SAN DIEGO — Lou Wiczai has accumulated thousands of fish stories from a lifetime of angling, but the 71-year-old retired Navy veteran would rather forget the tale he's telling these days.
The Fountain Valley resident is recovering in Navy Hospital here from a vicious gash on his left arm inflicted by a 60-pound wahoo, which jumped 12 feet out of the water and slashed Wiczai's arm Sunday morning about 230 miles south of the Baja California fishing port of Cabo San Lucas.
"All I thought was, 'What a hell of a thing to happen,' " Wiczai said as he recounted his ordeal to reporters, his left arm heavily bandaged.
"It's tough . . . I was just starting a 16-day fishing trip."
But the seriousness of Wiczai's wound was not lost on the former chief warrant officer, who served 23 years in the Navy.
"The man next to me was bringing in his reel (line) when up comes this wahoo. . . . I threw my arm to the right to protect my face," Wiczai said.
"If I hadn't put my arm up it would have hit me in the face."
Wiczai estimated that the fish was traveling at about 60 m.p.h. when it sailed out of the water and into his path at about 8 a.m.
The fish, a member of the mackerel family, which includes tunas, flew over part of the deck and back into the ocean after inflicting a three-inch cut on Wiczai's arm.
"That old wahoo probably lost some of his dentures after he went back in the water," Wiczai commented later.
Fellow anglers and crew members of the 92-foot Royal Star, chartered out of Fisherman's Landing in San Diego, immediately placed pressure on Wiczai's wound and took him 200 miles to Socorro Island for treatment.
He said the crew was "outstanding" during the six-hour trip.
"The crew really knew what it was doing," he said.
At Socorro Island he was treated by doctors who called in the Coast Guard because the facilities needed for further treatment of Wiczai's injury were not available on the island.
A Coast Guard Falcon jet transported Wiczai to the Navy Hospital in San Diego Sunday night.
"My arm feels good right now," said Wiczai, who suffered tendon and muscle damage of his left arm.
Hospital officials said Wiczai will probably be kept at the hospital at least through the rest of the week.
In the meantime, Wiczai said he's not going to give up on his favorite pastime.
"I was born a fisherman. . . . My wife says anyone who enjoys it as much as I do should do it."