You’re standing at the end of a pier casting your line into the crashing ocean surf. But what happens (besides a loud scream) if you accidentally whip it back and catch your own skin — or someone else's — with the hook?

Fishhook injuries are widespread and plenty painful (though serious damage is uncommon). Here’s what experts from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Center for Emergency Medicine Informatics say you should do to get rid of those nasty barbs.

Do not try to remove fishhooks that are close to the eye, near an artery or deeply embedded. These are no ordinary fishhook injuries, so get medical assistance right away. For eye injuries, place something protective, like a plastic cup, over the site and find nearest emergency room.

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Figure out what type of hook is involved. If the wound is superficial or just below the surface of the skin, study the hook (if you don't already know what kind it is). Is it a simple single hook, or does it have multiple barbs? Knowing what kind of hook it is will help you decide how to remove it.

Three ways to remove a fishhook

The string–yank method (for simple hooks). This strategy is the easiest to perform in the field, according to Matthew Gammons, MD, who co-authored a guide to fishhook removal for American Family Physician. It tends to work well if the area is “fixed” (not an earlobe or lip, for example). Here’s what to do:

  • Wrap some fishing line around the midpoint of the bend in the fishing hook.
  • Loop the ends around your wrist or tie the ends around a stick to give your pulling hand a good grip.
  • Lean the injured site against something solid.
  • Holding the hook’s shank parallel to the skin, gently depress the shank. This should disengage the barb at the end of the hook.
  • While keeping the shank depressed, allow the string a little slack, then give a fast yank to the hook.
  • Be aware that the hook will fly out with considerable force. Prevent a second injury by wearing protective eyeglasses and clothing and make sure no one is standing in the path of the hook.

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The “backing-out” method. If the injury is slight and the hook is the simple kind without extra barbs, you can press down on the shank to disengage the barb at the end of the hook, then gently pull the hook out the way it went in.

The cut and push method. This strategy is most effective when the point of the hook has penetrated the skin in a curving manner and has come to rest either near the surface or actually out of the skin. Gammons notes that this method is almost always successful, even with larger hooks.

  • You’ll need your pliers or wire cutter. Clean and sterilize them if you have some antibacterial gel with you.
  • If the tip of the hook lies near the surface, push the tip through the skin.
  • Once the barb is out, cut it off if it's a single-barbed hook. The hook can then be pulled out the way it went in without further damage.
  • For multiple-barbed hooks, instead of cutting off the barb, cut off the eye of the hook, then push and pull it through the rest of the way, instead of backing it out.

Follow-up care

Now that the hook is out of your skin, you’re probably feeling better, but the wound could still get infected. Here’s what you should do:

  • Apply antibiotic ointment.
  • Leave the wound uncovered.
  • Get a tetanus booster shot if you haven’t been vaccinated in the last 10 years.
  • See a doctor right away if there are any signs of infection (redness, swelling, pain, red streaks from the wound and/or chills and fever).

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Ana Manley-Black, J.D., is a former immigration attorney and a freelance health and medical writer whose stories have appeared in Healthday, Consumer Health Interactive, and other media.