Everyone likes a good fishing story, right?
Well, this is one of those that could start out “No, joke. There I was….”
It was a late winter’s day when Grandma decided it was time to go fishing. We’d been off and on all winter, so bundling up for the chill, packing up our gear, and piling into the car wasn’t something uncommon. She had a lot of farmer friends in the area who stocked their stock ponds with eating fish to help keep the algae problem down for their animals. That meant for those with the privilege to enter their property, we had year round fishing spots.
This particular spot was one I hadn’t been out to before, and was a longer drive than I was expecting. She kept my eight-year-old self from fidgeting by rivaling me with tales of what size (and how many) fish she’d pulled out of this pond over time. Tales that set my imagination on fire, let me tell you! At that age, I thought I was having a great day if I pulled out a perch big enough to fillet for dinner, and had caught the occasional cat fish worth eating. So, stories of large mouth bass that could be weighed in pounds, crappie that could make up a meal by them selves, and perch that would test the line we had on my little ol’ kid’s pole seemed wildly outlandish, and imminently desirable.
Even though we started out right after breakfast, it was almost noon when we finally pulled up to the fence line along the pasture where the pond was located. It didn’t take us long to collect our gear out of the trunk, nor to carefully crawl through the triple-wire barbed wire fence to begin our trek over the ridge that protected the water from the biting north wind.
Before long, we were carefully working our way through the tall reeds that grew along the northeastern shoreline. The ground, while wet enough to support the reeds, remained firm enough for us to walk on; we were just being careful not to hit a really soupy spot that could claim our legs up to a knee (or higher). And that was when I saw it.
And, that is where the “No joke” moment happened.
Grandma had just disappeared from view in the rushes, her trail marked by bent reeds and a slightly more cleared way than anywhere else. I trailed in her wake, slightly uncoordinated as I juggled my tackle box, pole, and minnow bucket. My pole had caught on the reed heads for the umpteenth time, and I was looking down to see where I could put the minnow bucket without spilling it when I saw something that almost allowed me to run across the reed tops like they were solid ground – a big water moccasin. In our part of the world, these things are sometimes referred to as “cotton mouths” due to the snow white color inside their mouths that is visible when they hiss and strike. Not exactly a snake you want to come across sunning itself when you can’t see where you’re going, and there’s water not too far away.
How I managed not to scream, I’ll probably never know. But, as I looked at the snake it raised its head to look at me. It remained stretched out, not bothering to coil up to threaten a strike, which I’m grateful for, because facing it down relaxed was unnerving enough.
I didn’t bother untangling my rod tip, or even setting anything down at this point. I just started trying to sidle sideways so I could keep an eye on the snake. Just because it was relaxed now did not mean it couldn’t coil and strike before I was out of range. Something I really, REALLY did not want to happen.
It took a bit, but I was able to get around that thing, and finally find Grandma set up on the shore of the pond, hook in the water already, and calling my name. I told her about the snake, which sent her into a flurry of collecting things and moving us around to a spot where the reeds didn’t come down to the water’s edge so close to us.
No, we didn’t leave – the temperature, while chilly, was nice enough to be encouraging about catching dinner. A few hours later, we finally saw the snake emerge from the reeds not far from where we’d initially set up and swim across the pond to disappear in the unmowed pasture on the other side.