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TODAY’S TOPIC: Hospital Treats Combat Fishing “Owies″

August 27, 1985

SOLDOTNA, Alaska (AP) _ When the salmon spawn in Kenai, the ″combat fishing″ casualties begin limping into the hospital emergency room here.

Along with checks, insurance forms and the odd piece of skin, dozens of hapless fishermen leave a little something else behind:

Fish hooks.

Enough fish hooks plucked from various spots on their bodies to fill a big felt board put together by emergency room workers at the Central Peninsula General Hospital.

″They’re all little owies,″ emergency room worker Charlotte Green says of this summer’s hook collection.

Owies? We’re talking pain - with a capital P. Forget bear stories. Bears just bash you around and eat you. We’re talking big, fish-goo-covered, barbed hooks imbedded in every imaginable spot.

How much pain? Pat McCrum, a recent visitor from Sand Point, Idaho, was hustled into the emergency room with a heavy metal lure dangling from his nose. Not the outside; the inside. The ever-so-tender septum.

His wife had nailed him in the schnoz as he stood behind her. Then she gave it a few yanks, trying to get it unsnagged.

″It hurt so bad I couldn’t even yell,″ McCrum said.

Then there’s the woman who showed up with a large hook through both lips.

″It was horrible,″ said nurse Judy Schell. ″That was one of the first ones this year.″

Between May and October every year, thousands of fishermen from all over the world make the trek to this little town of 3,600, which sits about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.

The rivers and streams are spawning grounds for king, silver and red salmon, and Soldotna sits near some of the best accessible fishing in the state.

That kind of accessibility in a mostly inaccessible state has a price. Fishermen stand shoulder-to-shoulder in places, flailing the waters in unison to avoid tangles - combat fishing at its finest. Sometimes it works. When it doesn’t, somebody gets to meet the staff at Central Peninsula where wire cutters and pliers are standard pieces of emergency room equipment.

Most patients are adults, Schell says, and while some hooks are removed from areas not normally exposed to sunlight, most are found in hands or heads.

Hookings are most frequent in mid-summer, when red salmon are running. ″There’s more people fishing and fishing in closer. During the red season, it’s not uncommon to see one a day, or even more,″ she says.

Just to make embarrassed newcomers feel more at home, the folks in the emergency room put together their hook display.

″That’s not all of them. People take home about half of them,″ Schell said.

The hooks range in size from a tiny trout fly - which was removed from the iris of an eye - to a heavy metal lure with a huge treble hook.

Dr. William Cooper says there basically are two techniques to remove the barbs. One involves a shot of pain-killer, then pushing the barb of the hook through so it can be clipped off. The remainder of the hook shank is then backed out of the wound.

The other method, a bit trickier, involves wrapping the barb with string and backing the whole hook out of the wound, he says.

In either case, the hooked fishermen is questioned to ensure his tetanus shot is up to date.

″They don’t usually get infected, despite what you’d think, considering where they’ve been,″ he said.

Most hook victims are released immediately to resume their pursuit of the wily salmon, but emergency room manager Kathie Rowland says a couple of victims who caught hooks in their eyes had to be hospitalized for a few days.

She doesn’t recall anyone ever coming in twice the same day. ″They’d probably be too embarrassed to do that,″ she said.

In years past, the hooks not claimed by their owners would have been discarded, but this year the emergency room staff put together the fish-shaped piece of felt to mount the collection.

″And there was talk we wouldn’t be able to fill it,″ Schell said. ″We already need a bigger piece of felt.″

Time is running out on this year’s collection.

″We’re going to divide up the lures among the fishermen in the emergency room, put new hooks on, and start over next year,″ Schell says. ″We’re thinking of a Styrofoam mannequin.″

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