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CATCH OF THE DAY - Ensure you don't snag eye during next fishing trip

Many fishing hooks have barbs that make them difficult to remove if they embed in an eye. If you or a buddy do catch a hook in the eye, do not try to remove it yourself, as you may cause more damage. Tape the lure to your brow to keep its weight from tugging on your eyeball and get to the nearest hospital immediately. (Courtesy photo)

Many fishing hooks have barbs that make them difficult to remove if they embed in an eye. If you or a buddy do catch a hook in the eye, do not try to remove it yourself, as you may cause more damage. Tape the lure to your brow to keep its weight from tugging on your eyeball and get to the nearest hospital immediately. (Courtesy photo)

Members of the Alaska section of Project Healing Waters venture out to fish Sept. 11, 2010, on the Kenai River, Alaska. Project Healing Waters is an organization dedicated to the emotional and physical rehabilitation of wounded warriors through fly-fishing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

A crowded boat like this one on the Kenai River in Alaska can be the “perfect” place for someone to get inadvertently hooked by a buddy casting a fishing line. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Picture this. ... A 39-year-old man casts for salmon. Small twigs from a nearby tree deflect his line, and the three-pronged hook catches his right eye. ... A 21-year-old man rows a boat for a group of fishermen. He takes a hook in the left eye from one of his passengers. ... An 11-year-old boy's fishing line snags on some debris. He tugs on the line until it suddenly breaks free and snaps back, embedding the barbed hook into his cornea.

These are all true stories, and obviously none of the victims set out to make their eye the "catch of the day." Unfortunately, these types of accidents are more common than you might think. As a matter of fact, when it comes to sports-related eye injuries, fishing is right up there with baseball and basketball, according to the U.S. Eye Injury Registry.

But eyes aren't the only unintended final destinations of these errant hooks.

When I was active duty, a group of us stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, booked a halibut fishing trip in Seward. We left the night before the trip to hit the famous Russian River, where "combat fishing" is the norm. As I was fishing, I looked upriver to see two of my friends standing facing each other. The next thing I see is one of my buddies going at the other one's neck with the pliers from a Leatherman. One friend had snagged a rock. When he pulled the line free, the line snapped back and buried the hook so far in the other guy's neck that you couldn't see where the hook bends to form the "J." Because of the hook's close proximity to my friend's jugular vein, I "kindly" suggested they stop tugging at it and go to the hospital to have it removed by professionals.

Hands, fingers, arms, legs, shoulders, backs, heads, cheeks (face and otherwise), and other even more sensitive parts of the body (gulp) have all received unintentional piercings from errant fishing hooks at one point or another. I myself have been struck in the temple, hand, leg and chest by flying hooks or weights.

Of course, one of the first pieces of advice to avoid these types of injuries is better situational awareness. When casting, ensure everyone near you is clear of the hook. When tugging on a snag to save a $6 lure, consider the potential consequences. Sometimes it's less costly to just say goodbye to that favorite lure.

But when situational awareness does break down -- by yourself or the guy next to you -- one of the most important pieces of safety equipment you can have with you is a pair of glasses that provide impact protection as well as good sunlight filtration. Anyone who fishes on a regular basis will tell you polarized glasses are the way to go. Polarized glasses filter out the ultra violet light, reduce eye strain, and if you are sight fishing, help you see that trophy fish. While polarized glasses are important, you should not compromise safety. There are several manufacturers that incorporate polarization and impact resistance.

Finally, a lot can be said about the company you keep. This is especially true when selecting a fishing buddy. Some areas such as the Kenai or Russian Rivers in Alaska require a seasoned angler to prevent unintentional hooks to the face. These two ultra-popular rivers can be very crowded. In fact many times you'll see shoulder-to-shoulder anglers when the salmon fishing is hot. If you are teaching someone how to fish, select an area that you can freely provide instruction that will allow for the occasional mistake.

Fishing has always been an American pastime, just like baseball. It is great to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and take in the surroundings. Just take a little extra care to ensure your "catch of the day" is the one you intended.