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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
Email: dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com
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The Pleasure of Fishing: Ouch, that hurts

That little cut or scrape when you're fishing may be more than you bargained for

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, August 10, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

It usually starts with an "Ouch, that hurts."

Fishing for the most part is a hands-on sport. It's you and your hook; or you and your bait; or you and your catch. But fish have barbs, teeth and points each brings a source of potential injury to you or your fishing companions.

But fisherpeople are tough. Right? They just sort of shrug off that puncture wound with "I'm OK, I'll just keep fishin'."

Well maybe, you just aren't OK or the potential for not being OK is right there in that little wound. Here are a couple of stories that I hope will make you think.

The doctor from Georgia

Generally, folks that fish freshwater have more familiarity with the dreaded catfish. They see them in the inland rivers and they even are a sought-after (ugh) species. So when they happen to tangle with one here in saltwater, they have a tendency to handle them rather cavalierly. But then, they have never gone up against our tenacious topsail catfish!

With that as a backdrop, we had a doctor and his family from Atlanta aboard for a backwater trip a few years back. We were going to fish the passes and as we set up to fish I went through the normal warnings of "Don't bring catfish in the boat; call me and I will shake them off outside the boat. We don't want anyone to get hurt." They all nodded.

I'm in the cockpit of the boat with the wife and kids and the good doctor is fishing alone up front. I had assisted him with a couple of catfish releases already, but had noticed his annoyance with having to be helped.

But, I didn't anticipate what was going to happen next.

It started with a yelp and expletive from the front of the boat. There was the doctor with his foot on top of a large topsail catfish whose dorsal "spike" had penetrated his athletic shoe and was protruding two or three inches out the top. The doctor had obviously used his Atlanta technique of putting his foot down to hold the catfish as he tried to remove the hook.

He was in agony! The spike had ripped through the flesh between his toes and deposited venom mixed in with skin toxins, causing a crushing pain and immediate swelling of the foot and ankle. The doctor knew he was in trouble and signaled an end to the trip right then and there.

As we hurried back to the marina we were making arrangements for quick transport to the Urgent Care Center. Even with that rapid handling, the doctor had to cut part of his shoe to remove it as the swelling became so intense and painful.

Later that afternoon, the family called me to report that they had removed the spine fragments imbedded in the doctor's foot and he was on OTC pain killers and prescription antibiotics.

Some way to end a fishing trip. Wanna bet he won't do that again!

Lesson Learned: Don't handle any catfish no matter how small. Acquire a device to grasp the hook well away from the fish and shake it off. If you get nicked, have a supply of a rubbing alcohol and/or hydrogen peroxide on hand to immediately irrigate the wound. If pain or redness persist beyond a couple of hours seek professional medical attention posthaste.

Little bug, big trouble

This is a composite true story appearing in several sport publications over the past few years that has hair-raising implications.

It's not meant to scare but rather forewarn of potential ....

Two guys were fishing in summer-warm saltwater in a Gulf tournament a few years back. They had waders on which had rubbed several raw spots on their calves. As they both finished fishing that day, they noticed that the raw spots were unusually red and tender. They both commented on it, but thought no more about it as they took flights home to Texas and Montana respectively.

The fellow from Texas awakened during the night with severe pain and swelling surrounding the wound. He sought immediate medical attention. His companion from Montana shrugged the same symptoms off and assumed the problem would take its course and be gone in a couple of days.

At this juncture, neither man knew they had been infected with one of the most virulent bacterium on earth known as Vibrio vulnificus. This organism occurs in warm saltwater naturally, in a very small number, BUT, as this story will relate, in enough number to do some atrocious damage.

Our Texas fisherman went to his local hospital emergency the next morning, was immediately diagnosed with v.vulnificus and airlifted to a major hospital in Houston. The disease, in layman's terms, literally eats the flesh.

His treatments included removal of all skin and some muscle tissue below the infection site on his leg as they sought to eradicate the invasive bacteria. Our Texas guy was lucky: He saved his life and his leg, but now requires a walker.

Our Montana guy wasn't lucky. He died of kidney failure from the disease some weeks later. He waited too long and the medical team in Montana had no experience with this saltwater killer.

Lesson Learned: Don't take any chances with saltwater fish bites, nicks or cuts. Irrigate them with either rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide immediately. Seek saltwater-knowledgeable professional medical assistance at the very first sign of sustained redness, swelling or pain.

And do it quickly!

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida