Fishing Hazards

Getting out and back safely is one thing…Being safe around sharp pointy things and things that have teeth is another. In this post we talk about issues related to fishing safety.

Past posts in this series include articles on getting out and back, staying afloat, and dealing with man overboard.

Safe Fish Handling in Small Boats

Safety first! Landing big in small boat can be sketchy.

Big fish, small boat. Needs a little more freeboard, though. Originally posted on

OK…the reason we’re out on the water is to catch fish, so let’s start by talking about some fishing issues:

What’s worse than not having a fish in the boat? It’s having a  fish in the boat when you don’t want one. Sharks, billfish, wahoo and various other fish have been known to join fishermen uninvited in the cockpit, sometimes with tragic results.

A great example of what can happen was described in the October 2005 issue of Marlin magazine. “Marlin Punch ” by Charlie Levine describes the Levine family’s close encounter with a black marlin at the Tropic Star Lodge in Panama. The fish went airborne near the boat and wound up crashing into the cockpit, injuring the angler. It was all caught on video; you can see the clip on the Marlin magazine website.

Skiffs are especially vulnerable to this problem, because they sit lower to the water and may not have protective railings. Not only is the crew in danger from the fish, it is entirely possible for the boat to capsize from the encounter.

What can you do to avoid being hurt by the fish? Here’s a summary of recommendations we’ve gotten from various sources:

  • Practice Catch-and-Release –  Bad things are less likely to  happen if you don’t try to bring the fish into the boat.
  • Keep away from a green fish – Don’t rush the fight – However, a balance needs to be reached if you intend to release the fish, as an exhausted fish may not survive.
  • Avoid positioning yourself in harms’ way – Since fish can not swim backwards very well, come from the side or behind if possible. If you’re  in front of the fish, a flick of the fish’s tail will  naturally drive the fish into you. Position the boat parallel or slightly behind the fish
  • Plan Ahead – Skiffs are small and narrow. What will you do with fish that are too long or heavy for easy handling? We recently encountered this issue when bringing a 60 lb wahoo aboard. The fish pretty much spanned the entire width of Toy Boat 2, so we had difficulty moving the fish around, and we did not have a set of pliers with long enough jaws to grab the hook safely.
  • Along similar lines, long dehookers or release sticks allow the fisherman to remove the hook without having to get too close to the fish. It is also easier on the fish, as they don’t have to be held out of the water to get the hook out.
  • Beware of other things that can hurt you – not just teeth or a bill, but also rough skin, sharp gill rakers, dangerous tails, or the sheer physical impact of a fish slamming into you.
  • Dress for success – As this is being updated (summer 2015), SoCal is experienced an unprecedented influx of wahoo. A ‘Hoo has a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. You’ll want to avoid being bitten on the hand, but what about your feet? Deck shoes or boots offer some level of protection more than flip-flops. Along similar lines, it pays to have a set of gloves available to help handle fish or for pulling on heavy leader material.
  • Billfish have are an obvious threat on the end of their snouts – f you are going to release a billfish, you need to control the bill. One approach is to grab the bill with gloved hands, or to tie the bill off while unhooking the fish.
  • If you use a flying gaff, extreme care needs to be taken with the rope. Tying off on a corner cleat could be a disaster if the fish still has a lot of fight in it. There have been cases where the stern of a small boat was dragged under by a fish surging away while attached to a flying gaff.