It was a typical August afternoon on the flood plains of Grenada Lake. The air was heavy and still, the sun a big yellow smudge in a hazy sky. We were tied up in the buttonwillows between trotline runs, dressing fish and using the lake for preliminary rinse water, reaching over the side and thrashing each skinned and dressed body about a bit before laying it on clean ice. It may have been the thrashing that attracted him.
I was in the middle of our flat-bottomed boat with an Old Man at either end. We had our on-the-water fish-dressing operation down to a smooth process, one that took advantage of downtime during the day to avoid an all-night drudgery once we got home.
The operation started with just-harvested fish on one end of the boat, passed the subject through three pairs of hands and ended at the other with the same cleaned and dressed, ready to be re-rinsed and frozen.
It was so routine it didn’t take much thought, so I stared out across the water and let my imagination roam instead. That’s how I happened to see it coming from a good 75 yards away.
I’d seen snakes on limbs and snakes in the water countless times, but I’d never seen anything move the way this snake was moving. It came into sight from so far away, I watched it for several seconds before I recognized what it was.
It swirled directly toward us in an endless S, turning the figure front to back, front to back with the power and grace of a predator, moving with remarkable speed. It was probably 31⁄2 or even close to 4 feet long but, as water moccasins go, it was so thick for its length it gave an appearance of being much bigger.
Still, we were sitting inside a boat in broad daylight, paddles and other implements near to hand. It’s not like it was going to take us by surprise or get into very tight quarters with us no matter what it tried, so I was completely unconcerned and announced its approach only because I thought the Old Men might want to see it too.
“There comes a snake,” I said.
“Where?” asked the Old Man on my right in a tone that indicated he thought I probably saw a floating stick or some such instead.
“Right there,” I said, pointing 90 degrees off his shoulder. He looked and saw it then, now 25 yards and closing at closing at flank speed. Whatever maximum velocity for an adult water moccasin is, that’s how fast this one was coming on.
“God Almighty!” the Old Man shouted, then leapt to his feet and ran in place for several seconds, causing bait cans to spill and dip nets to rattle as the boat rocked forth and back. This sight was a good bit more disturbing than the approaching snake, which had now coasted to a halt five yards off our side to watch it too.
Directly the Old Man snatched up a four-foot paddle we used for lifting deep trotlines and swatted wildly toward the snake, covering me with the splash and coming within an ace of falling out of the boat himself.
“Here! Sit down!” I said, overstepping my authority by multiple generations, but I thought somebody had to do something. I looked back at the other Old Man to see what he was going to do and found him casually lighting a cigarette and trying not to laugh.
Thankfully the disturbed of the two Old Men sat down and the snake moved off, nearly as quickly as it had come. Soon it was out of sight and we didn’t see it again.
“Where were you going to go?” I asked the Old Man who’d jumped up and practiced running.
“I don’t know,” he said, still somewhat aggravated, “but I wasn’t going to just sit here.”
This goes to show it’s not always the snakes that are the biggest danger out there.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.