T ime and tide finally caught up with me. After more than 50 years of “pushing green water” while wade fishing and surfing, I was hit by a stingray.
Over the years I’ve had several near misses with the dreaded “male flounder.” Back when high-topped Converse tennis shoes were standard issue as part of the soggy uniform of the day for Gulf Coast wade fishing, I was working through thigh-deep water near Port O’Connor. I felt the violent flurry and brief bump of a sizeable fish take off from the soft bottom underfoot. Nothing happened; no pain.
Back in the boat, I noticed an inch-long slice in the side of the canvas shoe near my arch. A ray’s barbed spine had whipped past, missing the ankle by a fraction.
Another time, I was wading across a small cove behind the Chandeleur Islands. The calm water was about knee deep and clear. As I looked ahead, I was horrified to see the sand bottom was littered with stingrays—yes, southern stingrays, not cow rays.
I could see six or eight nasty-looking saucers within my cone of vision. I have no idea what prompted such a concentration, but I was less interested in the communal patterns of rays and more concerned with the old plight of the fat rat. I didn’t want the cheese anymore; I just wanted my foot out of the trap.
I shuffled toward the bank, stirring a righteous mud cloud and sweeping the rod tip back and forth like a mine detector. A ray flushed with a ripple of wings every few yards, but I reached the beach unscathed.
Several friends were hit while wading near me, including one guy in the surf who stepped on one of the big Gulf stingrays. The barbed spine tore into his calf, knocking him off his feet in waist-deep water.
He yelled and thrashed. My first reaction was that a shark had grabbed his stringer. The wound was terrible, requiring a year to properly heal.
Now it was my turn for the whip to come down. Or up, as the case may be.
I was surfing—bad luck there since I don’t even surf that much anymore. Paddling a 10-foot Malibu shooter with an AARP card in one hand and a Medicare card in the other becomes increasingly difficult.
The incident occurred near the Surfside Jetty, near Freeport. The water was green, and the surf was breaking in clean lines about 100 yards off the beach. I caught a nice wave and got a decent ride.
I hopped off the board and prepared to go back out. The idea along the shallow sand bottom of the Texas coast is to push the board into, say, waist-deep water before paddling.
You walk beside the board, holding it near the tail and pointing the nose straight into the rolling whitewater. As each inshore wave hits, you push the buoyant board up and over the tumbling rubble and more-or-less hop forward.
This technique works well at advancing the board, but it is contrary to the defensive stingray shuffle. Each hop brings a bare foot plunging down from nowhere.
On the third or fourth hop, my right foot brushed the back of a stingray cozied into the sand. Zap! They don’t call ‘em “stingrays” for nothing.
An electric shock exploded through my foot and up the calf. I slid onto the board, unmindful of the rolling whitewater and lifted my leg onto the deck. Blood pumped from a stab wound on the inside of the heel, and it burned like fire. The puncture didn’t look like much, maybe 1/8th of an inch across, but I had no idea how deep it was or whether the serrated spine had broken off inside.
I paddled to the beach, grabbed the board and limped toward the Surfside Jetty Park parking lot. As I went, I left a reliable trail of red splotches across the sand and up the granite rocks and across the paved lot. Stinging, pulsing pain radiated up my calf as I loaded the board and fumbled for the vehicle keys.
I was alone, not totally unusual on a day trip to the beach, but not a very smart idea. I had no first aid kit in the SUV—a rookie mistake for any beachgoer.
The foot was really hurting. I debated calling 911, but that sounded a bit dramatic so I committed to driving the 10 or 12 miles to medical aid in Lake Jackson. A beach towel folded on the floorboard provided a measure of cushion.
Twice on Highway 332 I felt dizzy and lightheaded—again, driving was not a wise move. I pulled over each time for several minutes and regrouped.
Fortunately, traffic was light, a smooth flow to Lake Jackson and the Brazosport Regional Health System. The emergency room attendant saw my awkward gait, pained face and bloody towel. “Stingray? We’ve seen several this week.”
He put me in a chair, and within minutes a nurse brought a pail of hot water in which to soak my foot. The pain stopped. Heat applied directly to the wound is, truly, the best first aid for a stingray hit. It somehow neutralizes the venom. Of course, you don’t know how “dirty” the stab is.
A doctor X-rayed my foot and pronounced the wound clean, with no pieces of spine imbedded. All the initial bleeding probably helped flush the channel.
With a bandaged heel and an antibiotic prescription for Doxycycline Hyclate, I was on my way. I believe the official report was “Puncture Wound of Foot; Marine Envenomation.” Several days later, the stab stopped draining and healed with no infection.
The summer season is underway. Beachgoers and bay/surf waders should pay attention and shuffle whenever possible. I was lucky. But, finally speaking as a blooded veteran, I can say you don’t want any part of even a minor stingray hit.
Email Joe Doggett at
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]