Handling Fish Safely
When catching fish, it isn't only the fish you need to consider. Spare a thought for yourself. Many fish have sharp fins and bony plates around their gills and heads, and these can make painful punctures or lacerations in careless hands. Some fish also have the sort of teeth that can inflict terrible damage.Obvious members in the rogue's gallery of dentally damaging fish are sharks, but in reality, few people ever come into contact with sharks. Many more anglers are bitten by more commonly caught species such as Tailor and Mackerel.
Some fish have rather soft mouths and teeth that amount to little more than a fine, velcro-like mats, but as a basic rule of thumb, a fish's mouth is no place to be putting your hands unless you know exactly what you are doing. For example, if you thought that Bream or Snapper couldn't do much biting damage, think again. The first time you put your fingers inside a Bream's mouth will probably be the last. Bream can crush oysters in the shell with impunity and even crack the rock hard shells of cockles. The human hand presents little resistance to such bite power and just about any professional fisherman can tell tails of lost fingernails, bruised knuckles and near misses with fingers.
This reminds me of a time when Coho thought that he was faster than a crab's pincers. Coho found out the hard way just how quick a crab really is.
Both Bream and Snapper are more likely to injure you with the sharp rearward edges of their gill covers, or with the stout and dangerous spine that sticks out, down the back and behind the belly region. In fact, most damage done by fish to anglers is by various spines and sharp bony plates, which fish use for their own day-to-day defence.
One of the greatest culprits for spike wounds to anglers is the Flathead. This is partly because a lot of Flathead are caught, raising the frequency of encounters with them, but also partly due to how Flathead behave when landed.
When Flathead are taken from the water, or even brought to the surface, They thrash around violently. Next time you get close to a Flathead, have a close look at the upper gill plate area and you will see that there are a couple of notched spines at the rear-most extremity of each gill plate. These double bladed knives of bone are extremely strong and razor sharp.
Why does a Flathead thrash just as you go to grab it ? Well, to begin with, their eyes are mounted on top of their heads and are also raised slightly, which gives them an exceptionally wide field of vision. It is certainly good enough for them to detect any sort of threat approaching them from above and behind.
In nearly every case where anglers get spiked in the hand by a Flathead, it is because they tried to pick the fish up behind the head. This is just about the worst thing you could do. The fish senses the approach of "something" from behind, waits until the threat is within range then thrashes from side to side, driving one or both sets of spines into whatever is within range. Wounds that are left unattended can become infected.
A better way to handle Flathead is to drop something like a wet hessian bag or thick towel over the fish to nullify the danger of those spines. This also works well for large Flathead, where two hands may be needed to handle it. Another method that anglers use is to try and club the head, so as to stun the fish, but do this once the towel is over the fish, as it will sense you attacking it.
A Leatherjacket's main armoury is a lockable serrated spine just behind the head, and its mouth. They are one of those fish you seem to catch when fishing for something else, and they have a tendency to invade whiting grounds and grabbing every bait.
Using a wet rag for fish handling is a simple yet effective method for a lot of species of fish. It lets you hold the fish firmly and securely, without crushing their internal organs, and provides protection for your hands as well. The rag needs to be wet for several reasons. Primarily, should you wish to return the fish back into the water, it saves removing too much protective slime from the fish's body, but also because wet rags will flap less in the breeze and cling to the fish more readily.
Some anglers, who prefer the catch & release method, make a point of keeping a fish glove handy, so they can grab and hold a fish quickly, remove hooks more easily and get the fish back into the water with a minumum of delay and damage. A fish glove can be an ordinary cotton garden glove, or a knittes synthetic nylon glove. Leather gloves are not preferred, because when leather gets wet and dries again, it becomes stiff and scratchy. As with a rag, what ever glove you use, a wet glove works best.
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