A Reader Writes: “It was THIS big!”

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I would be willing to bet that anyone reading this will either be a “narrator” or at least a “witness” of a fisherman who had “the one on the line and got away at the boat” story (and will generally stretch his/her hands out to emphasize the enormity of the scaled monster).  I’ve told a few of those stories (and heard many more) myself.  What I find equally interesting are all the other “encounters” we have with other wildlife while enjoying the sport of fishing.  I’ve seen mink combing the banks looking for (and sometimes catching) fish.  Raccoons are frequently seen as they search for frogs and crayfish (called “crawdads” down South) along the edge of the water.  I’ve been bombarded by acorns and hickory nuts as the squirrels were actively trying to harvest them from the trees above me.  Beavers will swim around as they do, and then slap their tails when alarmed by or annoyed with you.  I looked in amazement as a Great Blue Heron choked down a bass that was at least 12-inches long (I had to stop myself from using my hands again to gauge the length of the fish).  I’ve seen osprey swoop down and snag fish out of the water like it was effortless.  One time, my son pointed to this tan-colored animal that was walking close to the shoreline.  I thought it was a decent-sized dog, but upon closer inspection, it was a really big bobcat – the biggest I have ever seen.  And as expected, when we find ourselves bringing up the subject of the bobcat, the “hand gauge” is quickly employed.  

Kelly’s recent article about cottonmouths/water moccasins brought back a few stories in my mind in regards to encounters with reptiles while fishing in a boat.  Story number one: the copperhead.  When I was in college, I went fishing with two friends at a nearby lake.  I was a typical athletic build of 6’1” and 185 lbs.  My two companions were what most would consider the antithesis of a typical athletic build: short and VERY stout.  After a short time on the water, a storm set in and we headed over to this embankment so we wouldn’t be as much of a lightning rod out in the open water.  I grabbed onto a tree root to keep us from floating out from the shore.  I was located in the middle and each of my chubby friends were at the other ends of the boat.  After a few minutes there, I head a slight “plunk” as something hit the boat deck.  I looked down, and there was a small copperhead (maybe a foot-and-a-half long – it would be customary to use your two index fingers for sizing something not overly impressive in this case).  When it happened, I simply mentioned that a snake had fallen in the boat.  I might as well said someone dropped a live grenade in there instead, because although I have claimed my companions were not athletic, I don’t think an Olympic athlete would have been able to jump as fast as those two did.  Picture two guys weighing roughly 300+ lbs. each, crouched on top of a high (3-foot tall) bass seat.  My one friend kept on repeating over-and-over-again, “I hate snakes.  I hate snakes.  I hate snakes…”  The other was too shaken to speak.  Because it was just a little snake, I simply stepped on it and chopped off his head with a filet knife from my tackle box and tossed the two wiggling pieces overboard.  To my dismay, my two friends insisted we call it day after that.  I have heard some testimonies of people that have shot holes in their boats trying to kill the snake that got in there – based on my friend’s reaction, I don’t doubt it (assuming they didn’t shoot each other or themselves from the panic that gripped them first).

Story number two: the alligator.  Same time period, but with two different college friends fishing.  These two friends were not of the same type of physique as the previous two – which is good, because all three of us were fishing from a canoe.  It was typical to see alligators from time-to-time when fishing, but they were usually at a pretty-good distance away.  My one friend and I were haranguing our other friend because he was only interested in fishing for bream (pronounced “brim” which everyone else that does not live down South would call “bluegills”) and only real fishermen went after bass and didn’t waste their time with bream.  Halfway into the “debate” I looked to my right and this good sized (10-feet or so) alligator surfaces about 20-feet away.  My two friends see my expression and they look as well.  I will leave out the colorful euphemisms we used to describe this magnificent beast.  And, just like that, the alligator submerged itself quietly into the depths – we never saw it again.  I would like to say we didn’t give it a second thought and kept fishing, but I have to admit that each of us would periodically look over our shoulders for awhile thereafter, “to check out prominent fishing locations”.  

Last one, story number three: the cottonmouth.  Still in my college years, but this time with a friend and his father-in-law.  The father-in-law wanted us to go with him and catch some bream (bluegills) so we could fry them for supper.  As previously noted, real fishermen only fished for bass in my mind at that stage in my life, but, being a guest there, I was obliged to go along enthusiastically.  We went down to this swampy area and the three of us climbed into this little 10-foot shallow flat-bottomed boat.  With the combined weight in that little boat, there was maybe 2-inches of clearance between the rim of the boat and the water it sat in.  My friend and I start paddling out to the channel that was slowly running through the swamp.  We started catching some fish and were focused on that.  A short time later, I happened to glance over to my right and about 20-feet away (again) there was this large, chocolate brown (almost black) thing on this log.  My mind quickly rationalized that it was some type of branch or something on top of this log.  After a double-take, I realized that it was a HUGE cottonmouth.  Okay, I’m literally using my hands again to size up the diameter from the image that is forever burned into my memory and I’m coming up with 6-or-7-inches in diameter.  Cottonmouths are notorious for getting really “thick” when they get big like that – not a lot of length per se, but thick and heavy.  Now keep in mind, I have seen a lot of snakes, and some very large ones in the wild, but this cottonmouth was by far the biggest one I have ever seen in that species.  It was about 6-feet long and I already mentioned its diameter.  My two companions quickly took note when the expletives started flowing from my lips.  They saw the snake right before it slipped beneath the surface of the water and added a few expletives themselves.  Generally, snakes will start swimming at the surface as we have all seen them do when they are vacating an area – this one didn’t.  Like the alligator in the previous section, it just slid into the water without even making a ripple.  I kept looking for it to surface so I could gauge where it was, but it never came back up.  My mind kept circling back to the 2-inches of clearance between the rim of the boat and the water.  Couple that with the known fact of how aggressive cottonmouths are and you can imagine my angst.  Now, being in my 20’s at that time and full of testosterone, I couldn’t let on that the snake had unnerved me, but I can tell you in all honesty that I spent more times glancing off to the side than I did looking for a good spot to cast my line.  I’m in my mid-fifties now, and I still remember it like it was yesterday…

A Reader Writes was submitted by Rob P. Thank you for sharing these amazing first-hand experiences!