The Bite Of The Venomous Brown Trout Or, Stopping Fishfinger

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Shark Week Photo by Louis Cahill

Shark Week Photo by Louis Cahill

We think of trout as pure.

Perfect creatures born of virgin waters. Incapable of anything unclean. So, I wasn’t especially concerned the other day when a nice twenty-one inch male brown, from the Delaware, bit the ever living shit out of me.

_DSC4340I knew I was likely to get a piece of those gnarly teeth when I stuck my thumb in his mouth, but the fish was bleeding a little from the hook and I needed to pour a little Coke down him to stop it. (Yes, it works. Read more HERE) This fish surprised me though. He clamped down with a vengeance. I applied alcohol generously, internally of course, and forgot about it.

The truth is that fish, even pure wild trout, carry lots of things that are not so nice. Bacteria, parasites, man made pollutants. Many of them can cause the malady known as fishfinger. Known well by Alaska guides, fishfinger is the infection that sets in after an open wound is exposed to fish bacteria. It’s often a result of mishandling a knife while cleaning fish. It’s nasty stuff. Very unpleasant.

So, I wasn’t exactly surprised when I woke up in the middle of the night with my thumb bright red and throbbing. When I pressed it against my forefinger, blood spurted from the wound. I knew I had to do something fast or the next days fishing would be torture.

18344Fortunately, ever since my life-threatening brush with MRSA, (read about that HERE) I carry Hibiclens with me when I travel. Hibiclens is an over-the-counter version of the stuff surgeons use to scrub up for surgery. It’s a very strong antibacterial scrub that’s amazingly effective. I poured some in the palm of my hand and soaked the infected thumb in it for about five minutes. After rinsing with water, I applied a bandaid and went back to bed.

In the morning I woke to find my raging case of fishfinger gone and my thumb pain free. It was an immediate relief of a condition that could easily go on for a week. I handled line the next day without a care. This might pass for simple first aid but it’s well worth stocking a small bottle of Hibiclens in your fishing kit.

You never know when fishfinger will strike!

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “The Bite Of The Venomous Brown Trout Or, Stopping Fishfinger

  1. Damn useful article and recommendation. We’ve all been there, when the “Ketchum Release” can’t quite do it. In go the fingers, out come the battle scars 🙂 & then they can go a bit nasty!! I’m in the States shortly and will make a beeline for the nearest pharmacy 🙂

  2. It is often necessary to grab that jaw to get the big hooks free quickly. The warm stinging feel is a nice reminder of the battle of the previous day. Loosing a finger is not a great reminder though…I will update the first aid kit. I have used hand sanitizer in a pinch.

    I am curious where on the Delaware you guys were fishing?


  3. Never knew nor heard of the COKE remedy, state police used to carry a case in their trunks to clean blood from highway accidents. I shall carry a bottle in my cooler from now on. HIBICLENS~ next purchase as well. Thank you for another very informative and life saving article.
    Tight Lines,

  4. I got hit by a car while riding my bike in Atlanta. Mostly just ended up pissed off (the guy drove off) with some bruises and a big scrape on my ankle. It was so large it was taking forever to heal, and eventually got infected and started oozing. I picked up some Hibiclens from the store, cleaned everything out of the wound, used the soap, and the results were as immediate as you describe. Now I use the stuff for all cuts

    And do make sure you clean any cuts sustained while fishing that are either exposed to fish or the water they live in, regardless of how clean you think the water is. Have a friend that is in med school who was just involved in amputating a patients arm at the shoulder because of a cut he received on his hand from the fin of a fish.

  5. We use hibiclens, as well as coke, in emergency medicine from time to time. Hibiclens is great and I always have it at the house as well. As for coke, it has many interesting uses. Just like Brian mentioned, they do use coke to clean blood from asphalt and concrete. It also helps unclog feeding tubes. Weird but it works because of the acidity.

  6. Antiseptics like Hibiclens (chlorhexidine) are helpful, but multi-agent antibacterial / antifungals like Neosporin are supposed to be better for preventing infection of dirty wounds.

    With Hibiclens, you have to rid the cut of all the bacteria and then keep it from being re-infected, which is hard to do if you keep fishing or doing other outdoor activities. Contact with blood and other solutions can inactivate it and/or reduce effectiveness.

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