Several weeks ago I met Anton, a gentleman from the UK who was enjoying fishing and wanted to learn more about fishing Sydney. He has been a fun fishing companion and I have managed to convert him to the joy and sensitivity of using braid. He fortunately hasn’t blamed me for all the new fishing gear he has recently acquired.
This Saturday’s expedition was to get Luderick (blackfish) and learn how to collect yabbies (nippers). We started off early at some sand flats while the tide was up to see if we could pick up a fish with lures. I scored a flathead but apart from that it was pretty quiet. We then swung past my favourite spot for cabbage weed but the swell was up and I didn’t consider it safe so cancelled that. Next stop was three fishing related shops to pick up a snapper rod, reel, braid and some additional lures which had been put aside.
Time to get the yabbies down at Pittwater. On the way there we discussed the hazard of stingrays on the flats and what some people I know in Pittwater refer to as “The stingray shuffle”. Also told Anton about a Belgian friend of mine that was stung about 2.5 years ago at the back of the basin and had to swim back to the rangers hut. He was a paratrooper back in the day and built like Jean Claude van Damme and the effect the stingray venom had on him was obvious in that he went white and his body was shaking – he did retain his sense of humour. Steve Irwin came up in discussion too.
I told Anton that we would also likely find soldier crabs on the flats and the thousands we found there made an impression on him. It took Anton a little while to get into the swing of yabby pumping but after a little while he started to get some results. Once he’d got it to the point I felt he understood the concept I took over to speed things up – experience does make a difference. Since we had the yabbies I made a call to use a few then and there so we got his rod out of the car and set it up for whiting. With the low tide we were pretty close to the drop off and as there is ribbon weed there I wanted to get the bait beyond that into the deeper water. Showed Anton how to rig up the yabby and he cast out with a rather pathetic and relaxed wind up (thought I’d taught him better). A few bites and no hook up. Next cast was along the top of the sand bank but all the whiting I’d seen were the small specimens. To get into the deeper water I decided we would move forward a few more meters. Then the stingray struck. Looking back on it now I’d like to think I was pretty calm and collected and I hope I was even stoic about it. I was pretty sure what it was. I knew how it was likely to play out but you never know until it happens to you. Anton was a little more excitable and to be really fair to the guy it was him and not me that stood on the ray. He said something had bitten him and when we got into the shallower water there was a cut of about 15mm long just forward of the ankle with blood happily pouring out (wondering if they have an anti-coagulant in their venom).
That was the end of the fishing so I quickly released the yabbies and collected the gear to move back to the car. A couple of sharp guys on a nearby boat guessed what it was too and advised hot water, a trip to the medical centre and three types of antibiotics as it happened to one of their mates the week before. I called some friends in the area as I wanted to get to hot water asap but as they didn’t respond we headed straight for Mona Vale hospital. His foot had gone numb by the time we arrived so I had to help him in. There were a few people ahead of us in the emergency department and I really don’t like pushing in but the quicker we got the foot in hot water the quicker the venom could be broken down. After a quick assessment the nurse took him into the ward for treatment. I am a silver lining type person and now that the immediate danger was past I felt some shit stirring was in order. I sent him a message that if he hadn’t been casting so pathetically we wouldn’t had to take the few steps forwards and he wouldn’t have stood on the ray. His quick comeback was that he didn’t want to kill the yabby with his massive casting distance. He thought it would take a while as they would have to do an ultrasound and x-ray and suggested I head off for a fish. I countered that I didn’t want him to comment for years to come that I had left him at the hospital suffering while I went fishing (it was a tight decision though). At this stage a lovely nurse with a beautiful smile came into the waiting room to help one of the patients. I described her to him and he thought it was the nurse who had first treated him so I asked him what her name was and to put in a good word for his “caring and heroic mate”. He declined – blamed it on too much other stuff going on. He said the hottest water and the three kinds of painkillers had made a difference. To quote how he was feeling at the time “I have a pretty good pain tolerance but holy shit”. This is a person that used to play rugby and had broken bones before. They couldn’t find any barbs but he did throw up. He is normally a really upbeat person but I think the drugs were taking him to the next level. Another quote of his is “It’s awesome, I was literally feeling the venom moving up my leg as it becomes numb”. One of the nurses asked how long he had been in Oz. The reply was 8 years and the follow up was a question if it was too soon to mention Steve Irwin? He laughed.
I was so happy to see him coming out of the ward doors that I gave him a handshake and then a hug. Back into the car and back to the lower north shore area. Metaphorically when you fall off a horse you are supposed to get back and try it again. I couldn’t find some sand flats but we did spool up his new snapper rod and he got some casting practice in. He hooked up a little tailor on a Shimano waxwing so the rod was christened before I took him home.
Thinking about it later I think I have come out on the worst end of the deal for a number of reasons:
All going well he should heal up pretty soon whereas I’ll have to deal with the guilt trip for a long time to come.
Like a few Englishmen I’ve met his tolerance to Sydney’s brisk air temperature is sufficiently poor that I can accuse him of being a wuss. He has proved himself sufficiently macho that I can no longer use that statement.
The three hours he was in the hospital is fishing time I'll never get back and it was such a lovely day too.
I still have to clean the blood stains off my car’s trim.
Now on a more serious note:
Firstly, the staff at the Mona Vale hospital were both friendly and professional and it was a pleasure to see them at work and making a difference to people’s lives. Thank you!!
Secondly, Anton has been suffering a bit more since the anaesthetic wore off and hasn’t been able to put weight on it. As of this evening he has lost feeling in his foot and the swelling has increased so he headed back in to hospital for some further check-ups (and the nurse’s name I hope). I’m hoping to provide a positive update sooner rather than later.
Thirdly, Fishraider has as a pinned topic in Fishing Chat an advice column on stingray related injuries – if you haven’t then I highly recommend reading it.