Peninsula Fly Fishers

Encounter with a Stingray

by Igor Doncov

October 2007

I suppose this story starts with a brief encounter I had with a fellow fisherman at Asuncion. He was heading home after his son had managed to step on a stingray at Coyote Estero. We stood in front of the hotel measuring one another as men often do and I remember thinking rather contemptuously that this was an obviously inexperienced baja traveler

Four days later we were on the salt flats of Laguna Bocana. The tide was receding nicely as I parked our rig next to a mangrove island with a deep channel on the far side that looked promising. The water was crystal clear. I waded thigh deep scouting out the likely sand flats for halibut. Meanwhile Alex pursued blue crabs with a landing net, hoping to catch dinner

The Crab Catcher
The Crab Catcher
Having made a complete circle I returned to the vehicle and rigged us up for halibut. We worked our way along the roots of the mangroves to the main channel on the far side of the island. Casting Kastmasters into the current I managed to hook quite a few bonefish which were really thrilling on the light tackle.

Meanwhile Alex had managed to snag a butterfly ray in the wing which kept him occupied for quite some time. He wanted it photographed and so I made my way to shore, camera in hand. As we got it to shore I saw what appeared to be fountains of water shooting up from it’s head. We bent over to look more closely. What we saw was amazing. There was a large opening above each eyeball. With each breath the ray sucked in water from somewhere below and squirted it out through it’s eyes. The water shot straight up and to the side from each eye giving it a sinister, almost diabolical look.

Back to fishing. The water had really dropped by now and the small baylet we had traversed was now a mudflat all the way to the channel. Good!, I thought to myself. The fish should all be off the flats and concentrated in the channel. I remember shuffling along in the eelgrass (always shuffle – that scares the rays) wondering how effective that’s going to be as I was on top of the grass. Moving along and casting I hooked a nice flattie of about 8-10 lbs and managed to farm it during the landing. Moving further along I felt something wiggling under my sandals and instinctively jumped. Another ray, I told Alex. A few more steps and I’m on another ray. I jumped up and came down on yet another ray. This one really made me nervous. Again, I leaped with my right foot and, hoping to avoid contact, trying to minimize my footprint by coming down with the heel. The foot slid down the sandals exposing the uncovered heel and I came down full force on still another ray.

Butterfly Ray
Butterfly Ray

The pain, my friends, was unbelievable. It felt as though a sharp dagger had been thrust into me. This was followed by a tearing sensation. The poor beast had lodged it’s spine in me and was now trying to escape. I could sense the flapping of it’s wings as the barb tore flesh during this whole sequence of events. At this point in time I let out a scream and threw my rod into the water (rusted reel bearings be damned) which scared Alex half to death.

The pain did not diminish from the moment of impact. I could not tell whether the fish was still attached to me, or the spine was left in the heel, or whatever. Alex jumped up and screamed as well having stepped on one, but luckily it didn’t draw flesh. The pain was so great that I couldn’t put weight on that leg. I lay down on my side trying to see the cause of it all. The examination revealed nothing extraordinary but the pain remained unabated.

It was a good 200 yds to the truck. Limping on one leg I cursed and swore the entire way. What now? My mind raced trying to remember the posts on stingrays. Ah yes, it was coming back to me. I had to either pee on it or submerge it in boiling water. Pee on it? What kind of advice is that? I couldn’t do it even if I had to. I was in a mild state of shock for crissake. Then I rememberd: that’s for jellyfish.

We got back to the truck and Alex set the water to boil. After the water reached a temperature I could barely tolerate I placed my foot into the pot. No change. I took it out and back in several times without any change whatsoever. By now the side of my leg and the groin area started to feel numb. I wondered just what kind of toxins were in that barb. Then I noticed that the tip of my nose was also feeling numb. I concluded that it was probably just a mild state of shock I was experiencing.

The hell with home remedies, I thought, and decided to get professional help. In the ensuing confusion Alex packed the stove by grabbing the grate with his hands and burned his fingers badly. He needed ice right away or they would blister. “It’s nothing, dad”, he told me but I knew better.

We raced across the salt flats to abreojos, my injured foot on the accelerator pedal. I grit my teeth and clenched the steering wheel periodically to deal with the mounting pain.

You’re soft, you old fool – I told myself. Your cushy desk job has made you soft. Where’s that legendary pain tolerance of your forefathers? Look, your 11 year old son shows more courage and dignity than you. Suck it up, for goshsakes!

Several well placed questions a Abreojos got us to the clinic. Using my left leg and right toes I limped into the office and proceeded to lay on the table. The doctor came in, stinking of gin (sorry amigos. Four solid weeks of repeated Beatle songs has taken it’s toll on me) and, after exchanging pleasantries, was told I’d need one shot in the foot, another in the gluteus maximus (“culo” – was an inaccurate term, he said), and some pills. Ninny that I am, I asked him if the shots will hurt. A lot less than the sting, was the answer. Alex later recalled that he lifted the loose flesh and inserted the needle into the opening. I felt a mild sting.

The Foot

A Sore Foot
Ahhhh! Miraculously, the relief was almost instantaneous. Within a minute all the pain was virtually gone.

I told the doctor about Alex’s burn and asked him for ice. The man examined his hand, gave him some pills, and assured me that his skin would be fine. Within hours the blister started to appear. The skin died in the next few days of second degree burns.

I was so overjoyed at the relief that I paid the doctor twice what he charged. He led us to a motel where I convalesced for a day, watching TV, sleeping, and reading a book about Frederick the Great which I found on the shelf.

Gradually I relaxed and a peculiar smile slowly spread across my face. “Thank you, baja”, I thought to myself, “Once again, thank you.”

A bit later, “ Should I tell them about this? Will they understand?”, I asked. “They’ll think you’re mad.”, came the response.

The End

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