect any or have any symptoms of infection or if the symptoms become more severe and frequent, get to a doctor to avoid further injury.
If you or a fellow angler has a fish hook in the eye, do not try to remove the hook yourself or put pressure on the eye. Instead, put a paper cup over the eye and tape it securely in place. Then, seek emergency medical attention.
Fish Hook Removal Techniques
There are several ways to remove a hook. The choice you or your Soldotna physician uses depends on the location of the injury site and the type of hook embedded. They include:
With this technique, you’re applying downward pressure on the hook's shank (the part of the hook that connects to the eye and point of the hook). Back the point of the hook out along the path of entry. This technique was helpful in 40 out of 100 patients during a study.
This fish hook removal technique is also known as the string-pull method. Tie a fishing line, umbilical tape, or string at the bend of the hook and apply downward pressure on the hook's shank. Using firm, quick pressure, yank on the string.
Needle Cover Technique
Cover the barb tip by advancing a needle (18 gauge) along the hook. Remove the needle and hook along the path of entry.
Advance and Cut Technique
The advance and cut technique is successful in most types of barbed hooks. The doctor administers an anesthetic to the area and makes a small incision exposing the barbed tip. They then push the hook through, cuts the barbed end and backs the remaining part out of the path of entry.
No matter which technique is used to remove your fishhook, caring for the wound is very important. This includes using aseptic to wash the wound and receiving your tetanus prophylaxis immunization shot if you aren’t already up to date. It's also necessary to follow up with your Soldotna Family Medical Clinic to ensure there's no infection and the wound is healing properly.