Life’s lessons seem to come across my path when stupid hits a high point. This is a true fishing story where stupid ran amok and granted me a couple of huge learning moments.
There is an area in southeastern Virginia known as the Dismal Swamp. Adjacent to the swamp are a series of canals that connect to a body of water known as Back Bay. A series of canals feed into the bay and are fed by brackish tidal waters that were a favorite fishing spot called North Bay Shore. There was a single main canal that bordered the campground and along that canal were numerous little dead-end channels that extended about 50 yards off the main canal and were wide enough to float down the middle and fish both sides; perfect for fishing for mammoth large-mouth bass and citation blue gill.
My best friend in the world, Bob Hood and I were ready to fish. We had a 16-foot flat-bottom Jon boat, trolling motor with fully-charged battery, fishing tackle, and a huge cooler full of beer; all the necessities for a successful fishing trip. And it was.
The water in the canal was pitch black, and it was impossible to see anything swimming around in it unless whatever it was swam very close to the surface. No matter, the fishing was some of the best I’d ever experienced. By the time we had fished three of those little inlets off the main canal, we had a stringer full of big blue gill, crappie and a couple of nice bass. We still had several more inlets to fish mostly because we had enough beer left to effectively get the job done. So we did.
The next inlet looked fishier than the rest, and we knew “the big one” had to be near the far end of the inlet. And he was. We parked near the end and began to fish three sides from our vantage point. I was using shiners [minnows for the non-fisherperson reading this] and had a bobber on the line. Being the sportsman that I was, I fished with an ultra-light rig and four pound test line. Line that light is not what you would ordinarily use for snagging a big fish, though with enough finesse and a sturdy dip net one could hook a big bass and get him into the boat. I did…and we didn’t.
I casted a shiner into the corner just under the overhanging branches a large tree near the edge. Bob praised my cast with, “Ooo nice shot, dawg, you hit ‘im right on the head!” We always said things like that when a cast was perfectly executed and worthy of a big fish.
I began to bait another hook with a glob of night crawlers for casting out on the other side for more blue gill. Halfway through baiting the hook, the bobber was ripped from the surface and I grabbed for the ultra-light to set the hook. There’s a fine line between setting the hook and breaking such a light weight line, but the hook set and the sharp angle of the line told me this was a big one…maybe THE big one. And it was.
I finessed that fish for several minutes, and it crisscrossed that inlet from side to side several times. The drag was set light so he easily stripped off line from the reel. I’d wind him in, and then he’d strip off my progress and head to the other side of the inlet. This continued for several minutes before I was able to tire him out and bring him up close to the boat. Bob saw him first and said, “Holy excrement!” [Not what he really said, but you can guess]. I saw him too and it was a big bass; the biggest bass I’d ever caught…well almost caught.
You could’ve put two fists side-by-side into his gaping mouth. I’m guessing he was somewhere between 10 and 65 pounds. Obviously bass don’t grow to 65 pounds but this sucker was huge, plus this IS a fish story.
I shouted final instructions. “Bob, get the net!”
“What net?” came Bob’s reply. We had forgotten the net; remembered the beer; the other necessity, but had forgotten the net.
“Copulate!” [Not what I really said in the heat of the moment but you can guess]. “Reach down there and lip him!”
“Lip him” is a technique where you insert your thumb into the mouth of a fresh water fish and place your fingers under his chin to pick him up. Not sure Bob wanted to lip anything that big, so he reached for the line instead to drag him closer. That’s when we both realized the fish was not tuckered out; he was merely catching his breath.
Bob was left with a handful of 4lb monofilament line in his hand and the fish was gone. “Well I’ll be the spawn of a female dog.” [Not what he said, but you can guess].
A few minutes later, after we finished admonishing each other for forgetting the net, the bobber resurfaced on the far side of the inlet. I was certain that the fish had gone into the underwater brush and stripped off the bobber. Having lost the biggest fish of my life, I figure I could at least recover some of my gear. We cruised over to recover the bobber, and as I reached for it, the thing took off, still attached to the fish. This happened a couple more times, and we swapped sides of the inlet chasing that fish before it really did manage to strip off the float.
The bass was gone, and all we had left was a fish story to tell, and as big as that thing was, we needed no embellishment. As the adrenaline seeped away from both of us, it was Bob’s turn to recycle some Little King Crème Ale. Peeing off the bow of a flat bottom boat is not as easy as one might think, and getting out of the boat at North Bay shore is not a good idea given the wildlife that lurks in the weeds along the banks of those inlets.
I drove us closer to the edge and Bob did his deed. That’s when he saw him. There in the grass about five feet from the edge was the biggest water moccasin I’ve ever seen. He was coiled up and sound asleep, minding his own snake business. I’m not sure what I was thinking but stupid showed up and encouraged me to wake that snake up. And I did. Rudely.
With one of the oars [for use when the battery dies, and, as it turned out, to fight off pissed off water moccasins] I raised it over my head to dish out a little pay-back to a direct descendant from the Garden of Eden Maybe I was motivated by having just lost the biggest bass of my life. Maybe it was from my lack of love for snakes in general. Maybe it was just stupid in the driver’s seat. Turns out it was all three, but stupid was behind the wheel, and I proceeded to whack that snake across the back with the oar like I was splitting wood with an axe.
That snake came off the ground like it was spring-loaded and struck at the oar. He was dazed and disoriented momentarily, but soon zeroed in on his aggressor. When he started for the boat I cranked the trolling motor to high speed to execute a hasty retreat. The only problem with that attempt was that the battery was a bit on the low side. The snake, on the other hand, was on the high side of being motivated.
Bob screamed at me. “Kick that thing, dawg!” And I did…with what was left of the juice in the battery to kick it.
We headed lazily back out into the inlet with an enraged water moccasin now in the water and in hot pursuit. In our rush to escape, the bow of the boat had been pointed into the dead end of the inlet, meaning we had to make a sweeping turn to head back to the main canal. The snake took advantage of our turn and cut us off with a better angle of attack. He was headed right for the boat.
I was hunkered down against an imaginary headwind, blazing along at a slow walk. Bob was blowing sparks from his cigarette, and the snake was gaining on us. Payback coming back to us was not going to be pretty.
When Bob and I realized we were not going to outrun him, we decided to take a defensive posture and stood up, each holding an oar, ready to keep him out of the boat. Yes, keep him out of the boat; a snake that large will indeed board a boat without permission, especially the low sides of a Jon boat.
The snake came right up to the side of the boat, and I will never forget those eyes. They were a translucent blue. Seems water moccasins have a sheath that covers their eyes when they are swimming. I’d never seen that before, and I’ll never forget just how ominously blue they were at that moment. He did not come into the boat; instead, he went underneath. With neither of us knowing where the boarding would take place, Bob and I took positions back-to-back wielding our oars waiting for him to make an appearance. He never did.
A couple seconds later, we saw the snake slowly heading back to the edge of the inlet. Maybe the snake was satisfied having scared the crap out of us. Maybe he just took pity on stupid. Regardless of his decision, we both breathed out for the first time in several minutes. Bob never missed a beat and immediately brought it to my attention that whacking that snake was the stupidest thing I’d ever done. It was.
To this day I’m not sure which event in that inlet was the most significant. I learned for a fact that one should not whack a giant sleeping water moccasin with an oar no matter what your motivation. The other learning moment that has come in handy on many subsequent fishing trips is remembering the damn net. I’m not much of a beer drinker anymore, but I still like to fish. Funny how the memory of the showdown at North Bay Shore…both of them…reminds me to always take a net, and oh yes…and let sleeping moccasins lie.