SAN DIEGO — Lou Wiczai has accumulated thousands of fish stories in 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 from a severe gash on his left arm inflicted by a 60-pound wahoo that leaped 12 feet out of the water and slashed Wiczai's arm with its teeth Sunday morning while he was fishing about 230 miles south of the Baja California port of Cabo San Lucas.
"All I thought was, 'What a hell of a thing to happen,' " Wiczai said, his left arm heavily bandaged.
"It's tough. . . . I was just starting a 16-day fishing trip," he said, joking.
But the potential seriousness of the injury was not lost on the former chief warrant officer, who served 23 years in the Navy.
"I threw up my arm to the right to protect my face," Wiczai said. "If I hadn't put my arm up, (the fish) would have hit me in the face."
Wiczai estimated that the fish was moving at 60 m.p.h.
The wahoo, which is related to the mackerel, crossed part of the deck and and then dropped back into the ocean after slashing a three-inch cut in Wiczai's arm.
When asked about the toughness of old sailors, Wiczai replied: "That old wahoo probably lost some of his dentures after he went back in the water."
Fellow fishermen and crew members of the 92-foot Royal Star, chartered out of Fisherman's Landing in San Diego, immediately put 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 for help. "The crew really knew what it was doing."
At Socorro Island, he was treated by Mexican doctors, who called in the Coast Guard because the island didn't have the facilities to fully care for Wiczai's injury.
The Coast Guard flew Wiczai to San Diego on Sunday night for treatment at Balboa Park Navy Hospital.
"My arm feels good right now," said Wiczai, who suffered injured tendons and muscles.
Officials said Wiczai will probably be at the hospital all week.
Despite the incident, Wiczai does not intend to give up his favorite pastime.
"I was born a fisherman," he said. "My wife says anyone who enjoys it as much as I do should do it."