The Checklist

There is a long list of strange and unpleasant interactions one can have with animals. Most people can relate to being stung by a bee and many of us who were curious children share the experience of snake or lizard bites.
Over the years I been attacked by a sheep, stung by an urchin, charged by an elephant and speared by a sting ray. I am proud and slightly disturbed to say that I can now check another item off my list. Yesterday I was bitten by a moray eel.
Tara and I checked out a new beach in the late afternoon. The tide was pretty high and much of the sand was wet so we found a seat on a narrow seawall. I rigged up a light spinning rod with a piece of squid and let it sit in the shallows about 30 feet from shore. There were schools of baitfish moving along the wall and at one point we saw the telltale splashes of a predator chasing down a meal. Finally I felt a tug and quickly set the hook. Different fish feel very different on the end of a line and I could tell right away this was not a papio or any other of the reef fish I had been hoping for.
Every eel I have ever caught has swallowed or bitten the hook in such a way that I could do no more than reel it in quickly and cut my line as close to it’s sharp teeth as I’ve dared. This time I could see that the little eel had been hooked right in the lip and I immediately decided to try to remove the hook. Morays have a unique survival strategy. As soon as I lifted it from the water the eel curled itself into a wildly undulating ball. This may be a good strategy if one is grabbed by a crab but it is a poor plan when attached to the end of a fishing line. By the time I set the critter on the sea wall it was tangled hopelessly in a web of monofilament.

Using my forceps I first removed the hook and then cut away the tight loops of line until the eel was free. Now I was faced with the problem of returning the now loose and extremely irritated eel from the seawall to the water.
I decided to use the same technique I would use for a small snake – grip firmly behind the head and move quickly. The flaw in my plan lay in the fact that eels are more slippery than snakes. My “behind the head” grip instantly became a “somewhere in the middle” grip and then the eel had my knuckle in it’s jaws. There was some painful tearing as I “released” my catch and watched it swim away.
Mission accomplished!

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