Tackle and Tactics
Dangers of fishing..
Most sea anglers must have had near misses of one sort or another at some time and I have certainly extracted hooks from various bits of my anatomy on a number of occasions. Now everyone knows about the risks of crack offs, falls on slippery rocks and the danger of carbon rods acting as lightening conductors but perhaps it is worth a few words about the perils of fish themselves.
I have, several times, met experienced anglers who were reluctant to unhook harmless little sea scorpion fish and indeed other less spiky characters such as blennies and gobies. Quite a number of these fish were stabbed and disembowelled by their captors for no good reason other than ignorance - so the first lesson is ‘know your fish’. Most sea fish are not dangerous and, provided you keep your fingers well away from their mouths even big, rough looking customers such as conger will do you no harm. No fish can see very well out of water and they would find it difficult to direct an attack on your person even if they wanted to.
What are the real dangers to beware of when you land a fish? Apart from the problems of fishhooks, which I have already mentioned, quite a few species, such as the common dragonet, are armed with incredibly sharp spines on the gill covers or fins. Try to pick up one of these little chaps and carelessly throw it back and you will have to break out the sticking plaster and antiseptic. Even such placid everyday customers as wrasse, flounders and mackerel can give you a seriously painful jab and require careful handling.
Perhaps the trickiest of the popular species, to hold and unhook, is the bass. Not only are these fish well armed with jagged edges on some of the gill plates but the first dorsal fin also consists of a series of stout needle-like spines. Combine these weapons with the vigour and power of a freshly landed five pounder and you have a potentially damaging combination. Some years ago a friend of mine, Terry Gledhill, felt a progressively increasing pain in his right index finger. A minor operation with a sharp scalpel revealed a bass dorsal spine over one centimetre in length. The bony spike had clearly been buried in his hand for months and had worked its way - alien like - to the surface.
If anything I find small bass even trickier to unhook than big ones. They often wriggle like hell and there is not only a serious risk of being cut or impaled by the fish but an even greater one of transferring a needle sharp treble to your hands. Over the years I've seen several people impaled on the hooks of bass lures and when my kids were young I only let them fish with single hooked lures - just in case. I've certainly not been immune from hook injuries and I still remember several instances. There was a plug in the back of my calf after an attempt to cast with the bale arm engaged, a salmon on one treble of the plug and my wrist on the other and a tarpon that transferred the hook to my index finger as I tried to unhook it without forceps.
The older fishing books often refer to the dangers of infection associated with injuries received from fish, fishing tackle, crabs, barnacles etc. I can’t say that I’ve ever suffered in this way despite hundreds of minor cuts and abrasions but it is just as well to clean and disinfect any wounds if you think there’s a risk.
In addition to the everyday hazards of fishing there are a number of creatures in the sea that are actually designed to cause injuries. Most jellyfish are harmless but one or two can cause you a lot of pain. The big “lions mane” Cyanea may leave bits of jelly stuck to ropes, lines or nets and cause burning wheals on your skin. The smaller, but much more unpleasant, Portuguese man o’ war (not a proper jellyfish) sometimes turns up in summer along the south west coast and is not to be trifled (or jellied) with. The sting of these creatures consists of thousands of tiny darts filled with poison. Many of these little hypodermics are shot into the skin when you touch the tentacles of the animal and man do they sting! In Australia they call them 'Bluebottles' and avoid them like the plague.
When it comes to true fish the shark and ray families include a number of well-armed species. The commonest of these are the spur dogfish and the stingrays. Both of these have modified scales in the form of long grooved spiky projections that can be driven deep into the flesh of the unwary captor. The channels in these spines are lined with tissue that secretes venom and in the case of the common stingray the poison is so powerful that it causes extreme pain, paralysis and swelling.
All rays are capable of producing electric charges but only the electric ray, can give the unwary angler a real jolt, particularly if he touches both the back and the belly of the fish at the same time. The fish uses this property to stun its prey and according to scientific accounts it is very effective.
A number of fish have poisonous flesh and this may be worse at particular seasons. Some of the triggerfishes and wrasses belong to this group but most of those reported to be toxic are tropical and none is as bad as the puffer fish, which causes deaths every year in Japan where its flesh is a delicacy. Skilled chefs must carefully remove the liver and other poisonous parts of this fish before it is prepared for the table.
The best known and most feared poisonous fish to be found around our shores are the weever fish, common inhabitants of the sandy seabed. BEWARE! Lesser weevers live in shallow water and often turn up in shrimping nets or when you are vingling or digging for sand eels. Weevers may even be caught on light tackle and small hooks. Bathers paddling with bare feet are at risk of being stung by these little relatives of the perch. The lesser weever, which is the only one that anglers are likely to encounter, is a slim little golden fish with a body flattened from side to side and marked with dark diagonal skin pleats. Both the spines of the black first dorsal fin and the gill cover spine are armed with poison glands. The worst effects of a weever sting result from direct injection into the blood stream and have been known to be fatal. In all cases the pain is extreme and because the venom attacks the white blood cells secondary infections are frequent. These fish are much more common than most people realise and Michael Kennedy quotes a catch of “thirty-five --- taken in two hours’ shrimping, by night, in the ladies bathing place, Portrush!”
The greater weever is a much larger fish and reaches up to two pounds in weight. It is supposed to taste like mackerel but before you decide to cook and eat one remember - even a dead weever can sting.
I shall finish with one final plea. Always identify your catch, BEFORE, you touch it and when in doubt wear stout gloves. Handle every fish with care, for both your sakes. Lastly please don’t kill or injure any fish without good reason, even the ugliest customer has a part to play in the food chain of the sea.
If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dangers of fishing.