Robert Hitt Neill column
Published 12:00 am Monday, June 16, 2008
We were flying-fishing along, quietly working a popping bug in and out among the willows and cypress knees, picking up a slab bream now and then, being kind of quiet and laid back on a late summer morning.
Earlier, at daybreak, we had motored up to a little pothole that we could only get into at just the right river stage on this oxbow lake. Beavers had built a substantial dam across the little channel we used to enter the pond, and when we reached the dam, I had stepped off the bow on the boat onto the stick-and-mud structure, and boosted the john boat across, then jumped back in.
Now we had fished all the way around the pond, had an ice chest full of big bream, and were ready to slide back across the dam, motor down the channel back into the lake, and cross over to where our truck was parked.
As we approached the dam, I reeled in until I had just enough line out to hook the popping bug onto the reel guide, sticking the little black dropper fly’s hook into the cork handle. Big Robert had taught me to use a black fly about eight inches behind the popping bug, and often I’d bring in two bream on the same cast.
I laid my rod in the boat, grabbed the side rails, and prepared to step out onto the dam to boost the boat over. Then I saw one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen: a big purple-colored bream that probably weighed over a pound rose silently above the other side of the dam, flopping its tail and looking at me sideways. I mean, the fish was on its side! I stood to get a better look.
And wished I hadn’t. The big bream was sideways, all right. It was being held thataway in the mouth of one of the biggest water moccasins I’ve even seen.
The snake’s head was almost a foot out of the water with its prize in its mouth, but the bream was so big that, looking straight at it, I couldn’t see the snake holding it!
Needless to say, I did not step out of the boat onto that beaver dam. The snake finally noticed that its path was blocked by our boat, and turned to head the other way, swimming away from us head-high with the bream in its jaws. My question the rest of the month was: where was that snake when I had jumped so nimbly onto the dam at first light?
I was wade-fishing once in a shallow pond, casting a fly back toward the bank. When I’d hook a bream, I’d string it onto the nylon stringer I had tied to my belt.
I learned that technique fishing for speckled trout at Chandelier Island, then unlearned it when a shark chomped down on Big Robert’s stringer of specks. St. Peter is not the only mortal man to walk on the water, though it’s better to water-walk by faith than fear. Big Robert pulled that shark halfway up on the beach.
Anyhoo, I was picking up a bream pretty regularly when my stringer snagged on a stump or underwater brush top. I jerked it loose without looking, but it didn’t release, so I jerked again.
That time, it jerked back!
I looked behind me to see a moccasin with a mouthful of my bream, attached to my belt by a nylon cord, which subsequently proved strong enough to pull a couple dozen big bream and a four-foot snake slap up onto dry land.
I mean, I was a long way from the water when I finally got my belt off to drop the stringer! Bad thing was (for the moccasin) that the fish seemed stuck in his throat, and he couldn’t spit it out to bite me when I returned with a limb to end his appetite problems.
I used to fish with a guy who loved to aggravate a snake by casting just past its head with a popping bug, then jerking the lure back across the serpent to set the hook. He’d play the snake just like a big fish until he had it close enough to whack with a paddle, breaking its neck.
I didn’t think it was near’bout as much fun as he did! Nor did the snakes.
He finally got cured of the habit when he hooked a really big moccasin on his fly rod, and the snake instantly charged his boat!
One doesn’t want any viper in the boat, much less a big moccasin that’s mad at you personally.
The guy jumped up on the middle seat and held the fly rod as far out as possible, but the snake bent the rod double trying to get to him.
It took a 300 magnum to settle that! Luckily, a nearby fisherman had his rifle close by in his truck and heard the cries for help.
From the fisherman, not the snake.