To the dangers we face in Montana every summer add catfish.

Not catfishing.


My friend John ended up in the hospital recently after developing a life-threatening case of sepsis.

When I told my wife that John was hospitalized following a run-in with a catfish she thought I was talking about the deceptive activity where a person creates a phony identity in order to scam another person.

As a mystery writer that was her first thought.

As an angler who has caught a fair number of catfish in my life, I knew what it was — he got stuck.

Catfish will sting you if you aren’t careful. They have external spines near their fins, which are mildly venomous.

While handling catfish in the past I’ve occasionally gotten stuck by the spines. Those wounds always got infected and took a long time to heal.

But I never considered the wounds life-threatening.

John didn’t either. His hand was sore where he got stuck, but he didn’t worry much about it. A reverend, he even officiated his son’s wedding last weekend before developing flu-like symptoms, which resulted in a trip to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with sepsis.

He was told at the hospital that had he waited another day it might have been too late.

What a drag that would have been, to be done in by a channel cat from the Milk River.

So here’s my summer safety tip, advice a veteran catfisherman gave me years ago in Kentucky: cut off the spines with a pair of snips before you clean that fish. The spines are sharp and even a dead fish can stick you if not handled properly.

The sting of a catfish is comparable to that of a stingray. Were catfish called stingfish we would probably handle them more gingerly, but as catfish, we just toss them in a five-gallon bucket and clean them when we get home, usually getting stuck a couple of times in the process.

And just like the scratch from a cat always seems to get infected, the same can be said of a wound inflicted by the catfish. It’s not Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” but it takes forever to heal nonetheless.

I asked John if he was going to stop fishing and he just laughed. However, his wife, Anita, said she’d taken his fishing license and wasn’t giving it back. She wasn’t laughing, either.

Parker Heinlein is at