Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs I’ve occasionally wondered what I would do if I had the misfortune to bury a fish hook in my flesh.
Now I know.
I’ve been fly fishing for trout in Colorado for three decades now, and it seems like I stopped improving as an angler about 15 years ago. I have great days when I catch a half-dozen fish, and I have good days when I don’t catch anything. But on Saturday, I managed to do something I haven’t done in 30 years of waving sharp hooks through the air over my head.
I managed to bury the hook of a fly — a gold-ribbed hare’s ear — in the flesh at the tip of my right pinky finger. Not only do I now know what I would do about a hook in my finger, I know that removing it doesn’t necessarily have to be as painful as you might imagine.
We were fishing in tricky winds at North Delaney Buttes Lake in North Park, about 13 miles from Walden. I was jazzed because within his first 10 casts of the day, my buddy Jim had hooked, netted and released a beautiful brown trout with a pronounced kype — a hooked jaw.
As a lefty, I found myself battling gusts blowing from the east that made it difficult to make a quartering cast upwind without the gale blowing my line back into my body. After a half-dozen casts, I realized not all was well with my leader and I stopped to untangle the wind knots in my line. I pointed my rod tip straight in the air so the line would fall straight down, grabbed it and began sliding my hand down the line to locate the end.
What I didn’t realize was that the fly had caught on a knot near the top of the leader. I first knew I’d located my fly when I felt a sting.
Looking down at my hand, I saw that the nymph pattern was attached to my little finger with the hook disappearing into the fattest part of the flesh.
The angle of entry did not appear to be in my favor, and I resigned myself to the likelihood that I would have to visit the emergency department at the hospital later in the day. As I began to pick up my gear, I bumped the fly and felt a little unpleasant sensation in my finger.
When I pushed gingerly on the fly I was surprised to see a pointy little peak appear in my finger about 2 millimeters from my entry wound.
“That thing is really close to the surface,” I told myself.
Without delay, I pushed a second time, only harder and felt the hook make some progress. A third time, I pushed a little harder and the tip of the hook popped through the skin. I eased it further out and could see that the barb of the hook had been mashed down (that’s a good thing), and I had advanced it sufficiently so that the bump that was all that was left of the barb was clear of the exit hole.
The worst of it was over!
I summoned Jim and as soon as we returned to the truck he was able to use small needle-nosed pliers to trim off the hook. He even was prepared with Neosporin disinfectant to protect the wound, and we were back in business. I had no lingering pain. None. And you had to look closely to see that I’d put a fish hook through my finger.
The Web page for the American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.com, describes four methods of hook removal for doctors. They include the retrograde technique (applying downward pressure and backing the barbed hook out), the string-yank technique (ouch), the needle cover technique (inserting a needle into the wound to cover the barb) and finally, the advance and cut technique, which is what I executed with Jim’s assistance.
American Family Physicians recommend the use of topical anesthetic with the advance and cut method and warns that additional tissue damage is a possibility.
I was fortunate that it was only a small, barbless hook that was embedded in my finger rather than a big treble hook with a couple of barbs in the meat of my thumb, or in my scalp, or the back of my neck.
I’m going to take my time while handling hooks in the future. And I’ll always keep a small pair of pliers in my fishing vest. I might even stash a little flask of liquid painkiller in there, just for the heck of it.