Mark Zona: Two Days That Stick in My Mind

Photo of a fish stuck in a man's thumb
It's never funny when you're the one hooked. (James Overstreet photo)

The rash of anglers getting hooked in B.A.S.S. tournaments of late brings to mind two days that sucked. Well, one for sure. And what I take from both, besides some scars, is a lesson learned.

The first was probably 20 years ago when I was getting ready for a tournament in Michigan. It was one of those magical “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” deals, a calm summer day where every single pleasure boat was out and I was in the boat alone.

I was a typical Michigan beach bum kid in the summertime, wearing flip-flops and jams … remember those? The jam shorts had a blue-purple floral pattern, and I didn’t have a shirt on because I was the Coppertone man at the time.

So I hook a fish on a crankbait, and I was doing the Bassmaster deal where you’re leaning back on it. I remember the fish coming to the surface, not very big, probably 3 pounds, and he did one of those head shakes. With that and my hard lean, the crankbait flew back at me like a Nolan Ryan fastball. It nailed me right in the stomach, and two barbs of one treble hook buried next to my bellybutton.

I’m like, ‘Ah no, is this for real?’ I’m getting ticked. I always had needle-nose pliers to work on stuff in the boat, but I usually seemed to leave them sitting somewhere other than in the boat. And this is long before the braid trick where you can yank out the hooks.

So I’m sitting there looking at the crankbait, and those hooks are in there good. I remember leaning over in pain, and this idiot cruiser boat goes by throwing a 4-foot wake. As I’m bent over, the wake hits the side of the boat and the free hook embeds in the inside of my leg.

There is no way in hell that I could physically do this again if I tried. I’ve become a human safety pin. I’m bent over. I cannot stand up. I remember lying on the deck, bleeding, trying to dig out the hooks with my hands. As I’m doing this – this is no joke -- my right thumb gets hooked past the barb. So now I’m totally screwed. I’ve got hooks in four different chunks of flesh.

Nothing good is coming of this. I remember a jon boat going by, and I’m wailing like a baby. I’m screaming to the guy, and he comes over. I will never forget his reaction. This guy was one level above, maybe below, the dudes in “Deliverance.” He was like the ZZ Top cousin they no longer communicate with.

So he sees me all entangled in hooks, sees my eyes all watered up – eh, I’m a puss and can’t handle pain – and he lets out the most demonic laugh. Can’t say I blame him. Seeing me in those floral shorts, on a fancy bass boat looking like a complete jackass must have tickled his sensibilities.

He did help me, which was awkward enough because of the areas I was hooked – use your imagination. He got my hand loose, but I’ll never forget the pair of industrial pliers he handed me to remove the hooks. Gnarly, nasty pliers.

But they worked. Yeah, it hurt. From that I learned to make sure I had needle-nose pliers in the boat.

The other incident was on a pontoon boat with Cory, a buddy who never fished but would come and hang out. He was 18 and I was 15. He could drive. I couldn’t.

I remember rearing back with a jerkbait and absolutely imbedding every single treble hook into his scalp. Don’t know why, but I started laughing hysterically, just like the hillbilly guy laughed at my expense. It wasn’t really funny because my fishing had to end, but boy did that make me laugh.

I had nothing to dig them out, so he wanted to get to the emergency room. He drove one of those low-to-the-ground Fieros – they were cool, but not that cool. As he’s getting out of his car, one of the free hooks got stuck in the roof, and he’s safety-pinned to his car.

I thought, "How unbelievable is this?" as I ran into the ER. There were two nurses and a doctor there, and I told them my buddy had a fishing lure stuck in his head. The doc gave me a straight face and says, “To dig them out, we’re going to need your buddy.”

I told him the problem, that he’s just outside the door, stuck to his car, and first thing that came out of that doctor’s mouth was, “Wow! Grab a camera! I’ve got to see this!”

So we all run out, two nurses, the doctor and me, and we’re all looking at my buddy pinned to his car, and we all just laughed hysterically. Poor Cory.

I don’t know where it is now, but there’s a picture of him stuck and me right next to him with a thumbs-up.

Those were definitely the two most memorable hook-yourself or hook-your-buddy experiences. And looking back at those, it’s weird how vividly clear the details are.

At least I learned something. 

Photo of Mark Zona, BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff Mark Zona

BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff member, Bassmaster Series co- host, and host of "Zona's Awesome Fishing Show". Read Mark Zona's Pro Staff Blog