Fishing First Aid

The beautiful, but deadly Blue Ringed Octopus.
Carl Hyland
Believe it or not, fishing or recreational fishing can be dangerous and whilst we focus on the ‘good’ stuff, there is always an opportunity for ‘bad’ luck to step in and ruin your day.

As an ex ambulance training officer, I have had many experiences whilst fishing that really defy logic but at the same time, have tested my skills and expertise.

Whilst not having worked in that field for some years now, I have kept up my first aid skills and also practical knowledge and hope to be able to share some of them with you here.

Firstly, let’s look at a typical case scenario, you pack up the car and head off with the kids for a relaxing days fishing at a nearby pier. You have done all the right things and included the greatest and the best fishing gear and even thought of lifejackets for the little ones, but did you include the most essential item? A first aid kit? Whilst I won’t go through every item you should have with you a few essentials would include, band aids (out of sight out of mind), Stingose, which is a fantastic product for bites and stings and perhaps a compression bandage. The worst case scenario is that you might need these things and more, but on most occasions you won’t.


Kids love to poke and prod stuff, you know, you say ‘don’t do that’ and they go ahead and do. Fishhooks are sharp; knives are sharp, even ring pulls on tin cans can be sharp and cut little fingers. The objects, kids are exposed to whilst fishing can also hurt, fish spikes, fish bites even a fish tail thrashing around (when you get that big one) can do damage. Tentacles off stingers, the deadly envenomation from a blue ringed octopus, all are hazards that you need to be aware off.

More information about bites and stings is available at your local Poisons and Information Centers (usually your immediate local hospital).


Not only can your immediate family or friends can be affected by injury or illness whilst fishing, others who are nearby can also require help. I’ll give you a typical case scenario (which happened to me in real life). A friend and I arrived at a local freshwater impoundment a few years ago with the intention of catching some stocked salmon. The draw of these fish meant that anglers came from far and wide to fish. We had been fishing for about an hour when a car pulled up alongside and two guys got out, exchanged pleasantries and commenced to set their gear up. They split up; one chap stayed near us and commenced spin fishing. The area down to water was lined with large boulders and this chap jumped from the hard pan shore onto the first boulder and his feet went from under him. I didn’t actually see it happen but I heard the thud of his head hitting the rock. He was out cold, but the alarming this was the amount of blood pouring from his ears. I grabbed a towel and immobilized him as best I could whilst yelling for help. A few other anglers came running and between us we moved him on to the road way where I could attend to him. He started to come around and he told me he had brittle bone disease which meant all sorts of horror stories.

To cut a long story short, he spent many weeks in hospital as he had a fractured base of the skull, collar bone, upper arm bone, pelvis plus other fractures I can’t recall. We were in a remote area and it took a while for two ambulances to get there, but imagine if I had not had my training or a basic first aid kit with me? What would you have done in that situation?


Another case was when a child on Tassie’s North West coast was bitten by a blue ringed octopus after handling it in a rock pool. We arrived as the child stopped breathing (some 15 minutes after envenomation) and our first priority was to sustain an airway which we did and transported the child and dad to hospital. The child survived, but the one thing that sticks in my mind was that Mum and d ad didn’t know how to do CPR. Prolonged CPR or expired breathing can keep someone alive for a period of time or at least until medical help is obtained. This is the difference between life and death.

Basic marine stings from jellyfish can be treated with warm water and immobilising the affected part and seeking medical aid and fish spiking’s can be fixed by immersing the part in warm to hot water but don’t have the water too hot.

Penetrating fishhooks should be removed by a medical professional. Most people think that there is an urgency to get a fish hook removed pronto, but nothing is further than the truth. How do you know if that hook hasn’t penetrated a major artery or severed a nerve? Removing the hook (if penetrating) can be like pulling the plug from a hose, and then you have a real problem. Immobilize the hook (bandage or cover it) and seek medical aid. If it is a ‘minor’ piercing, removal may be attempted but if it is a youngster, you will have your hands full.

Major trauma such as a shark attack or a boat propeller accident can be life threatening and major packing of wounds with towels and other material is about all the lay person can do whilst medical aid is sought. It happens and is a fact of life, but I trust it never happens to you.

I could go on and on, but really, it’s common sense. Enjoy your times on or near the water and enjoy quality family time. I did and my wife and I survived three youngsters growing up and who all love fishing to this day!
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