There are few things that really rattle me. I have found myself in a standoff against a Yellowstone Black Bear, been bumped by a shark, went headfirst into a sweeper on a raging river. Part and parcel of the sport I suppose. All those things happened so fast that I really had no time to be afraid…I just reacted. While all of those events made for interesting adventures, panic filled memories, and a good story or two, nothing…and I do mean nothing, creeped me out more than an occurrence in The Great Smoky Mountains a couple of weeks ago.
I am standing on the bank, little more than the toes of my boots in the water, roll casting flies into a seam that had trout stacked up in an amazing feeding line. They moved very little and I could see the yawn of their mouths, food was plentiful and it appeared that they were not being very particular as to what they would eat which was good for me.
I rolled out a tandem rig. Neversink Caddis and below it I had on a Green Weenie. Without a doubt, these two flies are the top producers for me. Tons of trout, flies you trust, no one in sight…yep, I was in the zone. The cast rolled out much better than usual and landed upstream from the aquatic congregation, just far enough for the GW to sink down into the feeding land. It was a slow motion display in front of me as I watched the fly twirl in the current; the slightest of movement from a willing rainbow, the take…fish on.
He wasn’t particularly large by most standards, maybe ten inches, which is a pretty good size for a mountain bow. I pulled him away quickly from his friends so that they would miss the fact that one of their kindred had been attacked by a bug puppet and was losing. I had him maybe ten feet from where I stood, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move from underneath a rock just to the right of where I stood. Most of the rock was under water so I quickly determined that it was perhaps a brown trout that I had spooked away from its lie. Then the line went crazy. The trout began to struggle in a way that just didn’t seem right…then all I felt was the weight of the fish.
Confused, I reeled in the line, my rod tip dipping with each turn as it pulled against the weight of the fish. Finally the head of the trout came into view. Its eyes were stark white; the color you would associate with a wild rainbow had grown ashen. And, just above its tail, holding for all its worth was a snake; the one common creature in God’s vast zoo that absolutely freaks me out.
The snake was maybe three feet in length with a dark cream colored body with deep rust colored bands which is the coloration of our local low country viper…the copperhead. This snake had sunk its teeth deep into this trout and would not let go. The trouble was…I couldn’t let go either…until I cut the leader, which I did with a swiftness that would have impressed Zorro as I pulled my knife from its sheath and with one pass cut through the mono. It should also be noted that I did not cut until I was absolutely certain that the distance of my hand from the snake was safe.
Having rescued what remained of my leader, I expected to see my Neversink moving across the water to some remote location for this vile serpent to devour its/my catch. However, in a manner reserved for only slapstick anglers such as myself, I saw that my lovely Neversink was floating inches from my right foot…and two feet beyond that lay the snake and the trout. Perhaps in a moment of mutual clarity, both the snake and I decided that being exposed on the riverbank was not the best of ideas. I left for higher ground and he took his lunch elsewhere.
Before swiftly extricating myself from the scene, I managed two photos. Sadly these pictures turned out much like those of a Bigfoot sighting or perhaps the Zapruder film. Shaky and dark. I will leave it to the folks at Fishwest to determine if the evidence captured in a digital format are worthy of print.
It wasn’t until a couple of days later as I relayed the story to a friend that I learned the truth about the snake. A copperhead it was not. The fish met its demise at the mouth of a Northern Water Snake, which was no more comforting than being shot with hollow points instead of buckshot. A snake is a snake and though I was twice his size and outweighed him by a multitude of pounds, he was the clear winner in this one.