Species #31 — Pacific Staghorn Sculpin
Species: Pacific Staghorn Sculpin (Leptocottus armatus)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 10, 2009
Rashomon Effect 6-of-6: My Hands
The phone started beeping, and I fumbled for it in the blackness. My hand found it in the dark, but as I flipped it open with my thumb, the split at the base of the thumbnail cried out with the motion.
I knew I should’ve put on hand lotion the night before.
The salt and sand and fish blood weren’t going to do me any favors, but the shower soothed my aches and pains momentarily.
Buckling my belt wasn’t pleasant, nor was tying my shoes. Getting my gear ready wasn’t a picnic, either. Why do so many things require using your hands?
Finally, I was fishing.
Braided line carves through wet skin. My left hand learned this lesson almost immediately. The weight of the line worked against me, as numerous cuts and slices joined the splits and nicks from the night before.
There was no freshwater on board, so in order to get the blood off, my only recourse was saltwater. Nothing feels better in a wound than saltwater.
Since my hands were so ravaged, I didn’t even want to use them to wipe the vomit from the corners of my mouth, so I used my sleeve. Man, I was disgusting. But I didn’t even care.
The boat returned to the marina, and despite the prospect of catching our own bait fish on ultralight tackle, I made a beeline for the bathroom.
Relief washed over my ailing hands with soap and water that might as well have been ecstasy in the moment.
Hands clean, I returned to the marina to chase bait.
The tiny fish and tiny hooks from the sabiki didn’t cooperate with my sausage fingers, stiffened lightly from the infection slowly setting in.
Still, we filled a bag with bait in short order and headed to the jetty.
After catching several species on the jetty, including my first Pacific Staghorn Sculpin, the laterally-compressed big-headed things that look more alien than fish, I was pretty excited even if they were all relatively small fish. Then my rod bent sharply, and I knew I had something bigger on the line. After a short fight, I pulled the mystery creature up to the edge of jetty and lifted it from the water.
I was dismayed to see it was a Dungeness Crab, but then hope sparked in me as I realized it might be a keeper. Not knowing how to hold crabs, I just grabbed it. It rewarded my stupidity by slicing my already-mangled finger open.
Crawfish pinch, and it can hurt a little, but it doesn’t break the skin. Crabs can carve you up like a hapless Thanksgiving turkey.
The high-pitched screech reeked of masculinity, and I watched in horror as the crustacean from Hell maintained its death grip on my finger. Finally, Ben pried it off, and we released it, realizing it was a female.
I was out of tissues, so I ripped a small strip off fabric off of my tee shirt and tried to cobble together a makeshift bandage, but it was impractical, hindering every crank of the reel and basically making my right hand useless.
We ended on a low note and headed back down the jetty to start the long journey home, where I coated my hands in the only lotion I’ve ever found that actually fixes my hands after long fishing trips: Goldbond Diabetic Hydrating Foot Lotion. It seems strange, but it works.