By Ken DeBarth
We all expect everything to work out well. We expect to catch fish, have a good time, and return home safely. But sometimes things just don’t work out that way and something bad happens.
Fishing is a pretty safe sport. Statistics tell us that the most dangerous thing we do on any fishing trip is driving the car to where we are going to fish. Once we are on the beach or in the boat, however, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Fortunately most of these are not life threatening, but even a little emergency can ruin a good day if you are not prepared or do not know what to do.
Common sense will prevent many fishing injuries. But bad things can and do still happen. Here are some ideas for ways to prevent and treat minor injuries you may encounter on your fishing trip.
Cuts: All sorts of things can cut you. Most common is your bait knife, but anything with a sharp edge can do the job including shells and foreign objects in the water or the sand.
First aid for cuts includes cleaning the wound and controlling bleeding. Bleeding will wash some foreign material from the wound, but washing with hand soap and clean water is best. Most minor bleeding can be controlled by direct pressure. Put a clean cloth or a paper towel (or gauze if you have it) over the wound and push on it firmly. Hold pressure for several minutes. If you remove the dressing and pressure, a partly formed clot can be washed away and the bleeding will not be controlled.
Any cut that gaps open so that you can look down into it or spurts blood should be evaluated by trained medical personnel. Stitches may be required for proper healing. Wounds that need stitches should be sewed within eight to 12 hours. After that, the chance of infection and poor healing increases significantly.
Puncture wounds are a special type of cut—with a small amount of surface injury and a penetrating wound edge. Fishhooks, fish fins and stab-type wounds all have the possibility of carrying dirt and germs deep into tissue. Encourage puncture wounds to bleed. The blood will help wash foreign material out of the wound. Soap and water washing is vital, and soaking the wound in warm water will also help to clean it.
Stings and bites
Marine animals can cause painful injuries. The two most common in our area are sting rays and jelly fish. Sting rays have a barb at the base of their tail with a powerful venom. Sting ray injuries are usually on an extremity and are due to stepping on or handling the sting ray. The pain of a sting ray envenomization is severe, and I have seen tough guys cry like a baby.
Treatment is simple. Soak the wound in hot water. Sting ray venom is de-activated by heat. Water temperature should be in the range of a hot bath. You can get a hot enough temperature from any hot water faucet. It is easy to find the right temperature—the pain will STOP! As the water cools, the pain will begin to return. You can add more hot water or use a two bucket technique by rotating a new bucket of hot water as the first bucket cools. It maybe necessary to continue the hot water soaks for 2 to 3 hours until all the venom is gone. At this point, the water will cool and the pain will not return.
Occasionally the barb will stay in the wound and this may require medical attention for removal. A medical professional can advise you on the need for antibiotics and tetanus immunization.
Jelly fish have venom-containing tentacles that rupture on contact and can be very painful. The venom is contained in small “cysts” and these must be removed. Jelly fish stings can occur on any part of the body.
Treatment involves removing the tentacles and venom by scrubbing the affected area with sand and salt water. Fresh water will worsen the pain as it causes more cysts to rupture. Do not use fresh water! You can scrape the area with a credit card or similar thin hard-edged object to help remove the remaining cysts and tentacles.
Jelly fish venom is destroyed by acidic solutions like vinegar and protein digesting substances like meat tenderizer. If you have both available (and you may want to include some of each in your first aid kit), make a paste of meat tenderizer and white vinegar and rub it onto the painful area. Usually one or two applications of this paste is enough to stop all the pain.
Tetanus immunization and antibiotics are not required for jelly fish stings.
Flying things like bees, green head flies and mosquitoes can bite or sting fisherman. Insect repellent and full coverage clothing will help prevent these troublesome injuries. The pain and swelling from bee stings can be limited by application of an ice cube to the sting area. This will limit the spread of the venom. Swelling and itch can be treated with over-the-counter Benadryl by mouth and local surface application of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
Yellow jacket stings sometime require an update of tetanus immunization but rarely require antibiotics. Any difficulty with breathing, light-headedness, or extensive swelling after a bee sting should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Green head flies and mosquito bites will cause swelling and itching. This can be miserable but is rarely dangerous. Treatment is oral Benadryl and topical hydrocortisone. FOREIGN OBJECTS can become embedded in the body in a number of ways. The barb from a sting ray, a fishhook, a fish fin/spine can require attention.
Usually any foreign body that is embedded should be evaluated by a medical professional. There are a number of first aid strategies for fishhook removal, but I have never had a lot of success with any of these. I remove fishhooks often in my work in the emergency room and urgent care centers. It isn’t hard if you have an injection of a local anesthetic. On the beach or in the boat it is harder. First aid is to remove the lure from the hook and stabilize the hook. Any movement of the hook will cause pain.
Foreign bodies in the eye sometimes occur. The most important first aid for “something in the eye” is to NOT rub the eye! This is vital and very hard to do. The tendency is to rub the eye, but this often will cause more damage. Blinking and tearing will help wash the foreign object out of the eye. Wash the eye by irrigating with lots of water.
Always remove contact lenses from an eye with a foreign object injury. Seek medical attention if the pain and irritation continues.
There are any number of pre-assembled first aid kits on the market. You can buy one of these or you can put together your own. If you choose to make your own first aid kit consider including the following:
A supply of gauze pads—sterile 4×4’s are available at most drug stores
Small hand towels—for dressings and cleaning wounds
Several sizes of Band Aids—emphasize the larger sizes
One or two Ace Wraps—these are useful in holding dressings and bandages in place
Benadryl capsules or tablets—available in 25mg strength over the counter
Small bottle of white vinegar Small jar of Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer
Sling or triangular bandage—available at most drug stores
Bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide—for washing wounds
Small bar of hand soap
Fishing is a safe sport, but, like in any other activity, accidents can happen. Knowledge is always the best weapon when dealing with the unexpected. I hope you will never need to remember any of the above information, but if an accident should happen, I hope some of this advice will help you to deal with the problem.
Ken DeBarth is a fisherman and a physician assistant. He has treated all of the above in his work and experienced most of the above while fishing. Be safe and have fun!