Tales From The Canoe: Next time I’ll take the canoe

Mark Bellotte

It has been quite a while since I have felt the stinging hand of the Fishgod that slaps you down when you take needlessly and do not put back or pay your dues.

One day after work, I wanted to get some fishing in while the weather was nice. I knew the tides were low and sunset was coming as the tide turned. The perfect place to be was an exposed sandbar at the Skyway Bridge. The wind was blowing hard so I left the yak at home and walked out to my honey hole.

The snook bite was on and the trout were in follow. To make a long story short, I'll get to the beef of it. I hooked into a fairly large needlefish and brought it in to release it so I could hit the school again. As I pulled up the leader, he chomped down on the PowerPro between the reel and first guide and started into a death roll. He had rolled himself into a nest of line tightly wrapped line around his beak. I tried to untangle him but there was no way to get the twists and wraps out of his mouth. I had to break off his bill in order for him to be able to open up what little mouth he had left otherwise he would have starved to death for sure.

I tied on a new leader and started plugging again but it was nearing time to head back in. I saw a new school of fish moving into range and sidestepped to get a better cast. Suddenly, thirty years of carelessly stomping around the flats came to an end. I felt movement around the back of my foot and then a pinching sensation on both sides of my Achilles’ tendon.

“Ouch! Bleepin’, bleepin’, mother bleepin’ crab!”

Don't try this at home: The barb narrowly missed the Achilles’ tendon and almost exited the other side. The swelling was so bad that the wound appears to be smaller and almost closed in this picture.

I wasn’t far from a high’n’dry sandbar so I quickly exited the water to inspect the damage. It was bleeding pretty badly so I put a finger on the blood flow and I could feel that it was no little hole. The other side of the tendon had no abrasions but I could see a marking. Then the real pain started to set in. It was at that moment I realized that it was a stingray that stabbed me. The prickly feeling I felt on both sides was the barb shooting in one side and almost exited the other!

The 10-minute walk turned into a 20-minute hobble back to the rest area, stopping occasionally to check the bleeding. I managed to make it to the restrooms and used the security guard’s cell phone to call home. There was no way I was able to drive a stick shift in my condition. As I was waiting on my girlfriend and brother to come rescue me, I could feel myself going into shock, The pain was starting to become more than I could handle. The guard called for EMS but it took them just as long to show up as my domestic handlers. I decided the ride would be cheaper if my brother drove me to the hospital that was much closer to home than the “meat wagon” wanted to escort me to. When all was said and done, it was an hour and a half before I was able to get into the ER for some good ol’ fashion medical remedy of hot water. NOTE: The restrooms at the rest area DO NOT have hot water! I wanted to get it looked at to make sure tendons and vessels were intact and make sure the spiny creature didn’t leave me with any souvenirs. Aside from the happy pill they gave me, nothing had ever made me feel so good, or as fast, as setting my throbbing foot into a bath of hot water. X-rays showed no sign of the barb breaking off so they sent me home with a few more happy pills and some oversized bandaids.

One of these things is not like the other: The pain from the sting only last for a few hours but the pain from the swelling was totally different. Not the way I had planned on using a week’s vacation.

For the next couple of days I was instructed to keep my foot elevated in between soaking it in hot water. The wound oozed the poisons out but the damage was worse than expected. The swelling was not only in my foot; it had started up into the calf. It was at least two weeks before I could wear a shoe and two more weeks before the hole closed. It was another couple of weeks before I was back to normal size and back to 100%.

Needless to say, I never want to go through that again! Oh yeah… and I won’t be breaking the beaks off of any needlefish for a while either.


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