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Beulah boy is bait for caught catfish

AP photo In this Aug. 24 photo, Kurt, left, and his son, Dawson Dutchuk, 8, pose for a photo, in Beulah, N.D. Dawson Dutchuk caught a catfish that put him in the hospital for four days and gave him a new respect for the bony barbs that grow on the rear sides and top of the heads of catfish.1 / 2
AP photo In this Aug. 24 photo, Kurt Dutchuk holds the bony barb of a catfish that penetrated his son's hand in Beulah, N.D.2 / 2

BEULAH, N.D. (AP) -- Dawson Dutchuk, 8, of Beulah, caught his first fish with a Snoopy pole when he was a toddler and he's caught thousands since.

Recently, he caught one that put him in the hospital for four days and gave him a new respect for the bony barbs that grow on the rear sides and top of the heads of catfish.

Dawson and his dad, Kurt Dutchuk, started the day, Aug. 19, like hundreds of others. They were in the boat, loaded with poles and bait, headed out to do what they both love best.

It was the second day the Garrison Dam Tailrace boat ramp had been reopened to the public, so at first light, they headed up the spillway pilot channel, where fishing has been out of this world in recent weeks.

They had been up there the day before and hoped to repeat an "awesome" experience, in which they'd caught literally 100 fish or more.

Dawson's uncle and grandpa were along for the day.

In a few hours, they had their limit of 20 walleye and also 12 4- to 10-pound catfish, kind of as a "heard they're good, let's try 'em" experiment.

"The live well was heaping full of fish," Kurt Dutchuk said.

They left the water and headed over to the cleaning station at Lake Sakakawea State Park.

The fish were transferred into a large cooler and it was Dawson's job to pull them out and hand them over to the grownups for cleaning and filleting.

"He reached in for a walleye and started screaming," his dad said. "He had a 6-pound catfish stuck to his hand."

The catfish had thrashed its head in the cooler and one of its 2-inch, serrated barbs penetrated Dawson's right hand. An X-ray later showed the barb penetrated his hand about halfway through, past the first two finger bones in his palm.

Not only that, but the barb on the opposite side of the catfish's head speared a walleye in the same thrashing, so Dawson had not one but two fish dangling from his hand.

Kurt Dutchuk said it was a pretty horrific sight, but his son's obvious pain and fear were even worse.

He quickly cut the fish away, leaving the protruding barb and took his son to the Hazen hospital emergency room.

"I could see it was a big relief when we got the fish off his hand," Kurt Dutchuk said. Relieved but still afraid, on the way to the Hazen hospital Dawson wanted to know, "Am I going to die?"

At the hospital, it was apparent the barb wasn't going to pull straight out because of the serrations in the barb's bony cartilage, so the Dutchuks were sent to Medcenter One in Bismarck.

A doctor there grabbed the protruding end with a tool and screwed and twisted until it came out.

Dawson said it felt like jerking inside, but it wasn't painful because of numbing injections.

An infectious disease specialist wanted Dawson admitted and kept on intravenous antibiotics for four days, during which time Dawson enjoyed being coddled by nurses and having his folks sleep in the same room.

"He felt pretty much like a king," his dad said. He was released and asked to go fishing the next day, the last before school started.

His mom, Sandra Dutchuk, went along and wanted to catch a couple of catfish just to see the type that had injured her boy.

Dawson kind of shrugged and said he was OK with that.

"It doesn't matter if we catch catfish," he said.

All that remained of the experience were the memories and a small red spot where the barb penetrated his flesh. Infection never did set in.

Kurt Dutchuk said he'll cut off the barbs before keeping any catfish in the future.

As to the offender, it never made it past the grinder at the fish cleaning station.

"We got the last word," Kurt Dutchuk said.