Battle scars from fishing

By Jack Wollitz

Vindy outdoors writer

Ask your avid bass-angler friends for signs they’ve had a great day on the water, and it’s not out of the question they might show you roughed-up patches of skin on their thumbs.

That is the condition known as “bass thumb.” It is caused by largemouth and smallmouth bass squirming in the grasp of anglers, each twist resulting in the sandpaperlike “teeth” on their jaws rasping across thumbs and fingers.

Bass thumb is a battle scar that I’ll gladly suffer. But as all of us who fish often know, other battle scars come at a higher price.

Though the fish may disagree, fishing is certainly not an all-out contact sport, at least not for the angler. But that’s not to say the chance for injuries is miniscule.

I’ve been stabbed by fins, bruised by rod butts, sunburned scarlet and impaled by fish hooks several times.

If that sounds grim, know that I’ve been fortunate by comparison. Consider the fishers who have broken bones and visited emergency departments as a result of fishing accidents. Even more unfortunate was my friend who lost the vision in one of his eyes thanks to a sinker that turned into a speeding projectile.

All anglers should remember any trip to the water must include a healthy dose of caution.

It’s ice-fishing season. Those who trek out on the ice are well advised to wear ice-gripping cleats and a personal flotation vest or inflatable. The cleats will help prevent slips and falls, and the life vest will keep you afloat if you break through the ice.

Unfortunately for anglers, nobody has invented armor to protect arms, faces, fingers and legs from hooks. But those who exercise extra caution while handling hooked fish will minimize the possibility that a hook will find their flesh.

Those who are pulling fish from a net or out of the water should wait until the fish has calmed down before reaching anywhere near the hook. Needle-nose pliers and forceps are great for gripping hooks while keeping fingers at a distance.

Jigs, sinkers and lures can become dangerous flying objects when they are hurtling back at an angler after becoming dislodged from a fighting fish or snag. For that reason, I never fish without eye protection.

Most eyeglasses and sunglasses feature impact-resistant lenses. Even if you don’t need them for a clear view, wear them on the water as a protective shield. It’s also a good idea to pull on snagged baits in a direction that would send a flying hook away from your face.

A trip that results in a fall can cut, gash and bruise your body. Good insurance against trip hazards on a bouncing boat is to keep the decks tidy. Stow rods you aren’t using. Keep the net out of the way. Close tackle boxes and store them below deck or under seats.

Overexposure to the sun is one of the dangers anglers might overlook. But red-faced anglers help keep dermatologists busy. To reduce the prospects of skin damage and cancer, wear sunblock or protective clothing.

For great coverage, spray your face, neck and ears with a high-SPF block. Spray sunscreens are convenient for anglers because they keep the perfumed potion off your fingers, where it can transfer to lures and alert fish to an unnatural scent.

Anglers who are involved in highly active kinds of fishing might make a thousand casts or more during the day. That level of activity can lead to aches, sprains and even repetitive motion injuries. Anglers can reduce the likelihood of long-term damage with a simple regiment of stretching and flexibility exercises.

For bass thumb, however, the only known cure is catching fewer fish. I believe I’ll suffer rather than take that cure.

More like this from

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.

AP News