SOLDOTNA - Several anglers have had eye-opening experiences this fishing season, but the staff at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna is more concerned about all the eye-injuring experiences they've been seeing as of late.
"The eye injuries are terrible this year," said Jane Faulkner, an emergency room registered nurse.
One of the most recent injuries she's seen this season was when a man fishing near Swiftwater Campground in Soldotna came in with a self-inflicted eye injury. It was immediately clear to the staff the man's wound wasn't superficial.
"All we could see was a swivel sticking out. The rest of it - the whole sinker, had slipped right under his eye," Faulkner said.
She said the staff was able to get the lead weight out of the man's eye socket and even managed to save his eye from any serious damage.
Not everyone has been so lucky.
"We've had seven serious eye injuries so far this year - from both hooks and sinkers, and two of those seven injuries were blinding injuries," Faulkner said.
The seven eye injuries are only a small percent of the overall fishing-related injuries medical folks have seen this year.
"Lots of the injuries are hooks in the hands and arms," Faulkner said, but added hooks and swivels to the face are not uncommon, either.
She also said there are just as many locals who come in with injuries as there are tourists, so it's not all first-time fly flippers who are getting hurt.
As they do every year, the hospital staff maintains a male and female angler display board where they keep a running tally of fishhook injuries.
The boards serve as an educational tool and - as the staff describe it - are a fun way to keep track of the injuries.
"Last year we had 109 injuries," Faulkner said. "This year, we've got 48 so far, not including sinker injuries and, unfortunately, the number will still go up.
"When the reds are hot, so are we."
Silver salmon haven't even started to run yet and likely will bring in more injuries once they return to area rivers.
Like the man with the spin sinker in his eye, Faulkner said most of the injuries anglers receive are self-inflicted.
"People will hit a snag and pull back and pull back and then suddenly - bang," she said. The hook, line and sinker will come flying out of the water at them. The same thing can occur when a fish being fought spits out a hook.
A fair number of also are caused by someone standing near the victim, such as at fishing spots where combat fishing is the norm.
There is a simple and reliable source of protection - glasses, especially shatterproof safety glasses.
"Sun glasses or prescription glasses aren't enough. We've already had one case come in of a person being hit with a sinker and it shattered his prescription glasses," Faulkner said.
She added that in such an incident the shattered glass can be as dangerous to the eye as the fishing tackle.
"It's worth taking the extra precautions," Faulkner said. "You can get a cut from a hook in the hand or arm and it will heal, but a hook to the eye and you're blind for life."
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