How To Remove A Fish Hook

By Lenny Rudow

It happens. Here's what to do when you hook the least desirable catch of all.

Show me an angler, and I'll show you an inadvertent pincushion. I've personally been hooked in three fingers and a thumb, one earlobe, and a leg. That is, of course, only counting incidents in which the hook penetrated past the barb. Unfortunately, once the barb is sunk, there's no backing out — literally. Fishhooks are designed not to pull out, and they do a pretty darn good job of it. If a hook has entered your epidermis, follow these steps, and make sure your tetanus shots are up to date.

Cut fish hook free from line illustrationCut the hook free from the fishing line, so you don't inadvertently yank it.

Cut the hook free from the fishing line. Otherwise, you might give it an unintentional yank and cause additional pain. If the hook is attached to a lure, remove it so the lure's body doesn't get in your way or swing around and jerk the hook. Usually you can do this by slipping the hook's eye through a split-ring, but sometimes it requires cutting the eye off with snippers or cutting pliers.

Pushing barb throught skin illustrationWhen you've pushed the barb through the skin (ouch!), snap it off with cutting pliers.

Now you're going to have to cause some additional pain on purpose. Rotate the hook point up as you push it forward, so it pops back out through the surface of your skin — OUCH! It should now form a U with the point and shank exposed, and the bottom of the U under the skin. You can dull the pain by icing the area down first, but you'll probably still yell "Mommy!" Do this in a quick, fluid motion. Try to be gentle and you'll discover it actually takes quite a bit of force to pop through. The longer you take, the more it hurts.

Pulling fish hook out illustrationWith the barb removed, back the hook out through both perforations in the skin.

Clip the barb off the hook with a pair of snippers or a similar tool. This may be easy or tough, depending on what type of tools you have at hand and how thick the hook is. If you have only pliers or de-hookers and no cutting tools aboard, use them to mash the barb of the hook completely flat against the shank.

With the barb disabled, back the hook out through both of the holes in your skin. Disinfect the area, and protect it with a bandage.

If there is any question of infection, see a doctor immediately. 

Lenny Rudow is BoatUS Magazine's electronics editor and senior editor. He has written five books on fishing and won multiple Boating Writers International awards. If he's not chained to his desk, hard at work, he's hooked up to a stripper on the Chesapeake Bay.

— Published: June/July 2015

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