ELY, Minn. — Emergency room physician Steve Park of Ely
remembers the case well. A muskie fisherman. Lake Vermilion. Big
ol' muskie bait stuck in his head.
"The hook went through the top of his ear and into his scalp,
back out of the scalp and back through his ear again," Dr. Park
said. "His ear was pinned to his head. His buddy had got him on
the back cast."
Anglers have found many ways to get impaled by fish hooks. Park
has seen plenty of those cases as a physician with the Ely Clinic.
So have his counterparts at other emergency rooms in the Duluth
Fish long enough and you're likely to get hooked or be a witness
to a hooking. Most accidental hookings can be treated in the field,
but each year, emergency rooms in northeastern Minnesota and
northwestern Wisconsin have patients show up with lures dangling
from various places on their bodies.
"I had one guy come in with a lure hanging from his nose like a
nose ring," said Dr. Nancy Rova, a family practice and emergency
room physician at Cook County North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais.
"They come in every different way you can think of," Park
said. "I bet we see more in the hands than any place else. The
reason is people are taking northerns off the hooks, and the fish
flops. Or it's a back cast, and the hook is lodged in the back of
Rova said her emergency room might see three or four people
wearing fish hooks on a busy summer day.
"I bet I take out 6 or 8 a week," Park said. "It's pretty
common on a weekend to take out three or four in a day. We probably
do a couple hundred a year."
Physicians tend to remember unusual cases, such as the muskie
bait Park extricated.
"I've had one man who came in with one lure in both thumbs,"
Rova said. "He was out in a canoe by himself. He was yelling to
his wife to come and get him because he couldn't paddle."
Dr. Sandy Stover, another physician at Cook County North Shore
Hospital, remembered when a husband and wife came in together, each
wearing a different lure.
"She had hooked her husband on the back of his shoulder,"
Stover explained. "The man had reeled in his line, and when his
wife was trying to disentangle her lure from him, he hooked her in
the forearm with his lure.
"They weren't too happy. They asked to be seen in separate
"The biggest concern are the ones stuck in the face or around
the eyes," said Dr. Bob Zotti, an emergency room physician with
St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.
"We had one actually stuck in the eyeball itself," he said.
"We had to call in an eye specialist. We thought we might do more
damage trying to take it out."
Dr. John McKichan of Stone Lake, Wis., works the emergency room
at the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital and has seen a lot of big
"The head and hands — pretty much all over the body they get
hooked," he said. "We had a kid once that picked one up in the
winter in the back of a car. Somehow he got it in the mouth — one
of the trebles in the upper lip and one in the lower lip."
McKichan also saw a girl three years ago with a hook up inside
her nose. He had to sedate her briefly, but he got it out.
Dr. Charles Helleloid, with the Duluth Clinic in International
Falls, recalled a case in which a fisherman had put a large muskie
lure into his forehead. He was a long way down Rainy Lake on a
"He came pounding down the lake holding it carefully,"
Helleloid said. "By the time he got to our place, he had one hook
in his hand and one in his forehead. But thankfully, both of those
came out in the usual fashion."
That wasn't the case when an angler put a hook into the front of
his thigh while fishing on the Kabetogama Peninsula between Rainy
and Kabetogama lakes. He cut the hook off at his skin so it
wouldn't catch on his clothes as he walked out of the peninsula to
his boat, which was waiting on Kabetogama.
"I put on a little Novocain but didn't find the hook,"
Helleloid said. "What had happened is that hook had gotten into
the muscle. The barb, as he was walking, acted like a ratchet. It
drew the hook two inches into the big muscle in front.
"What you'd have thought would be a two- to three-minute
project took several X-rays to locate and a substantial surgery to
The busy season for hook problems varies by location. In the
Duluth-Superior area, it's spring and early summer, said Dr. Brian
Bergeron, an emergency room physician at St. Luke's Hospital in
"People get more wise as the season goes on," Bergeron said.
In Ely, July and August are the busiest months, Park said. The
peak in Hayward is from about June 15 to Aug. 15, said McKichan.