Like most siblings, we fought. (a lot) But that didn’t mean we didn’t love each other. We weren’t enemies per se– it just seemed like we were to the general public. Take, for example, our regular family camping trip. We would find a remote spot to set up camp in the high Uinta Mountains in northern Utah and spend a few days fly fishing and catching salamanders. However, just because we were a million miles from civilization didn’t mean we were unable to produce mischief.
During one trip, my brother and I spent hours poking pin-prick holes into my sister’s waders so when she stepped into a pond to hunt salamanders, she immediately found herself waterlogged and unable to move. Generally it was just fun and games and no one got hurt. That is, until the fishhook incident.
I was somewhere in the neighborhood of double digits, and my brother had just reached his teens. So he was a green Boy Scout, fresh off his first scout camp, and eager to show off his new skills. Unfortunately, I gave him his first chance.
Sure, I’d been fly fishing for quite some time, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still difficult. The rod was like three times taller than me and I still needed my dad’s help every time to get a fish off the hook. And sometimes when the fish weren’t biting, I’d get bored and play Zorro. (The fact that Zorro’s whip was not attached to a long pole had no bearing on my fantasy. Ah the folly of youth.)
Eventually, my luck ran out and during a sunny afternoon of playing Zorro, I ended up with a fishhook embedded firmly in my ear. There were grasshoppers all over the river that year, so naturally I was using a grasshopper fly with, you guessed it, the biggest, meanest hook you could imagine.
After the few moments inherent to childhood pain of thinking, “I wonder if this hurts enough to justify crying,” I began wailing.
However, the only family member in earshot was my brother George. Things were about to get much worse.Lumbering down the riverbed in his waders, he eventually saw the grasshopper firmly implanted in my ear, and a huge grin spread across his face.
“Don’t worry,” he yelled, not breaking his stride. George calmly explained to me that he’d JUST learned how to remove fishhooks in his most recent scout camp. “Lennie had one just like this and the scoutmaster showed us how to get it out. It’s super easy,” he reassured me.
As any anglers out there are aware, removing a fishhook from skin is, in fact, relatively easy. It’s a matter of pushing it through the skin and breaking or squeezing the barb. Then, you simply pull the hook out the way it came in.
Easier said than done when you’re an overeager 13-year-old with a guinea pig for a little brother.
Twenty excruciating minutes later, I felt that if my ear was amputated, I’d count that as a win. When my father finally came back downstream, he found what looked like a scene out of Saw–my brother, hands covered in blood, holding me down with one knee as my ear dripped blood all over my face. There was no telling where the hook even was anymore.
Needless to say, I’m much more cautious when I fly fish now. And if I ever hook myself again, I’ll probably just leave it in there.