Survival photo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has warned boaters to go slow and be vigilant on the Choctawhatchee River after an 8-year-old boy fishing with his family last month was hit by a leaping Gulf sturgeon. He was hospitalized with two skull fractures.

According to a release from the FWC, the boy’s father, Wilson Smith, said he was simply enjoying a day on the water with his son Nathanial, his daughter, and his nephew, when the three to four-foot long fish suddenly appeared.

“We were bream fishing and it started to rain, so we cranked up and the kids huddled under a tarp in the front of the boat,” Smith said. “The sturgeon just came out of nowhere, and I yelled and tried to cut the motor but it was too late,” the child’s father told FWC.

The fish actually collided with all three children, knocking Smith’s 16-year old daughter, Amber, out of the boat. But it was young Nathanial who took the brunt of the impact. He was knocked unconscious and a later exam revealed he incurred two skull fractures. He was flown to Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System in Panama City, then on to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, but was released on July 2 and is now recovering at home.

“I’ve fished the river before but I never even thought that a sturgeon might jump and hurt you. That’s just something you don’t ever expect to experience,” Smith said.

The FWC said there have been numerous other cases of leaping sturgeon striking anglers, but don’t have any clues as to why the fish take to the air, so recommend anyone motoring in areas frequented by the fish to travel with caution.