This story was originally published in July 2020.

Fish long enough, veteran anglers say, and you’re bound to encounter a bit of misfortune. Maybe you’ll end up slipping and falling into a river while you’re wading. Maybe you’ll end up with a fish hook stuck in your finger. Or nose. Or throat. Or maybe you’ll be unprepared and find yourself on the verge of becoming hypothermic.

All of those woes are real, and can happen at any time. The Bangor Daily News asked a group of expert anglers and guides to recount their fishing horror stories, along with helpful hints and first-aid tips. Each had plenty to offer, and putting their lessons into action could make a huge difference for you, when the inevitable finally happens to you.

The eyes have it

First off, your mother was (as always) right: You’ve only got one pair of eyes. You’ve got to take care of them.

That’s the top tip from Don Kleiner, a registered Maine guide who owns Maine Outdoors in Union. Kleiner has been dodging his clients’ fish hooks for 35 years, and says he has been hooked two or three times over that span.

Simply put, he’s kind of like a human pincushion.

“What I would stress is, people should wear glasses while fishing,” Kleiner said. “Because all of these flesh wounds [that result when fish hooks get stuck elsewhere in the body] are just that. But if a hook goes in the eye, Mr. Man, we’ve got a problem.”

So, do yourself a favor: Wear glasses. Or sunglasses. Just think: Your safety-first attitude means you’ll be able to rationalize buying a really cool pair of shades, just for fishing.

Hooked on a feeling

Angler Dee Dauphinee of Bradley shows the potential results of fly fishing on a windy day: A large striped bass fly embedded in his throat.

Since you’re wearing glasses, you won’t get hooked in the eye. The rest of you? Well, it’s still fair game. And whether you’re guiding or fishing, you’re always in the line of fire.

Just ask author and longtime angler Denis “Dee” Dauphinee, who agreed to let his gruesome photo accompany this story.

Dauphinee was fishing for striped bass on a windy day when his large striper fly ended up embedded in his throat. Ouch!

As he and his son walked back down the beach on their way to the hospital, they encountered another group of fishermen.

“You got any whiskey,” Dauphinee said he asked them, trying to break the ice. “‘Not enough for that,’ one of them said, staring closely at the fly in my neck.”

Not every avid angler or guide ends up getting hooked 70 to 100 times, like Kleiner has. But hooking incidents are pretty common.

Jeff McEvoy, a guide who owns Weatherby’s outdoor resort in Grand Lake Stream, jokes that those kinds of injuries are the second-most common that he sees every year.

“I think the most common injury is to angler’s pride when they lose a big fish!” McEvoy joked. “Seriously though, hooks in flesh [are the most common]. Usually I see that a few times a year. Mostly with treble hooked on artificial lures, and often in me when I am trying to get hooks out of a fish.”

Dan Legere, a guide and longtime owner of Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, said he follows a set routine after hooking incidents.

“When that happens, we need to suspend all fishing and have an up-close inspection,” Legere said. “If the hook is embedded beyond the barb I offer three options. 1) We can end the day and head to the nearest hospital and let the professionals handle it. 2) I’ll cut the leader at the fly, tape the fly down with medical tape and we’ll keep fishing then on to the professionals later. 3) Or I can remove the hook, put a [bandage] and Neosporin on the tiny wound, have a couple of laughs and carry on.”

Most choose Option 3, and let Legere remove the hook. But how does he do that? Read on. It’s magic.

Hook’s out!

All of the experts the BDN consulted mentioned this not-so-secret method of hook removal. A disclaimer: If the hook is in or near a delicate part of the body, seek medical help. Don’t MacGyver your way into an even worse situation.

But if you’re out in the boonies and all you’ve got is a “flesh wound,” here’s how to remove the hook quickly and more or less painlessly.

“I’ll cut off a 2-foot piece of the heaviest [fishing line] I have on board … fold it in half and fish it through the bend of the embedded hook,” Legere explains. “Then I’ll put my thumb on the eye of the embedded hook and push it downward. Now I’ll say ‘On the count of three’ I’m going to give the mono a quick yank so the barb [of the hook] will exit the same way it went in.’ On the count of two I pop the hook out and my client says ‘I didn’t feel a thing.'”

And that’s all there is to it. Honest.

Wade carefully

Of course, getting a hook in your snout isn’t the only thing you’ve got to worry about while fishing. Simply standing in moving water — wading — comes with its own hazards.

Rocks are slippery. The bottom is uneven. One misstep and you might be swimming, and that can end very badly.

Legere has a solution for that, too.

“We have always preached to waders ‘Never over your knees,'” Legere said. “The most dangerous thing you’ll ever face when fishing moving water is accidental drowning. We’ve always said if you don’t wade over your knees, when you slip and fall in the river, you are on all fours, able to regain your composure and get back on your feet.”

The worst case in that scenario: You break your fly rod and cry a bit. But if you’re waist-deep when you fall, the outcome can be far worse.

“In deeper water you would be going for the swim of your life,” Legere said. “Your waders begin to fill with water and you are at the mercy of the river, flailing about desperately trying to find a foothold.”

Beware the cold

Here in Maine, the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. It’ll change.

One thing is a constant, though: Early in the spring, the water will be cold.

That can present a hazard that many simply fail to think about, said veteran angler Jeff Reardon.

Hypothermia is real. And it can prove dangerous even on a pleasant day.

“It’s a nice warm day in April or May and you’re out on the ocean or a lake. The water’s still 48 or 50 degrees,” Reardon said. “If you get wet you’re going to get cold and be in trouble. People don’t realize that can happen on a 65- or 70-degree day.”

It can. It does. And you don’t have to end up in the water after an accident to have your body temperature begin to plummet dangerously. Even a shower of sea spray or extended exposure to a cool wind can prove dangerous.

Pack extra clothing, including rain gear, for a trip on the water. It’s fine if you decide to turn back early, even if the fishing is good.

Stay warm. Stay safe. Fish another day.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...