Fish Hook Removal for Humans
Go fishing long enough and eventually you or someone you're with will get their day ruined by getting impaled with a fish hook; here's how to remove a barbed hook and get back to fishing
Anyone can accidentally get a fish hook in a place it’s not wanted, even the President of the United States.
“I was president, and I was fishing on the Snake River in Wyoming,” Jimmy Carter recalled while a guest on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“I had the Secret Service with me and the military aids and also the White House physician Dr. Bill Lukasz, and I hung a big fish – it was a really nice fish – and I snatched the hook, and the hook came loose and embedded itself in my face, and there I was with this fluffy thing sticking out – you know what a fly looks like – and it wouldn’t come out, and I didn’t know what to do.
“I could see myself coming back to civilization and maybe with all the news media around. So finally Dr. Lukasz put me on the ground and put his foot on my chest and ran a fly line through the hook and held onto it and snatched it out. So that was the biggest one I ever caught.”
When a person gets hooked accidentally, the incident is usually relatively minor like President Carter’s. Sometimes it can be humorous, like the time my fishing guide buddy Steve Chaconas sat on a jerkbait laying on his boat deck.
“My pants were hooked to the carpeted deck,” he said. “I could not reach any motor to move the boat out of sight, so I sat there until I thought no one could see and then I unzipped and slithered out of my pants to remove the hook. Just glad I wasn’t hooked in my butt!”
I once hooked my best friend while carrying our fishing poles to the truck after the sun went down. I had a long jigging pole over one shoulder, with a crappie jig reeled up to the tip. As he walked along behind me, he couldn’t see the pole or the jig, and the lure’s hook somehow snagged his ear lobe.
Had he known what happened, my buddy’s reaction might have been different. But feeling the sharp pain in his ear, he thought he’d been stung by a wasp or bee and took off running to evade his unseen antagonist. That was the best fight I ever had on rod and reel.
Sometimes getting hooked can be more serious, like the time writer Don Thomas Jr. accidentally hooked his wife Lori in the face with a heavy saltwater jig. The couple were fishing for black sea bass with their friend Bob May when the incident occurred.
“Unfortunately, I’d cut myself the day before and wore a bandage right where the line crossed my index finger,” Don said. “And as a dyed-in-the-wool fly-rod enthusiast, I hadn’t used spinning tackle in years. The resulting disaster was probably inevitable. I gave a heave and, when the dust had settled, Lori was wearing the jig on her face, with a 2/0 hook embedded in her forehead.”
Fortunately, there’s an easy, painless way to remove a barbed hook from human skin if it comes to that, and Don related the method in an article about the incident he later wrote for Sports Afield magazine.
“Forget everything you’ve ever heard about pushing the hook through and clipping off the barb,” he said. “That’s painful and creates more tissue damage. Instead, proceed as follows:
“First, cut a 2-foot length of line or leader, preferably 12-pound-test or greater.
“Next, loop the line around the inside bend of the hook and grasp securely.
“While pushing downward on the eye of the hook, give a quick, firm jerk on the line, with the force directed away from the eye and parallel to the skin.
“Note the look of amazement of your friends’ faces and continue fishing.”
Thomas noted that this method results in disengagement of the barb.
“Success depends on proper direction of the forces on the hook eye and line loop and requires a bold snap rather than tentative tugging,” he said. “You’ll feel more confident if you’ve practiced before-hand, which you can do by sinking a hook into a heavy piece of corrugated cardboard.
“Because a fish hook in an eye poses such potentially serious consequences, I do not recommend attempted removal in the field. Patch the eye loosely with soft material and seek medical attention at once.”
Thomas’ method works well if the hook is not too deeply embedded. If the point of the hook has been driven through the flesh and is near the surface of the skin, however, medical professionals recommend the “advance and cut” method.
Use pliers to push the hook through the skin so the barb is visible. Cut the hook off just behind the barb with wire cutters, and remove it by pulling it back through the way it entered.
Wash the wound with soap and apply a simple dry dressing. Then visit a doctor, and be sure your tetanus immunization is up to date.
If a fish hook is lodged anywhere near the eye or an artery, do not attempt to remove it. Leave the hook in place, and take the victim to the nearest medical professional.
Thomas’ wife Lori handled her accidental hooking quite well.
“I have to admit that the jig looked ominous hanging from my wife’s face,” Don concluded. “But she had been wearing sunglasses, and her eyes weren’t involved in the injury. As Lori braced herself against the swells, I cut a length of line and removed the hook easily.”
Undaunted, Lori grabbed her fly rod and stepped back to the stern. “Would it be all right if I asked Bob to cast the jig this time,” she asked.