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A Fly in The Nose and Other Occupational Hazards
By David Van Wie

Hunting, fishing and other sporting activities have certain occupational hazards that are unavoidable because they are part of the activity itself. I am not talking about major dramatic events like lightning or avalanches. No, I want to bring attention to the many smaller risks that come with the territory, like getting hooked by a fishing lure or falling out of a tree stand.

While many of these hazards can never be eliminated, it’s important to take steps to 1) reduce their occurrence; and 2) be prepared to deal with injuries if they take place, employing clear thinking, first aid and an evacuation plan if necessary. Nothing mars a weekend like a trip to the emergency room for stitches or a broken ankle. Or worse.

Watch Your Backcast

Fly casting instructors will teach you to watch your back cast so you don’t hook your fly in trees and alders along the bank. Or in your friend’s nose.

I was teaching a college friend, Libby Roberts, how to fly fish over July 4th weekend. She had taken a class with Orvis and had the basics down, but still needed work on her casting and presentation. Libby was doing really well, and before long she had landed a nice brook trout. She saw the rise, put her fly down softly, hooked up on the drift, and landed a 10 incher with a little help from my net.

Ecstatic with her success, Libby decided there must be another trout by the same rock, and sure enough there was. She landed Number 2 and couldn’t wait to go for the hat trick. I decided I would back up and get a good photo of her casting into the hot pool.

As I turned and walked down the gravel bar, I suddenly felt a THWACK on my face and felt a stinging on my nose and upper lip. At the same moment I yelped, Libby turned to see what she had hit with her back cast. And there I was with a new nose piercing, the start of a new fashion trend. I had her Hornberg sunk solidly in my schnozz.

Removing the Hook

It didn’t bleed much, nor did it hurt hanging there, so we decided not to try removing it with the hemostat that hangs from my vest. I didn’t really want to try it myself, and Libby wasn’t too thrilled about it either, so we decided to keep fishing (they still were rising!) and save the nose bling removal for some entertainment value back at camp. I also suddenly realized it was good I was wearing solid wraparound sunglasses or I might have had an eye injury as well. We both realized this could have been much worse.

We caught one more fish and then paddled down river to the take out spot near camp. My arrival created a flurry of attention and some unique photo ops. Finally we got down to the specifics of the hook removal.

Fortunately, I actually knew how to use the Shank ‘n Yank method to remove the fly. Ordinarily you can use fly line looped through the hook bend but this time we used needle nose pliers. With a swift yank, the hook goes out the way it went in. I iced the area for a minute, then pressed down on the shank (and my nose to keep it on my face), while Dorothy Diggs did the yanking.

It hardly hurt at all! But I sure don’t want to do that again. From now on, I will watch everyone’s backcast. As another friend noted later, “Now you know how the fish feel.”


Sighting In

It is a little embarrassing that many of these mishaps have happened to me. As Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” So I have another unfortunate experience to share.

Years ago, I was living in Wyoming and working for the US Forest Service. A couple co-workers invited me pronghorn antelope hunting, but I didn’t have a good rifle with a scope. The Winchester carbine that had been my grandfather’s was romantically Western and okay for mule deer, but I didn’t think the ladder sight would do so well for a long range shot. You are lucky to get 200 yards from an antelope on the open plain.

Jack’s wife offered to loan me her rifle, but it needed to be sighted in. So off we went to the shooting range. We set up the targets and put sand bags on the table to steady our guns. I propped the rifle on the sand bags, took careful aim through the scope, and squeezed the trigger gently. BLAM! Suddenly I was seeing stars and feeling blood trickle down my nose. It took a moment to realized what had happened. Apparently I wasn’t holding the rifle tight to my shoulder, and had my face too close to the scope. The recoil kicked the opening of the scope sharply into my forehead. Ouch!

Someone found a towel in the truck, and I sat down putting pressure on the crescent moon gash between my eyebrows to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, everyone calmly continued to take their turns sighting in. When I politely suggested that perhaps someone could drive me to the emergency room for some stitches, Mike responded, “Sure, as soon as we are done here.” No one seemed too concerned, because it turned out that all three men had done the same thing. Jack showed me his scar. “It’s just that we all did it when we were 14,” laughed Jack.

Trouble With Tree Stands

Both of these examples are pretty minor. But other hazards can lead to serious injury. One such peril is getting in and out of tree stands, or installing the stand. More hunters are seriously injured or killed in falls from tree stands than they are from firearms, according to an excellent safety video by Oklahoma Outdoors. 86% of tree stand injuries happen while climbing up to or down from the stand.

Most of these accidents can be prevented by wearing a full body harness every time you are climbing the ladder and every moment you are in the stand. But according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, only 15% of hunters regularly use safety harnesses as recommended.


Safety harnesses and haul lines are easy to use. When installing the stand, a utility linesman’s belt will check your fall until you have the harness anchor installed. And it is always safer to have a buddy with you when installing or removing the stand.

A fall from just four or five feet can cause painful injuries such as a sprained ankles, torn ligaments, or broken bones. A fall from 10 or 20 feet can be fatal and will always be serious trouble. Reports of broken vertebrae, fractured pelvis, permanent nerve damage or paralysis, and serious head injuries are typical for these types of falls. Nobody expects this to happen to them. And nobody wants a quiet morning in the woods to turn into a Med-Evac helicopter ride followed by months in rehab and physical therapy… or eternity beyond the Pearly Gates.


Safety Moment

At the company where I work, we have daily “safety tailgates” before starting a job to discuss proper equipment and safety rules. We also take a time at the start of each meeting in the office to discuss a “health and safety moment.” Perhaps it would be wise to adopt these techniques every time we start a sporting activity. Let’s all pause for a moment to think about everyday risks and how to avoid injury when we are doing what we love most.

Reprinted from The Maine Sportsman, Danger in the Outdoors, September 2015

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