Bluffton Packet

It's painful to look at the risks inherent in fishing

Like the photos? Do they give you goose bumps?

I knew it wouldn't make a difference whether you're interested in fishing or not. These pictures would grab anyone's attention and make them read my column. See, everyone has a little bit of morbid curiosity, and I simply exploited it. Tricky, huh?

Actually, there is a reason I'm showing you these gory photos, and it's this: If you fish or boat long enough, something totally unexpected is going to happen, and you had better be ready.

Over the years I have had at least 25 hooks removed from my hands and other body parts, and probably a good 60 to 100 stitches due to fish bites, knife cuts and other snafus that came without warning. I have even been on a boat that sank in a matter of seconds on the ocean side of Daufuskie Island at 5 on a cold January morning, and it was only because I had a life vest on did I survive.

From all these experiences I have learned one very important thing: The ocean can take you any time it wants, so you had better respect it or you will end up in very big trouble.

I thought maybe you would like to hear about a couple of my not-so-great experiences while out on the great blue sea. For starters, the hand in that top photo is mine. There is something about a fish hook impaled in someone's hand that totally grosses out people. But being a veteran "hook-in-the-hand" kind of guy, it really doesn't bother me anymore (which should be obvious since I took the picture myself).

I get a kick out of sitting in an emergency room waiting to have the hook removed. Usually I sit and read a magazine and sneak a peek at the people who eventually see the hook in my hand. They nearly always get up and move as far away from me as possible so they don't have to look at it.

If I had to guess at what causes the majority of fish hook accidents, I would say it's when you have a fish on the line and lift the fish from the water with the rod only. The fish is wiggling around, the rod is bowed over and just as you reach for the line, the fish drops off the hook. The bent rod acts like a giant rubber band, snapping straight back and driving the hook straight into your hand. The lesson here is to always leave the fish in the water and then grab the line and pull the fish in. Never try to lift the fish into the boat using only the rod.

Another common mistake I see all the time is folks wearing flip-flops, open-toed shoes or no shoes at all while fishing. Talk about asking for trouble, jeez. One time when I was fishing in the Gulf Stream we caught a big wahoo, and right as we gaffed it and brought it over the rail it dropped off the gaff. A wahoo doesn't just have teeth, it has razor blades ... and lots of them.

After coming off the gaff, the fish slid across the wet deck, teeth a-snapping the whole time. It chowed down on the heel of a friend of mine who was wearing flip-flops. He ended up with about 40 stitches, plus an infection. Let me put it this way, most toothy fish don't practice good oral hygiene, and even the smallest cut can fester like no tomorrow.

Fish spines are just as bad. Bottom fish such as snapper can really get you. They have spines all over, and each one is like a razor sharp needle. One time while I was cleaning a big snapper, one of its spines went into my finger. Because they are nearly transparent, I couldn't see it to pull it out and went on home. By the next morning I was in excruciating pain, and my finger looked like a giant red balloon. When the doctor found the spine and pulled it out, it was as long as my finger.

If you remember a month or so ago I wrote about boat safety, but it obviously wasn't read by a lot of you. Living right around the corner from the Alljoy boat landing, I still see many of you coming to the dock with someone standing on the bow with the bow line in hand. Don't stand. All it would take is one mistake to get tossed in the water and run over by the boat. Kneel or sit until the boat comes to a stop, then stand up.

I promise next week I will have some fish stories, should the wind ever lie down enough for an offshore trip. Also, I am planning a two-part seminar on "fishing the Lowcountry" with an emphasis on fall and winter fishing. If you are interested, please call or e-mail me. My phone number is 843-816-6608, and my e-mail address is