U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory
Fort Rucker, Alabama
We all know the dangers of snakes — especially those of us who live in the South, where the weather is hospitable nearly year round for the slithering serpent. If you see a snake, usually you won’t have any issues if you just leave it alone. That was not the case in my situation.
A couple years ago, my brother, Ben, and I decided to go fishing at a friend’s family pond. We arrived early to avoid the heat, loaded our gear into a small aluminum jon boat and shoved off into the water. We only had one paddle and Ben had it at the rear of the boat to control our direction around the pond.
We were about an hour into our outing when I saw a water moccasin on the far side of the pond. I pointed it out to Ben and we continued fishing in our area. A few minutes later, I noticed the moccasin again, swimming in a back-and-forth “S” pattern. Ben and I decided we’d just stay away from that portion of the pond and continued fishing for another 15 minutes or so, catching a few bass here and there.
Now comes the good part! I cast my rod and got hung in a tree. I should’ve just cut the line, right? Absolutely not! That was a $12 lure stuck up there. I tugged and pulled to no avail. At the same time, the moccasin resumed its “S” pattern swim about 35 yards away. I continued to tug on my line, trying to get my lure free as the snake swam farther from shore. I jokingly told Ben that if the snake came in our direction, he’d have to kill it. “I’ll save you, little brother,” Ben replied.
Apparently, I had managed to cast my lure into the strongest pine tree branch in the world and it was not coming free. Suddenly, the snake, now about 30 yards away, made a beeline for the front-right side of the boat, where I was seated. I pulled harder on my line, as my flimsy rod was the only thing I had to defend myself from the snake. At 20 yards I hollered, “Brother, you better kill that ‘bleeping’ snake!” Ben told me to calm down. As the snake drew closer with Michael Phelps-like speed, I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing Ben tying on a rubber worm, not even paying attention.
When the scaled beast closed the gap to around 10 yards, it raised its head off the water in an offensive striking posture. Then I noticed something. The two of us, one tall and one large, had managed to press the boat’s buoyancy limits. It was apparent to me that the amount of boat sticking out of the water was less than the height of the snake’s head above water — and it was coming directly at me.
I cannot stress how quickly this snake moved on top of the water. As it crossed past the 5-yard marker, I thought it was just seconds from laying its head down in the boat and striking me until I was dead. In an attempt to save my own life, I began to rock the boat to the left to raise the right side to block the snake’s entry. When the boat was at its lowest point, Ben yelled, “What are you doing?” He then picked up the paddle and struck the moccasin just feet from the edge of the boat. With the threat neutralized, Ben turned to me and asked what I would have done had I turned the boat over and was in the water with the snake. I remember saying a few curse words and something about walking on water like Jesus.
You can see in the photo that this was a big water moccasin. I have seen some snakes that become aggressive as you approach them, but I have never seen a snake charge at a boat fully intending on breaching it. We assume that there was a nest in the corner of the pond where it came from, but again, we were 30-plus yards away. After all was said and done, Ben, a former Marine, told me the snake’s body was so stout that striking it felt like hitting a galvanized telephone pole guyed wire.
The lesson I took from this experience was to never let your guard down. We fished this pond multiple times and never saw a snake. Sure, we’d encountered water moccasins on some local lakes, but I’d never seen one as aggressive and bold as this one. As I wrap up my tale of the “Territorial Terror,” I leave you with this: Know the type of wildlife you can reasonably expect to see on your outings and prepare for them as best you can. Never fail to consider the unexpected outcomes — however far-fetched they may be. Oh, and if you were wondering, I eventually managed to snap my 14-pound test line and lost my lure.
Did You Know?
According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the cottonmouth — also known as a moccasin or water moccasin — is the only venomous aquatic snake in North America. They are found in the southeastern United States and can grow to more than 6 feet in length. Cottonmouths are commonly found in ponds, swamps streams, springs, marshes and even roadside drainage ditches. The snake’s bite is highly dangerous and can be fatal.