The Sea of Cortez, wow, what a incredible place to search for yourself. It's where I like to fish, it's where I like to go on vacation and it is a place that I enjoy studying. John Steinbeck, a Nobel Laureate, also loved the Sea of Cortez. He wrote an account of a marine biological expedition based on collecting life in the littoral zone. Mr Steinbeck mixes introspection and life in "The Log from the Sea of Cortez." Really it is a magic place to fish and to find the shadow that follows freedom and doubt.
I fish the beaches of Puerto Penasco in the Norte' of the Mar de Cortez. The beaches in this area contain some of the largest swings of tide in the world. Spring tides can vary up to and more than twenty five vertical feet in a six hour period. With all that water moving in and out, the fish at times are concentrated at the edges of this huge tide. The receding water exposes life, stranding some of the food chain. The onrush of the incoming tide carries the fish, consuming the lower links in the chain.
With the Sea of Cortez only a few hours away, I am always not too far from it to dream, to study and realize just how amazing this diverse area is. Always I return, for more than twenty years now. It is May, already I have fished nine days there since the new year. Nine days is a lot for me, I am a small stream fisherman with a family, dividing my time with family and fresh water, the sea comes only second to my beautiful boys, my lovely Melissa. Sometimes the fish population is not there, not what it used to be. What I can only think of is that the water has been slow to warm and perhaps the gill netters have taken their toll in the area. I do fish where there are panga camps, hey, they have to eat too, a necessary evil. But the water is warming now, the fish are returning.
Loading up, stowing rods, making the trip across the Sonoran Desert, one of the most inhospitable in the world, we arrive at our seaside destiny. Settling in, tapping into the rhythm of the tide takes only minutes. My fishing time soon comes. 8a and I am marching the sand of my favorite beach. -.8m up to +4.88 in the swing of six hours, incredible. That is almost 19 vertical feet change in depth. Hmmm, 19' is how many inches? My Visor with the tide table and calculator says 19' is 228" change of water depth. Six hours is 360 minutes so that makes .63" per minute increase in depth. Now that I have done this math, I can understand why the hair on my legs stands up when casting for only a few minutes so far from shore, the depth is increasing at a rate that I really can feel.
Soon I approach my favorite area, a huge fan shaped flat of sand with points of coral reef on each side. Here is where I search for myself, the elusive corBina, the bonefish and well, I try to elude the sting rays that outnumber the pelicans that this area is known for. My friend Chef called it, "the gauntlet" and on one trip together, Tuco and Blondie had run this gauntlet with hundreds of these stinging rays all around, fishing the rising tide, all the way. April and May are the mating season for Sting Rays in Mar de Cortez del Norte'.
A cruising sting ray
Baitfish proliferate. I've seen a ball of bait four times as large as our twenty five foot boat. Within casting range there is a small shower of bait breaking the surface. Two or three corVina are rolling through in the middle. Quickly I shuffle about twenty feet into the water and five or six dinner plate size sting rays appear out of the sand scattering more as they head out to deeper water. Gees, looks like the gauntlet all over. Taking out about 17 or 18 strips of line, false cast, false cast, shoot, yes, just to the side and leading the bait spray. Stripping line next to the melee, hook up yes! The first corVina of the season! Fighting this fish I get so excited, all the troubles of the slow year melting away I pull even harder and slack. Slack line, I pulled the little Deceiver free. There are more fish out near the points, I'm headed there and carefully turn, not forgetting the gauntlet.
I shuffle forward, inching lightly, WHAM!!! I am struck by lighting in my left foot. Screaming, I pick up my foot and before I can realize what has happened, a puff of blood emits from my Orvis neoprene boot. Quickly a wave of nausea overcomes me, sting ray. I'm only a few steps from dry sand but I still shuffle, a little deeper this time. Reaching the sand, I peel the boot and sock of my foot to expose a small hole in the top of my foot. From it, blood nearly pours. The ray has hit my dorsal arch vein, one that feeds the saphenous main vein of the lower leg. I pull out my sting ray kit, apply pressure with a moist antiseptic towellette. Shit, the pain is building already. Pain is not commensurate with the size of a sting ray wound. Neuro toxic proteins are present in the barb. These proteins are labile, not effected by anecdotal remedies such as pissing or meat tenderizer. A hot soak in fresh water, hot as you can stand is the only thing that works at denaturing the poison. Lucky for me, I am an anesthesia technician, quickly I dispense with the localized pain.
To catch Yellowfin Croaker, you must run the guantlet
It is a quarter of a mile straight back to the high tide line. A mile to the car. The pain is blocked to some degree but my mind is reeling. Will the direct vein hit affect me systemically? Will I pass out? Laying here on the beach alone, a mile from anyone else, tide rising quickly, I could drown without even being seen. Time to go, now. Walking takes my mind off of the pain of missing fishing. My thoughts turn to Steinbecks book on collecting life in the tide zone, surely someone else ran the gauntlet.
I am told, "Adam, what makes you think that you aren't sneaking up on the rays?" and with that single sentence, I am reminded how I have become complacent with my sting ray attitude. Sneaking up to fish, practicing not swishing the water, all the Tae Kwon Do training, the "zeroing your mind" ninjitsu notion of seperating one's mind from body, the stealthing approach and I've dropped my Marlwalker boots for neoprene flat boots. No protection against rays, lightly tread where a full shuffle should be, forgot to look for signs of rays buried. All of these things have contributed to my wound and this is as good as time as any to begin my side bar into ray research... With a simple thought, I am put back into my place, the sting ray wound is my focus. Wives have a way of looking through the complicated minds of men. So I visit the Pope for a few beers and my mind is taken off my stupidity. Only once more did I joint the rod that trip and then I was walking on eggshells.
Let's just run this forward a little, running in many ways...
Today is Thursday after the weekend trip. Already I have been to the doctor for food poisoning. The doctor enjoyed talking with me about Mexico and my sting ray adventure, he knows me from surgery and I give him great credit as a diagnostician. His skills at figuring out my ailments the first time are excellent. I am given a gram of Rocephin, a course of Cipro and cultures of what flows beneath. I am told by him, "never eat shellfish in months that don't contain an R." An anecdote, with an antidote. They do both run hand in hand, I will take them both.
I am not disappointed or even determined to do anything other than have a good time. These things are a part of nature, a part of my adventure. Here at the Sea of Cortez, I learn about myself and at the same time, the nature of life. There are caveats in all that we do. Mikeytwoshoes, one of our members has suggested that "...one may bring on their own fate." and with that, I could not agree with him more. If I am to walk among the rays, then I will feel their sting if I tread on them. I must simply learn to walk among them without disturbing my sole, so to speak.
If you are stung by a sting ray.
#1. Seek medical attention. The barb from the sting ray often breaks off in the victim and this needs to be removed. In Puerto Penasco, the red cross will treat your sting ray wound with an anesthetic injection, this will relieve the pain. If you can't get to treatment soon, soak the extremity in fresh water as HOT as you can stand. Heat denatures the poison. This will relieve the pain.
#2. Meat Tenderizer, urinating, tooth paste, rubbing sand into the wound are all anecdotal and may even serve more harm than good. Heat breaks down the poison, ultimately relieving the pain. I know this works from personal experience. Soak the wound in as hot of water you can stand and change the water often to keep the water hot. This will relieve the pain.
#3. Sting Ray wounds are known to produce cardiac dysrhythmias, convulsions, dyspnea, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps etc. If you are prone to anaphylaxis due to bee stings or other allergic reactions, seek medical attention immediately. Heat breaks down the poison, ultimately relieving the pain. I know this works from personal experience. Soak the wound in as hot of water you can stand and change the water often to keep the water hot. This will relieve the pain. Better yet, don't run the gauntlet.
2. Principles and Practice of Emergency Medicine, George R.Schwartz, M.D. (Fourth Edition) Part IV pages 1532-1533
3. Environmental Emergencies, Charles E. Stewart, M.D., F.A.C.E.P. pages 212-214
March, April and May seem to be the months where the sting ray spawn in the shallow water sandy bottom. Las Conchas is particularly full of these sting rays, they are also at Sandy Beach but not as many of them are there. They are sort of like Rattlesnakes of the sea, they do not want to be bothered and will not swim up and sting you, you will have to step on one in order to get stung or pick one up, don't do that.
Hot water helps speed up the process of denaturing the enzyme/poison. A local anethetic block will dispense the pain and is the best way. If you are stung in Puerto Penasco, get to the Red Cross, fast. They will do the same thing, block the pain and watch for a anaphylactic reaction. It hurts very badly. I've been nailed twice, once barefoot, the next through a flats neoprene boot. The first time I didn't have the tools and had to drink much Tequilla, problem is, even Tequilla doesn't make that sort of pain go away, it just makes it easier to ignore it. The pain lasts for about six or so hours and comes in waves, stronger, then subsiding, then stronger again...
When the wind is up, Blue Bottle Jellyfish or Portugese Man-of-War get blown to the beach. They look like a blue snot bubble with string. Don't get near them. The long string is very small and contains the barbed cysts that inflict an electric shock sort of pain. This is what the hot water treatment works well on. I've been stung by them a few times, it's not as bad as a sting ray but still hurts like hell.
Here are a couple of typical Man-of-War from this last weekend. The in the summer, when the wind is up for a couple of days is when you will see them the most on the beaches. They are up in the scruff at the edges of the tide swings. As I said, they look like blue snot. Don't get near them, they have about a 2-3' long strings attached that is hard to see. Sometimes these things break off and you will get zapped without anything visible.
DO NOT PUT YOUR HAND DOWN TO WIPE IT OFF.
Try to find something to pull it off, pull your shirt off or use some sea weed or a napkin. Don't spread it to your hand.
The hot water treatment works really well for these guys. It is not nearly as bad as a sting ray hit...
Don't let all this pain deter your trips to the sea, just shuffle your feet when crossing expanses of sand and don't get near any blue snot and you are all set. I trust my kids to frolic and play in the Mar de Cortez, I just teach them, it's like anything, inform them how to respect the ocean.
My sting ray kit
More information on fishing the beaches and estuaries of Puerto Penasco can be found
Mon Jun 20, 2005 7:15 pm
Vinegar works well to neutralize the alkaline poison from a jellyfish sting as it is primarily acetic acid
Tue Aug 02, 2005 8:30 pm
I always carry a small bottle of vinegar in my first-aid kit just for jellyfish. It generally lessens the stinging almost immediately.