"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Stingray Stabbing

The ray that got my Pa

Well, Dad took a stingray barb to the top of his foot. We'd hunted the Intercoastal around Ft. Pierce for much of last Wednesday morning, determined to arrow a trophy ray without much success. Freshwater runoff had killed water clarity, even in areas where during high tide clean ocean water usually makes the waterway crystal clear. The majority of rays were either pushed out or just very difficult to see.

We'd spotted a couple smaller rays south of the South Bridge but none were any bigger than what I've arrowed in the past. I wanted a big one for glory, to try the meat, and to donate some parts thereof to the shark fishermen staying at our place in Vero Beach. So with that particular mindset, I'd let the runts escape.

Anyway, we'd pushed further north to where we'd seen big rays before, but the flats were damn near black because of the runoff from Lake Okeechobee. It's a common occurrence right now. With all the heavy rains this summer, inland freshwater was being discharged from Taylor Creek into the Ft. Pierce area. With Lake O's water levels so high, there's fear of the dikes around it collapsing and flooding surrounding areas. As such, they drain the lake as needed - or as determined by an even more murky source.

The effect on the East Coast has been profound. It's quite a sight to see water hyacinths float out into the Atlantic; nothing I've witnessed in 30 years of fishing here. I hear it's worse further down the coast where sugar cane byproduct has not only darkened the water but created an abundance of green slime that has been strangling the coast.

But back to bowfishing, we searched this flat where we'd encountered many large rays in the past. I was dismayed by the elements and time was running out as we'd be picking up Mom and the kids in about an hour for a beer cruise.

Well, wouldn't you know it, even in the compromised visibility, we passed right over top of the specimen we'd been hunting. I released the arrow and the fight was on.

This was easily the biggest fish I've shot with bowfishing gear. Other rays have buried in the sand and it became a heave-ho ordeal - this boy charted towards deeper waters in a hurry. We'd retrieve as much line as possible, then it'd spit back out of the AMS reel, causing Dad to engage the boat and track it down. It was a solid 15 minute ordeal in the early morning Florida August heat and humidity.
A close up of the barb and its shadow

But we're tough guys. After two last runs - one that almost got the ray wrapped around the prop -  the 50-60 lb. fish played out. Dad gaffed him on board and that dangerous tail whipped around like an unattended fire hose, a 10-inch blade of a spine as menacing as a pit viper ready to strike.

Unlike vipers, stingray's poison is not too dangerous if attended to quickly. The pain can be severe for a few hours and parts of the spine often break off and may cause infection. Outside of the legend of Steve Irwin, stings usually are not fatal. Hot water is a well-known home remedy to break down the poisons followed by medical treatment.

The stingray calmed down for a moment as I got my pictures and removed the arrow. His wounds were superficial, but I still wanted pieces of him. How we were getting the flat fish into the ice boxes was another problem you can rightly blame on poor planning, especially with the kids soon to be on board. A live-wire ray and twin two-year olds could be cause for a state investigation. But as I maneuvered him around the back of the boat contemplating its fate, Dad swore out loud profanity that is probably still audible in certain corners of the Indian River.

We're not real sure how it happened. Dad felt he was well clear of the ray and I was pulling it in the opposite direction of where he stood. The next thing he felt was the end of that barb gouging him where the ankle meets the foot. I guess that's the risk of having a beast with a 36-inch prehensile tail with a boot knife attached to it slapping around the back of a 25-foot Aquasport.

Almost instantly, there was blood everywhere, all over the gunnels, fish boxes - it looked like his foot exploded. The ray bled far less and, with a far larger issue at hand, was immediately heaved back into the water where he revived and blasted away into the murk.

Having never treated a stingray stab, I instantly consulted the Interweb on my iPhone, which, by the way, should you land on this site seeking medical advice in such an emergency, my lawyers advise me to say: GO TO THE HOSPITAL.

Now, my father would prefer to cut off his own mangled foot - and possibly leg - than be treated in any medical facility. He applied pressure to stop the bleeding and kept it elevated. Without a jug or pot or bota bag of hot water aboard, I instructed him to say something if he felt nauseous or dizzy. If the wound started to smell funny we'd need to hit a hospital by helicopter. Of course, his feet always smell a little bad, the heat was stifling and would make an uninjured person nauseous and dizzy, so these were all tough calls. He decided to ride it out, pick up the rest of the family and continue as planned.

Today, the doctors took his foot..nah, he and his foot survived. Though the barb did not break off in his foot, he concurred the pain was indeed intense for a couple of hours. He also did not take the full dosage of the barb, just an inch or so. But between keeping it clean with Hydrogen Peroxide, Neosporine , bandages and bourbon, he came through just fine.
A stingray boo-boo

Me? Well, I feel slight pains of guilt but primarily from releasing an injured stingray. I view Dad's incident as another useless casualty in the pursuit of glory. I told him we could probably shut down the stingray program for a couple years or until his nightmares subside, though I still want to try the meat one day. And possibly find one bigger.

It's safe to assume he won't be clamoring to go gator hunting with me this year.


The Reverend Fowl ™ said...

Had skate with browned butter, lemon and capers back in the 80's. You should be concentrating more on ducks. Did you see the rays on River Monsters?

Ian Nance said...

Yeah, those rays are huge...but I could take them.

Duck is still a long ways off....but never stop thinking about it

Iola said...

This is awesome!