Apex Predator talks freshwater fishing finger hazards

Because fishing stories are more than just tall tales when you have a missing digit

Finger injuries are so common with fishing that one of those ten digits seemingly gets hurt on just about every trip.

Two months ago, I badly dislocated my dominant-hand thumb trying to dodge a collision with a stumbling client.

One random tumble out of thousands in my life left me with a thumb blocking the view of my watch, and the joint sticking through the skin of my palm.

I painfully yanked it back into place, but after an ER visit revealed ligaments were torn on all three sides of the joint, I can still hardly move or use it.

My grandpa is missing a finger from an accident outdoors, and my client Rene was very close to losing a finger, as well.

She was lifting jug lines while her son was scooping the fish aboard my boat. One float was sitting stationary in the middle of a deep pocket.

We didn’t know it then, but there was a big surprise waiting for all of us on the end of the line.

As soon as she started to lift, the slight pull of something relatively small began to rise from the depths of the jet-black swamp water. As I was videoing, Brennon, her 10-year-old son, readied the net to scoop up what we thought was a fish

Suddenly, I saw the head of a 9-foot-plus alligator slowly rise into view. I yelled for her to let go, but in the process of releasing the line, one of her fingers got tangled.

Simultaneously, the alligator saw the boat, transformed into beast-mode and took off with a vengeance.

I reached for the line as fast as I could, but it was a little too late. Rene got flung across the boat.

With one hand, I grasped the line right before she was tossed overboard. My powerful tug redirected the gator towards us, giving just enough slack for Rene to unravel what remained of her almost-severed finger, which was already turning black and blue and gushing red.

Now Rene isn’t any average woman. She’s an adventure junkie triathlete who enjoys trail running, half marathons and has no problem getting wet and dirty, or getting bit by bugs and ticks.

“It’s all part of the fun,” she says.

Since the bleeding was contained and the finger looked like it wasn’t going to fall off just yet, we continued to run lines.

Later, we caught an alligator snapping turtle, and she held that mad critter with her hurt hand for a picture.

Luckily, the combination of thick diameter 350-pound nylon twine and Rene’s strong bones kept her finger from being sliced right off. And after two months of healing, she’s regained full function of her finger with only a gnarly scar left behind to remind her of her brush with that big gator.

On the attached video, you can watch parts of the horrifying ordeal I filmed using my GoPro when the gator surfaced on the jug line.

Alligators are no joke. I have a friend who is a dermatologist who is missing a finger from an alligator attack back on a hunting trip from his youth.

But I guess one positive thing in that case is instant credibility: fishing stories are more than just tall tales when you have a missing digit.

And speaking of alligators, they come in other forms, like alligator gars and alligator snapping turtles.

While I haven’t been bitten by an alligator snapper, I know of a guy from Grand Point who was, but the turtle didn’t bite him the way you might be thinking.

Hours after chopping off the head and cleaning a big 60-pound turtle, he went to discard the remains. As he reached for the dead turtle’s chopped-off head, the creature sprang to life and chomped his entire finger clean off.

Yes, alligator snappers and common snappers have the ability to bite an object up to 12 hours after being de-headed.

Just like fresh frog legs jumping in the pan while cooking, a turtle’s muscles work long after its death. And the crazy part is their eyes still seem to work, too.

On the same ill-fated trip with Rene, an alligator gar sliced deeply into my hand. The teeth or sharp scales of these prehistoric fish which can grow to over 200 pounds always seem to get me bloody.

Besides gar, catfish will be the biggest fish out there in the bayous, and while they may not cut off your finger, these giant fish can leave a mark.

I know all too well and still have the scars on my thumb from a 30-pound-plus blue cat that grabbed hold of it when I was just a 16-year-old kid.

While fishing the Ward 7 Rodeo from the Intracoastal bank alone without a net, I hooked the large fish on my push-button Zebco 888 and was determined to get first place.

However, the only way to land him was by getting in the water and putting my hand into those powerful jaws to throw him up the 8-foot high mud ledge.

I still have the scars, but I won that rodeo.

Probably the most common finger problem with fishing is simply cutting yourself with a knife.

A special filet glove while cleaning fish will prevent the majority of cut hands. I keep one of these gloves aboard my boat because many times I’m cutting up bait for chum or traps, and using a knife on an unstable vessel rocking in the waves presents more of a hazard than at the cleaning table.

But a knife can actually save your finger — or your life.

If a line gets tangled in your hand while battling, using a sharp knife to cut it can stop you from losing a digit or being thrown overboard.

It’s always best to cut off the fish versus staying tangled.

Since I’m into freshwater spearfishing, keeping a dive knife strapped to my leg is a necessity. In those murky conditions, anything can happen while snorkeling into the non-visible tree roots.

My buddy used to love freshwater spearfishing until the day he dove to the bottom and came face-to face with a 10-foot alligator he thought was a big stump.

He has yet to be back spearfishing.

When I’m checking trotlines, I also keep a knife on me as because with one misplaced hook you’ll be pulled to the bottom hooked to your line.  Or in my case, misplaced hooks, as I’ve been hooked on a trotline several times, once while in my pirogue without a knife.

Pulling out the picket in the swamp bottom to free myself while trying not to flip in a pirogue full of choupic was one crazy experience.

Stay safe, and be looking Part 2 in this series, ‘Losing fingers on saltwater trips’ followed up by Part 3, ‘Severe hand injuries while hunting’.

About Josh Chauvin 117 Articles
Joshua Chauvin is a health-focused ultra-marathon runner who goes on solo manual-powered public land adventures focusing on hunting big game and large fish by using challenging methods and weapons. He enjoys self-filming and sharing the tactics and details from his expeditions to help others learn from his unique techniques.