Perhaps its some ancestral, primitive
thing that resides somewhere in the
brain stem, where the "lower" functions
of our nervous system operate, but I
Personally, I think I have good reason.
Some of them will kill you, for starters.
That's a good reason to hate snakes. I don't
think that I'm very bothered by the whole
Adam and Eve and the snake story, or the
Chitimacha tradition that Bayou Teche was
created by a giant snake that took many
warriors to kill. No, like Indiana Jones,
I think I just hate snakes because they
give me the heebie-jeebies.
I don't kill animals indiscriminately. When
I was ten years old I got my first real pellet
gun, a pump Benjamin that was my grandfather's.
I still have that air rifle, and it's the
straightest shooting weapon I have ever fired,
bar none. Upon receiving it, I promptly went
into the back yard and killed a bright red
cardinal. Stupid, stupid, stupid but it had
to be done to realize the waves of grief and
shame that overcame me. I stood there with my
dad, who stayed silent but grim, and decided
right then that I would never shoot another
thing. For this reason, I have never been a
So much as I hate snakes, I don't kill them
just on general principle. I remember killing
three snakes in my life. Two were water
moccasins, and all were behaving badly. The
water moccasin is a viper that has a terribly
aggressive disposition. They do not need to be
provoked, they go looking for trouble. They're
the snake world's Leroy Brown. When I was a
lad, my father and I got run out of Cotton
Canal (so named because of the abundance of
cottonmouth snakes) after several water
moccasins decided they wanted the fish we
had in the boat. Dad killed two with his paddle,
but they started coming at the boat from all
directions. We fled under power, the outboard
tapping and at times bashing logs as we went.
Dad never ran the outboard in Cotton Canal, but
a hasty retreat was in order. Over the years,
I have killed water moccasins who tried similar
raids on my creel, and once shot a copperhead
that killed my beloved springer spaniel Shadow.
Last Saturday morning, early, the weather
was exceptionally nice, but I knew that by
mid-afternoon temperatures would be dropping
and winds kicking. Sunday would be low-forties,
with a hard freeze predicted that night. Early
Saturday morning, then, I grabbed a rod and
went to a pond for what I figured would be my
only chance to fish since weeks ago, and
probably for weeks to come.
A spat of temperatures in the seventies
for three days had warmed the air and
water a bit, and I managed two small bass
and one midget bream. I was walking the
edge of the pond, casting a small Clouser,
and looked down just in time to freeze into
stone before I set my foot down on a coiled
I looked at him. He looked at me, tongue
flicking. I eased back from the serpent,
which even coiled created an impressive
mound of leathery black skin. The rod was
in my right hand, my tackle bag in my left,
and I stood there as still as I could.
Coiled as it was, the snake was ready to
Every water moccasin I had ever seen
flashed through my mind in a split second.
The ones that ran me and my father out of
Cotton Canal; those who had tried to take
my own fish years later; a day when I was
paddling the boat up to an ancient Chitimacha
shell mound on the shore of Lake Fausse Pointe
and when the bow touched the white clamshell,
the mass of what I thought were tangled tree
roots instantly came alive. Fangs seemingly
the length of daggers gleamed everywhere, and
the ground suddenly writhed with dozens of
water moccasins picking their heads up at my
intrusion. The whole mass of them moved, a
seething horror, right at the boat. I paddled
furiously, and they pursued into the water, and
like my dad that day in Cotton Canal, I started
the outboard to flee, nearly knocking the bottom
out of the bateau on a submerged stump.
There at the edge of the pond last weekend,
the snake coiled eighteen inches from my feet,
the revulsion and terror set in again. I
thought crazily about hitting it with the
butt of my rod, but figured wisely that a)
I'd probably just tick it off, and b) I might
break my Granger reel seat. I'd rather get
I stood there, unmoving, barely breathing,
for minutes. The snake never took its eyes
from me. Finally I could bear it no more.
Since he refused to relent, I did the only
thing brave, noble and heroic possible: I
slowly bent my knees, so slowly it was barely
perceptible, and leaped sideways, a remarkable
four feet, landing in a run and hauling tail
like a banshee, tackle pack bouncing off my
knees and Granger held over my head like a
cavalry officer's saber.
About half a mile away - okay, it only seemed
that far - I stopped and looked back, panting.
I half expected the water moccasin to have
chased me and would be there to sink its fangs
into my thigh. But there on the pond, I saw it
just slithering into the water, head up, and
swim into a patch of willows nearby.
When I read fly fishing stories from other
parts of the nation, there are often encounters
with bears involved. I certainly do not think
I would ever want to run into a bear while
fishing, but let me tell you, a water moccasin
snake eighteen inches from your leg ain't worth
pecan for a relaxing day on the water.
After catching my breath, I figured it was time
to head for the shack. I suddenly realized I was
standing in a field of tall grass, and the image
of rattlesnakes and copperheads came to mind. My
trek back to the truck was made with much care
and not a little whimpering. When I got home,
I found myself watching the driveway as I walked,
and peeking into the front door after I unlocked
it. There were snakes hiding in every corner of
the house, under the sofa cushions, in the
kitchen cabinets, one jumped out at me from
the fridge, but no, that was only a yard of
Cajun sausage for the gumbo I would be cooking
later that day in advance of the cold weather.
I was hallucinating badly, and when the network
cable of my laptop made me jump out of my shoes,
I sat down for an hour to recompose myself.
Snakes have their place in the natural world,
and I maintain my vow of "live and let live."
I just question now and then if the agreement
is reciprocal. ~ Roger