By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
Everybody needs a good set of wire cutters.
You’re tempting karma without a decent set of tools, but especially wire cutters. With a decent pair of cutters, you can rescue animals from entanglement with barbed wire, get your squad through the concertina, and free your granddaughter from the earrings she’d had in since she got pierced at age two.
Without wire cutters, you’re helpless. Good karma, like good Boy Scouts, means being prepared.
On March 23, 2010, the day I got word that my first granddaughter was born, I decided to celebrate by going fly fishing after work. It was a blustery day, but I am a pretty good fly caster, and besides, some of the dreariest days produce the best catches.
Although I live in the city, I am only five minutes away from a beautiful little lake, and in the winter months it’s stocked with chubby little ten-inch put-and-take hatchery-raised rainbow trout. They’re there for people to catch and eat. The water gets too hot in summer for them to survive.
It was spitting rain. I walked the shoreline, fighting the wind to cast my fly out far enough to put it on the water. Spring had begun only two days earlier, and I’d actually seen a bug or two flying in tight little circles above the surface of the water, tiny black bugs. I tied on a #14 black gnat to see if I could coax one of the trout up to the surface. I fished for only a few minutes before a gust of wind picked up my backcast, and I ended up with that little fly embedded into my right hand, in the fleshy area behind the thumb. It went in pretty deep—way past the hook’s barb.
Now, listen up and learn a skill: when you’re hooked past the barb, no matter how easily you try to back it out the way it went in, you’re going to tear up some tissue, and it’s really going to hurt. In order to remove the hook, you have to grab the shaft with a hemostat or a pair of needle-nosed pliers, poke the point of the hook back up through the skin, cut off the barbed end with a wire cutter, and slide the rest of the hook back out through the original hole. You end up having to make a new hole, but the procedure is far better than trying to yank the hook out.
Provided, of course, that you have the right tools.
I’d have taken care of the situation myself, since I’ve had to do it before on solo fishing trips, or had my wife help me, but she was in Knoxville with our daughter. Also I am right handed, and the hook was in my right hand. There wasn’t much blood. So I wrapped a bandana around the hand with the fishhook buried in it and drove to the immediate care center, which actually was between the lake and my home.
I knew the doctor who was on duty that evening—Doctor Karen Watters, a pleasant African-American woman with whom I shared an indignity or two over the years. They don’t teach fishhook extraction in medical school, I came to find out. So again with the preparation/karma, I taught her how.
I showed her the hand with the hook in it, and her brow furrowed a little when I explained to her what needed to happen in order to extract it, plus I was going to need a tetanus shot, since the pretty urban lake was full of some pretty nasty water. We brainstormed, and ransacked the clinic without success for a wire cutter of some kind. I had the perfect tool back at home, of course, and since home was just a few minutes away, I drove off and fetched it and brought it back to the clinic. It’s really a very small set of bolt cutters I’ve used to cut bicycle cables.
I had to explain a few times that I wanted her to push the hook through my hand again. “You want me to go this way? You want me to go this way?” she asked, gesturing with a twisting motion the hemostat she was about to use to poke the point of the hook through my skin. Skin is pretty elastic and tough, and after a few false starts she had to stretch the skin on either side of the hook with her fingers in order to puncture it through.
It didn’t hurt. A #14 dry fly hook is tiny, not much bigger than a letter J. Then she snipped off the part with the barb with my wire cutters, and out slipped the rest of the hook. A little antiseptic, a bandaid, and a shot, and I was on my way.
I remember once having to canoe nearly an hour to get to my vehicle to perform the same procedure on myself when I buried a significantly larger hook in my left index finger. I had both the same wire cutters I lent Doctor Watters and several pairs of hemostats in my tackle box, but I wanted to do it sitting on the tailgate of my pickup rather than in a bobbing boat barely the size of a bathtub. Bobbing around was how I hooked myself to begin with.
It was a portend, of course. Only the crudest Buddhists fish. Fishing breaks the one cardinal rule of Buddhism.
When I was at the end of my stay at Sri Bodhiraja Monastery in Sri Lanka, I asked my teacher, Venerable Nanda, if I knew enough dhamma to teach Buddhism in America. He said that he thought that I did, and then he asked me if I keep the Precepts, Buddhism’s admonitions against killing, lying, stealing, getting intoxicated and sexual misconduct.
I had to think it over for awhile, and then I admitted to the monk that I break two of the Precepts with regularity. He asked me what they were.
“I take intoxicating drinks,” I said (not admitting to my fondness for marijuana). “But I am a very light drinker. I only drink one beer a day.” That’s late at night, so the alcohol can react with my neurontin and put me firmly to sleep.
“Then I think you are keeping the Precept,” the Bhante said. “In your culture, drinking such little alcohol counts as keeping the Precept.” Then he asked, “What is your other sin?”
“I break the First Precept,” I told him. “I take life. I fish for sport, and I usually eat what I catch.” Catch-and-release is for snobs. And freshly caught fish are yummy.
The monk bristled. “You need a new hobby!” he said.
Karma. Enduring gruesome wounds on fishing excursions is, of course, karma: it is far more common for fishermen to hook themselves with fishhooks than people who don’t fish at all.
Editor: Dana Gornall