It was a typical April day in New Jersey and I was glad to take advantage of warm temperatures and clear skies. I was fishing the iconic Raritan Bay spring striper run, famous for incredible fishing on trophy striped bass. Little did I know there was a fish hook injury in my near future.
The Minor Horror of a Fish Hook Injury
When I got to the launch a fellow kayak angler arrived shortly after me. I did not know him, but he seemed friendly. We were preparing our gear when he exclaimed, “I forgot my fishing rods!”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I responded and looked at my four rods. I don’t know this guy, I thought, feeling guilty about not lending a perfect stranger one of my fishing rods.
At this time, my friend John recognized the guy. “Maciel!” he greeted, “Dennis, have you met Maciel?”
I smiled, “Nice to formally meet you.”
“I can’t believe I forgot my fishing rods,” Maciel lamented. John walked away and returned with a fishing rod in his hand. Maciel initially refused, but then accepted the loaner.
Tied to the line, John left a clown-colored, large-profile Bomber plug, a lure producing great catches in the bay’s shallow sections.
We began fishing the bay’s back sections as night fell and the tide turned. Not long after we began trolling, I heard Maciel over the VHF radio, “Fish on, it’s a big one!” Minutes later he reported a 36-inch striped bass.
In short order, Maciel caught four large stripers. When we asked him what lure he was using, he responded, “The lure John left on this rod.”
The tide was turning and pulling us into the bay’s lower section. Over the VHF, I heard another kayaker, Gus, announce he was into fish. “Big ones,” he said.
Gus was a couple miles away, but the current was sweeping me towards him. I put two rods out with clown-colored Bombers as I pedaled to Gus.
Double hookup leads to trouble
I didn’t get far before I hooked a double header. I hastily fought and landed the first fish to keep it from tangling the lines. In a hurry to release the 32-inch striper, I tried to grab the green fish with my lip gripper.
The writhing fish had the back hook of the Bomber in its jaws leaving the front hook swinging free. In the melee, the heavy-gauge treble hook caught my right hand just below my pinky, embedding the point deep into my flesh. Pain shot up my arm and the striper continued to thrash.
I quickly unhooked the thrashing striper and released it over the side. Fishing lines were everywhere. Thankfully, the second fish in the double header was gone. Now my hand had a new clown-colored appendage.
I called for assistance on my VHF and my fellow kayakers responded. Eddie Spaghetti was first to reach me. He helped me untangle my lines. Meanwhile, I pushed the hook point through my skin and pinched down the barb.
Gus and Brad arrived next. Brad had a hook removal kit. “This is going to hurt like a bitch, and it may not work,” Brad warned.
Looking at the hook and hearing Brad’s warning, I got nervous. Gus suggested: “Just go to the hospital. They’ll cut it out.”
I opted to go to the hospital. Brad called the ambulance. We were close to shore, and they led me to meet the ambulance. I was hoping the first responders would cut the hook and I could get back on the water. After all, the fishing was great.
Unfortunately, the ambulance team refused to cut the hook. They insisted I go to the hospital. I agreed, reluctantly.
Fellow anglers assist in the clutch
The problem remained, I was miles from the launch. How would I get my kayak back to my truck?
Gus and Brad, whom I only knew from the water, assured me they would get my boat back to my truck. I gave them my truck keys and left with the ambulance.
I spent the next couple of hours in the emergency room. The medical staff numbed my hand, cut the hook and pulled it out of my hand. They couldn’t find bolt cutters, so they used a Leatherman for the minor surgery.
I was prescribed antibiotics to kill bacteria I might have picked up from the bay water or the slimy fish.
I left the emergency room and took an Uber back to my truck. I found my kayak loaded in the back. Later I learned Brad fought the current to tow my boat miles to the launch. Maciel, the guy who forgot his rods, was part of the team that towed my boat to the truck and safely stowed my gear inside. I wished I had lent him one of my rods.
Kayak fishing is essentially a solo sport. There’s only room for one in most fishing kayaks and the sport appeals to the individualistic introvert. But, when the shit hits the fan and one of us needs a hand, everyone jumps in to help. Despite the great fishing, these guys had my back. I hope to return the favor someday.
Hooked on fishing, not on a fishing lure. | Feature photo: Dustin Doskocil