How to Remove a Fish Hook—and When to Leave It In
by PJ DelHomme
Usually, a fish hook can be removed with a couple of proven techniques, which we will show you. Other times, you need to pack it in and head to the emergency room. Here’s how you tell the difference.
If you fish long enough, you’re going to get hooked—literally. Just ask Union Sportsmen’s Alliance staff member Jason Lupardus. His love of angling has taken him to some awesome places–as well as the emergency room (ER). There was the time he was tossing a Rapala, but instead of a largemouth, he caught a catfish. When he tried to get it off the treble hook, two of the barbs landed in the fatty part of his hand. The other barb stayed in the catfish. To add to the fun, the catfish stuck him with its own barb as well.
Once Lupardus unhooked the fish, he cut the Rapala off of the treble hook embedded in his palm and headed to the ER, leaving the two hooks in there. And that, says Marcus Granger, an ER nurse in Missoula, Montana, was the right move.
Somebody Call a Doctor
A member of Montana Nurses Association Union Local #17, Granger grew up in Alaska where his parents had a gold claim. He first became an emergency medical technician, and now he works as a critical care and ER nurse in Montana where he hunts as fishes as often as parenting and work allow.
He says that getting the weight off the hook by cutting off the lure is a good first step to alleviating pain, especially if the hook is set deep.In many cases, Granger will numb the wound in the ER and then push the hook all the way through if possible. Then he will cut the barb off of the business end and slip the hook all the way back through. Lupardus has done the push-through move on a buddy, and they were not not happy, he says.
Because it seems everyone who comes to Montana wants to fly-fish, Granger adds that everyone should wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from both the sun and tiny hooks cracking overhead like a bullwhip. “It’s inevitable that you will get flicked with a lure,” he says. If you do get hooked in the eye, do not try to remove the hook. Instead, clip the line, cover both eyes with something like a bandana and seek medical attention. Why cover both eyes? Because our eyes move in unison and leaving one uncovered means the eye under the bandage—the one with a hook in it—will be moving around as well.
Rip and Grin
About five years ago, Lupardus was fishing a remote Kentucky stream with a coworker. One of the barbs from the treble hook of his rooster tail lure found its way into Lupardus’ hand yet again. This time, though, he had an exit strategy. After he cut off two free barbs and the lure, Lupardus enlisted his fishing partner to yank it out, which he did, inflicting minimal tissue damage. “It hurt like a dickens, but it did the trick,” he says.
He got the barbed hook out using a technique he’d heard about years ago. We call it the rip and grin. There are a number of online videos that use this specific technique, but not everyone gets cell coverage out on the water. That’s why we created the following instructional illustration for you to download and save to your phone. Before you try this at home, do understand that we’re not doctors. If you have any doubt that the hook is embedded too deep or you have reservations about performing this trick on yourself or a friend, just cut the lure off and head on over to your local ER. For further reference, we found the technique described by the American Academy of Family Physicians–if that makes you feel any better
“If you fish enough, it’s gonna happen,” says Lupardus. “I’ve been on a boat where a fella got hooked in the ear with a treble hook. We didn’t have to worry about easing the hook back through on that one because it ripped a gap so big in the guy’s ear the hook just came out.”
Then there was the time he was fishing for goliath grouper and hooked himself down to the bone. That was another trip to the ER. You get the idea. The moral of our story here is to be careful out there this summer, especially if your fishing buddy happens to be Jason Lupardus.
Five Steps to the Rip and Grin Technique
- Remove the lure and any unembedded hooks
- (Optional) Feel free to apply a numbing agent—lidocaine, ice or Coors Light.
- Wrap some line around the bend of the embedded hook
- Push down on the hook’s shank parallel to the skin
- Counting to three, quickly yank on the hook when you get to two.
Stay safe out there…and happy fishing!