Where We FishedWe were on the inside of the inlet at Matanzas, just south of St Augustine, Florida, when it happened. The beautiful sunrise and morning light on the old Spanish fort made the morning something really special. I was with my son and grandson, and we were planning on a banner day.
Matanzas Inlet is a small, narrow inlet protected by the shallow sandbars that cover its mouth. An ever changing channel of sorts allows those anglers with some local, recent knowledge to exit to the ocean on a decent day. If the wind is up, however, as it was this morning, the breakers prevent anyone from even attempting to go out, and they - the anglers - default farther north to the deeper St Augustine Inlet. Matanzas is not an inlet that is maintained with a US Army Corps of Engineers dredged channel or markers. You take your chances, and sometimes people make the mistake of trying to save some fuel only to become involved in a swamped, overturned boat.
Fishing was Great (emphasis on “was”!)Over the past week, friends of my son had been “tearing up” the redfish and mangrove snapper in the area. This area is home to mangrove trees that are as far north in Florida as I know about. It’s about 15 miles south of St Augustine at the south end of what is now the Matanzas River. In the 1940’s the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) was cut though the river north and south and the resulting, weakened, tidal flow over the years allowed the ocean entrance to the old river to fill in with sand.
It is also about as far north as I have found inshore, mangrove snapper on a regular basis. I catch some larger ones farther north but it’s always offshore on an artificial reef, and usually only in the summertime. Somewhere around this inlet, the water in the winter starts staying too cold for some fish. But these snapper and redfish were here and being caught this past week. Please notice the word “were”. Today would be a bust, and we really caught nothing to speak of – a few very small snappers, one bluefish, several giant pinfish, and one small catfish…
Do Not Get Stuck by a Catfish (emphasis on “do not”!)My dad always warning whoever was fishing with him to avoid even touching a saltwater catfish – and in Florida Bay where he usually fished, they caught a bunch of them on any given trip. He knew the pain, and sadly as I grew up fishing with him, I learned about the pain firsthand on several occasions. You do not want to even get grazed by one of the three spines of a saltwater catfish!
I’ve been stuck by a dorsal fin or two of other fish many times over the years. I even had the big, first spine of the dorsal fin of a 208 pound Goliath grouper (jewfish) go through the calf muscle in my leg. It was like jamming a small Phillips head screwdriver in my leg! But the pain from even that stick was nothing in comparison to a saltwater catfish.
Here’s WhyThe three spines of a saltwater catfish are all loaded with toxins. One website describes them as a complex toxin made up of a mix of “high molecular weight proteins and low molecular weight compounds.” Whatever that means technically, it means pain physically.
I’m Finned – What Do I Do?Ok, I let my guard down and that little fish stuck me good. His dorsal fin went in my thumb along the side of my thumbnail, and as fast as it went in, it came back out. These fins are not like a smooth needle or the point of a hook. The sides of them look like a saw blade, and as the fin comes out of the puncture point, it rips flesh out with it. That only serves to allow the toxins to spread more quickly in the wound.
As I sat, literally with tears running down my face, the pain only intensified. With help from my son, I filled a small zip-lock bag with crushed ice and wrapped it on and around my thumb. To my dismay the pain only worsened over the next hour. I was nauseous and light headed, and could find no position to get my thumb to stop throbbing. After asking me about going in for an hour, my son finally called it a day and we headed home. Thankfully!
I Found the Cure!When I got home, I immediately began researching, and much to my amazement I found several things I could do to relieve the pain. More amazing is – what I did, worked!
- Do not use ice or cold on the wound
Imagine my surprise on this one. It turns out that cold only makes the toxins more powerful. So I had the answer to why the ice not only did not help, but seemed to make the pain even worse!
- Use hot water
I would never have thought to do this one. But water above 105 degrees Fahrenheit will break down the molecular structure of the toxins and actually stop the pain. I found this out for myself a bit later in the shower. As the hot water soaked in on my thumb, the pain actually subsided, and during my shower, it actually stopped hurting. I was amazed!
”I’m in my boat and we have no hot water – what do I do?” That’s a good question. Almost every late model outboard has a “pee stream”, a water stream off the side of the engine block as a visual indicator that the water pump is working to cool the engine. The water in that stream is hot enough to do the job! If you have an engine that has no stream, try pouring hot coffee or tea or soup that you may have in a thermos on-board.
- An unusual option
This option would be my last resort, but many commercial fishermen who get stuck quite often tell me they urinate or have their buddy urinate on the wound. They say it really helps stop the pain. Whether it’s the warmth of the liquid or something chemical – who knows? Is it safe? I don’t know. Will it cause further problems like infection? I don’t know but I would guess the chances for that are pretty good. Would I recommend it? No – I’m just reporting what I found!