3 Hook removal methods to try, and one to leave for the medically experienced.
by Derek Benoit July 14th, 2021
Friendly reminder: ALWAYS consult a physician before pursuing any treatment or beginning any exercise program.
The best proven hook extraction methods are borne from field necessity and/or emergency room experience. The following methods are trusted by emergency doctors and ranked by ease of implementation. The riskier the location, the more likely an ER visit is a good idea. If a hook injury is serious, don’t let ego or a need to salvage a trip prevent you from seeking medical attention! At some point, EVERYONE who fishes will need to use one of these methods!
Just How Bad IS It and Can You Remove it Safely?
Before you try a hook extraction upon yourself or others it’s critical to assess the situation. Be thorough. Proximity to important structures is the biggest clue you have. Any hook scary-close to or in the eye is an obvious no-go. Any hook next to major vessels, in a joint, likely in ligaments or tendons, on the neck, or against bone is also a no-go. Furthermore, the deeper the hook penetration, the more likely important, sensitive tissues like muscles will be involved. It’s also a possibility to damage a major nerve during removal. When in doubt, don’t get it out (yourself). Get thyself to the local emergency room (Dyer, Kim, and Riveros, 2018, Gammons and Jackson, 2001).
Techniques to Try When DIY Hook Extraction IS Safe:
IF you’re VERY confident nothing sensitive is affected, you can try to remove the hook yourself. Start with the easiest method. If that fails, you can sequentially try more advanced methods. The following are listed in order from simplest to most advanced:
The Retrograde Technique
- Great for barbless or smaller hooks
- Push Down on the shank of the hook, in the opposite direction the barb points. This is most often toward the skin. The hook rotates about the entrance point. This frees up the barb
- While depressing the hook shank, back the hook out of the entrance wound.
- If it doesn’t come easily, move on to the next technique (Dyer, Kim, and Riveros, 2018, Gammons and Jackson, 2001)
The String Method: requires a stretch-free line, chord, or heavy string to work well
- This is a mechanically assisted variation of the retrograde technique
- If this technique works, it works almost instantaneously-take care with a rapidly moving hook to avoid any secondary hook injury
- Wrap the “string” around the middle of the bend of the hook, leaving even tag ends
- Wrap the tag ends around something stiff and strong enough to use to pull on the string
- Stabilize the hooked body part against something flat and solid
- Press down on the hook shank to free up the bard as with the retrograde method
- Make a FIRM and QUICK pulling motion, pulling parallel to the depressed hook shank (Gammons and Jackson, 2001)
- If the barb is freed up, the hook will literally pop out Press down on the hook shank to free up the bard as with the retrograde method (Dyer, Kim, and Riveros, 2018, Gammons and Jackson, 2001)
The Push-Through Method: This requires careful attention to location
- Do you suspect the hook point is in a joint or tendon? Against a bone? Close to other no-go zones? STOP. DO NOT ATTEMPT
- Best if hook point is close to surface-much more merciful (Gammons and Jackson, 2001)
- Pushing point and barb through creates more tissue trauma versus previous methods
- Pliers or hemostat, wire cutter REQUIRED (Dyer, Kim, and Riveros, 2018)
- This one will probably hurt-anesthesia is a good idea
- Using pliers or hemostat, grab hook shank near but not next to entrance point
- Push the hook through, allowing it to follow the bend-think of “turning hook through”
- Once the hook point and barb have emerged through the skin, cut shank below barb
- Back the hook out by reversing the “turn through” motion with pliers or hemostat
The Needle Method
You REALLY may want to let an ER physician handle this one. If you’re partner for the day is, or you’re friends with, a doctor or nurse, that’s even better. If NOT, it’s best to not try this method. Consequently, get to the ER or urgent care. You must have access to or keep with you an 18 or larger gauge needle. Hence, being or knowing a nurse or doctor will really help here. Working the needle over the barb is very difficult at best if you’re alone.
- Best left to the medical pros
- Works best with larger hooks fairly close to surface
- Prep the skin with disinfectant and apply anesthesia (if available)
- Push the needle into the entrance wound, as close as possible to the hook shank, on the “inside” of the hook shank (side toward the bend)
- Be sure the bevel (angled side) of the needle point faces the barb point-facing the “inside” of the hook shank
- Advance the needle through the entrance wound, as close as possible to hook shank
- Push the hook point further in to disengage the bard, then twist and slightly pull the hook to cover the barb with the needle
- Now back the hook out, pulling the needle out with it (Gammons and Jackson, 2001)
After the Hook Is Out
After you, or someone more blessed with medical precision, have extracted the hook, infection control becomes a priority. Here’s what to do:
- Irrigate/flush the wound as best you can
- Antibiotic ointment isn’t necessary, but is a damn good idea.
- Anyone with a medical condition affecting immunity SHOULD use antibiotic ointment
- Follow up with your doctor to check tetanus shot status-maybe it’s time to get another one
- Cover the wound with an adhesive wound dressing (like a Bandaid) or Island dressing
- Observe carefully for ANY sign of infection
- Change dressing at least once a day (Dyer, Kim, and Riveros, 2018, Gammons and Jackson, 2001).
- ANY sign of worsening infection warrants a doctor’s attention!
For more information on island dressings, follow the following link:
Bonus: for signs of skin infection and possible consequences, check out the link below
Dyer, S, Kim, J, Riveros, T. (January 8th, 2018). Trick of the Trade: Fishook Removal Techniques. Academic Life in Emergency Medicine. Trauma, Tricks of the Trade. Aliem.com. https://www.aliem.com/trick-fishhook-removal-techniques/
Gammons, M., and Jackson, E. ( June 1st, 2001).. Fish Hook Removal. American Family Physician. Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, East Lansing, MI. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0601/p2231.html
(PDF available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0601/afp20010601p2231.pdf )