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by John Howell and  Capt. Butch Rickey

Well, I had three trips on the books for this week, but I woke up Saturday morning with what may well have been the first case of swine flu in Florida. It really kicked my butt! I never had it diagnosed, as the flu is the flu is the flu. But, I've joked about having the "Porkulous Flu". I wound up spending most of the week in bed, which of course forced the cancellation and rescheduling of my trips. So, in lieu of my regular Fishing Report, I am presenting a story the I received just this morning from my old friend John Howell, who spends a lot of time in St. James City. There's a good lesson in his story, and it's entertaining.


Last Friday Jen and I went to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on the Pine Island Sound side of Sanibel Island, to fish the creeks and try to escape the wind. It’s a wonderful place - healthy mangroves, beautiful water with good tidal flow, a plethora of birds, and a fair amount of fish. It was a gorgeous, warm spring day, with plenty of sunshine but winds predicted to be gusting well over 20 knots. When we got there and started fishing, we were happy that we had made the choice.

At first we were fishing some little bays near the mouth of a creek, getting plenty of bites and landing a trout from time to time. After trying several different types of lures I was fishing a Mirrodine, a fairly new lure that seems to catch all species of fish, trout, snook, reds, even tarpon. The lure was getting either bites or follows on almost every cast. In the water the Mirrodine looks a lot like a baitfish, especially when “jerked” erratically, and it has two treble hooks that are quite effective in catching fish. Of course, I routinely crimp down the barbs on my lures, and I had sharpened the hooks on this one before I began casting it. On about the sixth cast I got a good hit, and reeled in a nice trout.

The trout had managed to get hooked on both trebles, so it was going to be tricky to get it loose and released without damage. I wet my right hand and grabbed the trout behind its head and gills and lifted it into the boat. With my left hand I worked my pliers onto the shaft of the rear treble hook. Just as I got the rear trebles loosened from trout's mouth, it began a tremendous wiggling. The rear trebles escaped from the jaws of my pliers and before I could do anything about it, one of the hooks impaled my right index finger just above the first knuckle, in the meaty part of the finger, about where my thumb touches the side. The front treble was still hooked to the trout’s mouth.

Jen saw what happened, and exclaimed, “Oh my, what can I do to help?”

“Please get this fish off the other hook and let it go,” I said.

She jumped to it, and, luckily, before I knew it she had freed the trout and it swam away gratefully.

We then examined the situation. The hook was deep, buried in my finger down to the bend in the hook. But I remembered that the barb was crimped down, so I bravely said, “I’ll just pull it out with the pliers.”

With my left hand I put the jaws of the pliers around the shaft of the hook, and pulled. The hook didn’t budge, but the pain was breath-taking! Everything turned purple for an instant and I began to get swimmy-headed, so I sat down. Okay, I thought, that’s not going to work.

I thought about the technique that all fisherman have read about, but I had never had to try: tie a length of monofilament around the hook shank, then pressing down on the hook, jerk it straight out so that the barbed area comes out the same hole it made going in. It was obvious that I couldn’t do it by myself; could I teach it to Jen in such circumstances, when I had never done it myself?

Before I could discuss it with her, she turned on the trolling motor and began moving the boat toward the only fisherman in sight, a fellow who a quarter of an hour before had actually pulled onto the flat near the shoreline in front of us, anchored, and put out a couple of lines. We had to ease around him to continue fishing our planned route.

As we got within hailing distance, Jen called out, “Hey, we need your help!”

He immediately began apologizing. “No, that’s not what I mean,” Jen said. “Do you have any experience at getting hooks out of hands?”

“Yep, I’ve done it a couple of times.”

Jen pulled up alongside his boat and held them together while he stepped onto our boat. “I’m Jennifer,” she offered.

“I’m Jim,” he said.

“Hi, I’m John,” I said, “excuse me if I don’t shake your hand – mine is occupied right now.”

“Let’s take a look at that,” he replied, examining my finger.

He took out a length of monofilament, about 30 pound test it looked, and began to tie it around the hook shank while explaining his plan. It was the same method I would have used myself if I could, so I was fine with it.

After he got the line tied around the hook he said, “Okay, I’m going to jerk it now.”

I steeled myself and with a quick movement he jerked. The line parted; the hook was still in my finger.

“Damn!” he said, beginning to tie another knot around the hook.

When he was ready, he indicated that he was going to jerk again. I steadied myself and held my breath. “May it work right this time,” I silently prayed.

He jerked rapidly again, and the hook popped out of my finger. But the trailing treble wasn’t through. It caught my thumb right above the nail and became impaled there. I looked at the hook unbelievingly; it had gone into my thumb completely and come back out a quarter inch away. My thumb was now hooked like a piece of live bait!

“Damn!” Jim said again. “I’m sorry about that.”

We considered the changed circumstances and strategized. “I think this is easier,” he said, taking out of his pocket a pair of wire cutters.

He put the wire cutters to the hook tip and clipped off the barbed area. With that gone, it was a simple matter to back the hook out the way it had gone in. I was now free!

“Hmmm,” I thought, “that gives a new meaning to the term, ‘jerk bait’.”

I thanked Jim for his help, and he got back into his own boat. “By the way,” he said, possibly feeling a little guilty, “there’s a bar off that point over there that holds fish. You ought to try it.”

As we moved away and my system began to settle down – my body had been running on adrenaline and endorphins since my hookup – we focused in on the area Jim had indicated, and continued fishing. We fished for another hour or so and picked up a few more fish, but without any altercations this time. I even managed to get in a little fly fishing when we got out of the wind for a bit. My finger and thumb throbbed and smarted some, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the fishing. I did tell Jen, though, that the lesson I learned was to use the Boga Grip whenever I had a problematic hook release, rather than getting my off-hand near the hooks.

Later that afternoon, off the water, Jen drove me to the walk-in clinic to get a tetanus shot. As the doctor (also a fisherman) examined the wounds, he asked if we had used the classic monofilament-jerk release. He said that’s the method most ER docs use to deal with hooks in fishermen.

“I did about a hundred and fifty like that,” he said, “but on the one-hundred-fifty-first time it didn’t work. So now I always deaden the area, push the hook point the rest of the way through, snip it off, and back out the hook.”

“Great, doc,” I said, “now I’ve got to worry about getting some Novocain to keep in my boat!”

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