We have all developed a comfort on the water. Most fishing days, our thoughts of health and safety are limited to our floatation devices, the proper eyewear, applying sunscreen, and having proper clothing for the expected weather. But if you have been a fisherman as long as I have, you have experienced some sort of on-the-water emergency- a hook penetration, a deep cut or some other trauma. When it happened, were you ready? Every angler needs to be ready for the inevitable emergency in a remote setting. A well-stocked first aid kit is as important to have onboard as your favorite rods and reels.
When building your First Aid Kit, a basic retail kit is a good place to start. Starting from scratch is a more expensive proposition since you would often have to buy items in higher quantities than you need. Manufacturers build there kits with the advice of both medical professionals and outdoorsmen, and you will find many good kits on the market. One benefit of a purchased pre-assembled kit is that the basic items are present and in the right quantity. The first thing you will want to look for is size- if you are a large person, make sure the products are properly sized or supplement them- gauze pads, band-aids, and other similar items need to fit your situation- that includes children’s sizes if you fish with young ones on your boat. Commercially available kits usually come in durable cases sized to the user's need. They are usually colored and clearly marked with symbols for easy recognition.
After obtaining a premade kit, customize it for the your typical trip, including consideration of the
typical number of people with whom you fish, the length of the trip and the environment. As part of your trip planning, add items needed when your typical trip varies. For example, for kayak or canoe anglers, if you need to hike or portage, think about foot care and blisters. Fishing in saltwater? You might need a bottle of vinegar for treating jellyfish stings. Fishing at night? Add a LED headlamp. Also throw in a pen, a small notepad. If you are going to rely on your phone for notes, and timing, have a fully charged battery pack. A watch that measures seconds could be a good back-up to the phone.
Let’s face it, when you are fishing, the environment is not the cleanest. You will want liquid soap with a bactericide and a pair of nitrile or latex gloves to be easily accessible when opening the kit. These will reduce the likelihood of infection and disease transmission. A cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) mask is another important device to include. (Consider training for family and friends- everyone should know how to do this life saving process). Soft-tissue injuries occur
in any environment and the probability increases around sharp hooks, line cutters, and knives. Pack items like gauze, that when combined with direct pressure, help control bleeding. Once bleeding is under control, wounds must be cleaned. Scrubbing the area around a wound with soap or antiseptic wipes will reduce chances that bacteria contaminates the wound. Irrigation with a stream of water from an irrigation syringe (keep an extra water bottle onboard for medical emergencies other than thirst) is the best way to minimize the risk of infection. Sanitized tweezers are useful for removing debris such as splinters.
After wounds are clean, they should be kept covered. More serious wounds should be re-dressed regularly. Your kit should include shears for easy bandage removal and plenty of materials for wound dressing like gauze and Kerlix sponges. In a wet environment, bandages often lose their adhesive properties so be sure to include self-adherent Coban, also known as vet wrap, and/or an ample supply of tape to keep dressings in place. Pack antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to help keep abrasions infection-free, and include plenty of Band-Aids.
Some injuries occur when boating fishermen come in contact with shore- slipping on or falling on rocks for example. Treatment of muscular or skeletal injuries often requires support like a sling or splint to limit movement and cushion the injured body part. A good kit will have items that can help with construction of a splint such as fasteners like spare boot laces, safety pins and short lengths of parachute cord which can aid in splint building (can be as simple as holding sticks in place that are used to immobilize an arm or leg). For less severe musculoskeletal injuries, elastic bandages can limit mobility just enough to prevent further harm but still allow some movement. An old neck-tie or belt makes a good sling and both double for a tourniquet.
Different pain relievers have varied applications. Aspirin is good to have on hand in case of unexplained chest pain. Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) is good for musculoskeletal pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a pain reliever and fever reducer. Again, consider children’s strengths if you fish with youngsters. First aid kits designed to be taken offshore should include Bonine or Dramamine for those prone to seasickness (this is seldom effective once symptoms are experienced. Best if used before trip begins). Imodium is a helpful option for minimizing the dehydration that accompanies diarrhea, but it does not address the cause. An antihistamine like Benadryl is useful for combating allergic reactions.
There are always new items on the market worth adding. What if you are unable to reach
medical attention timely and a wound requires stitches? Most people wouldn’t know where to start. Which is why ZipStitch could be a great add to your kit. ZipStitch offers surgical-quality performance that will hold you over until you can access proper medical attention. After proper wound prep, put ZipStitch on top of the wound with the sticky strips running parallel to the laceration. Once it's securely stuck to your skin, close the wound by pulling the zip ties, and cut the loose ends so you don't get them caught on anything. Cover up the wound closure with a large protective bandage to keep dirt from the wound.
Lastly, let’s discuss the embedded hook- it eventually happens to all of us. Removing a hook embedded over the barb, but not back out through the skin, is relatively easy. First, take some strong line and make a 6" loop and pass it over the eye of the hook, and then up to the top of the bend of the hook. Most importantly, the loop of line must be at the top of the hook bend, and the pull must be up and away. Many articles and videos advise having the line at the back of the
bend, and pulling straight back - this will only result in the barb catching and causing pain.
Push firmly down on the eye of the hook so the eye of the hook touches the skin. Hold the eye down while completing the removal. With a sudden, strong yank on the line loop, pull up and away from the hook-eye. The hook should come out the way it went in, and because it will curve out the same way it went in the barb should not catch. It is a pretty painless- the thought of the removal is probably more painful than the extraction itself.
Hook removal is a little more complicated if you are doing it on yourself and cannot use two hands. Make the loop larger and hook the loop around something immovable, like a tree branch, then press down on the eye of the hook as above, and jerk your hand away in the direction shown above. Pliers or Forceps can also be used for removal if you are using small hooks, smaller than 4/0. Push down on the eye of the hook, as above. Grab the hook at the top of the bend, with the forceps at a right-angle to the hook shaft, and then quickly and firmly rotate your wrist, and the forceps, towards the eye of the hook. If you are alone, use the thumb of your forceps hand to push down on the eye of the hook. If the hook has gone in and then out through skin, and you have the necessary tools, you can cut off, or crush down the barb, and pull the hook back out the way it went in.
Before every trip, open your first aid kit and throw out anything that's expired or damaged, and
restock as necessary. Here is a useful checklist:
First Aid/Medical Guide
Gauze pads (small, medium and large)
Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids) and Tape
Elastic bandages (ACE Wrap)
Antiseptic solution (iodine or chlorhexidine)
Antiseptic wipes (alcohol prep pads)
Tweezers or forceps
Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil), Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Imodium, Benadryl, Pepto-Bismol
Neosporin antibiotic ointment
Wound closure strips
Scalpel or razor
headlamp or flashlight
moleskin for blister care
hot and cold packs for pain relief
aloe gel to soothe sunburn