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Noxious Goo and a Stinger, Too

How to avoid jellyfish and stingrays — and what to do if they penetrate your defenses.

By Larry Bozka

When I tell nonanglers that I’m an avid wade fisherman, they usually predict that I will someday, inevitably, be attacked by a shark or ambushed by an alligator.

I assure them that the odds of either are far less likely than those of my graphite trout rod getting struck by lightning.

No, what I’m worried about, most every time I hop over the transom of my boat, are — and not in this order — jellyfish and stingrays.

Jellyfish tendrils etch meandering, watermelon-red welts onto exposed skin, but that’s about it (unless, of course, you’re allergic, in which case an agitated honeybee can do you in just as quickly).

Stingrays?

They’re another matter.

The southern stingray will not kill you. But it will, according to the guys I know who have “been hit,” at least briefly make you wish you were dead.

If this frightens you, take heart. Fear is a valuable defense mechanism, and if you play good defense, odds are you will never feel the scorch of a jellyfish burn or the outright agony of a stingray barb as it lances your Achilles tendon.

When I began wade fishing in the mid-1970s, the only effective stingray deterrent was the “bay bottom shuffle.”

Drag your feet, toes angled down, and shuffle. The bottom-hugging creatures almost always yield to a slowly shuffling wader.

Fortunately, nowadays, we also have the option of wearing the equivalent of bulletproof vests for our feet and calves. Though none are foolproof, ray-deflecting leggings and wading boots provide a remarkable and reassuring degree of protection.

I’d no sooner wade fish without my stingray boots than drive a destruction derby car without wearing a seatbelt.

Protective leggings sell for 50 to 60 bucks; calf-high boots go for double that. They’re worth it. (For quality examples, check out Tulsa-based Crackshot Corporation’s Sting Ray Guardz leggings, (800) 667-1753; or ForEverlast Hunting Products, Inc.’s line of Ray-Guard shields, reef boots and wading boots, manufactured in Hallettsville, Texas, (361) 798-1530 or www.foreverlast.com.)

The southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) spends most of its time peacefully at rest on the bottom, the thin fringes of its light brown “wings” covered by silt. Like flounder, a bedded ray can be difficult if not impossible to see, especially in deeper, off-colored waters.

Bay specimens are rarely larger than a garbage can lid. Still, even a small ray brandishes a short but sharp barb that, when reflexively lifted like a scorpion’s tail, can easily pierce leather boots.

After skin penetration or laceration, the sheath that surrounds the barb breaks and releases a potent toxin. Stingray victims experience a drop in blood pressure and increased pulse that can cause dizziness, and in some cases, shock, paralysis and even convulsions.

Mostly, it hurts like sin.

Hot water, gathered from a running outboard engine’s pump stream into a foot-wide bucket, will reduce the pain once the injured foot is immersed. It will not, however, eliminate it.

Nothing will. After a stingray incident, a hasty trip to the nearest emergency room is inevitable.

Jellyfish burns are not nearly so severe and are much more easily avoided. Prevention is as simple as wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and carefully inspecting the waters around you for gelatinous underwater bells.

In the unfortunate event of contact, a quick application of unseasoned meat tenderizer can help counteract the toxins.

Cannonball-shaped cabbageheads are abundant but harmless. Of concern to bay waders are moon jellies and sea nettles. In the surf, the deceptively pretty purplish bubble of the Portuguese man of war always signals trouble.

All of these creatures can trail surprisingly long tentacles that, as individual “nematocysts” with microscopic stingers, can irritate the skin even when broken free.

Keep yourself covered, from clothed arms and legs to ballistics cloth-armored calves and feet, and your next trip is no more likely to be interrupted by jellyfish and stingrays than it will be by “wader-eating” sharks and alligators.

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