Photo of the Month: Summer Speck

Photo of the Month: Summer Speck

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Snakes and Trout

At a young age, I realized that snakes would be a permanent part of at least some of my fishing trips. I can still remember playing in small streams and creeks and coming across the inevitable water snakes, not to mention other occasional types that like to hang out close to wetland areas in hopes of an easy meal. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, exactly, but do give them plenty of healthy respect. Snakes that are visible and obvious don’t bother me. It’s the ones that suddenly appear under my feet that concern me.

Some of my earliest encounters with serpents were of the terrifying variety. Running through the yard at age 6 only to have a 5 foot blacksnake rear its head in a menacing gesture practically under my feet was terrifying enough. Much worse was a trip to the Smokies with my family in which we camped on Little River in Townsend. I headed down to the stream one evening to try and catch some trout with my trusty Zebco and some spinner flies. The number of snakes I saw that evening still astounds me. In the dwindling light, it seemed that the bank was literally covered with snakes, while out in the water they swam this way and that but mostly right towards me. Probably there were only 10 or 12 total, but it seemed like something out of a nightmare that left me, if not permanently scarred, at least a little jumpy when things start moving under my feet.

During the recent epic fishing trip with my cousin Nathan and JR, a highlight of the trip was when I needed to filter some drinking water. I’ve stopped carrying enough drinking water for the day, taking only a single Nalgene and my MSR filter. Sitting comfortably on a rock while operating the filter, I looked down to see a strange pattern in the water between two rocks under my boots. At first, hope almost convinced me that it was just a strange rock or maybe a branch, but eventually I had to be honest with myself and admit that it was a water snake that had somehow appeared mere inches away. Snakes that magically appear are the ones that concern me. Thankfully, this particular critter was still sluggish in the cool water of spring, so I grabbed it by the tail and threw it across the stream at my buddies. Such is life on a fishing trip with the guys.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an appreciation for snakes. When the opportunity presents itself, I always snap a few pictures of any noteworthy specimens. Generally this means copperheads or rattlesnakes around here. While living near Townsend and working at Little River Outfitters one summer, I saw copperheads on the road near my cabin almost nightly as well as a pair of rattlesnakes one evening. In the Park itself, I rarely see poisonous snakes, but find more water snakes than I find pleasant. They have a habit of appearing while I’m wading upstream, usually in mid stride and directly under my feet. The snake dance ensues, probably leaving their nerves more shattered than mine. Still, even the water snakes can be intriguing. A couple of years ago in the spring, I came across a ball of breeding water snakes on the rocks along one of the most popular pools on Little River. If most people realized the number of snakes inhabiting that vicinity I would probably have the place to myself.

Last summer, I heard repeated stories of a rattlesnake hanging out near the trail a short distance above Elkmont. This put a damper on my normal habit of hiking out late in the evening after dark. I figured a headlamp should become part of my gear on day trips but didn’t start carrying one yet. Last weekend I found a rattlesnake about ¾ of a mile above Elkmont within 10 feet of the trail, convincing me that it was finally time to start carrying the headlamp or else hike out only while I could still see well. The snake was near a bench overlooking a nice pool on Little River. I climbed down closer to the snake to get some good pictures. There were too many witnesses around to attempt catching the snake. Harassing wildlife is strongly frowned upon so I had to leave my first capture of a rattlesnake for another day. Besides, by this point its angry response was to coil up and start rattling. Such are the hazards of photographing snakes. I wasn’t concerned in the least, but the “Holy Crap” I got from one nearby tourist when I pointed out the snake told me that not everyone is as unconcerned about rattlers as I try to be.

The rest of that day was perfect for fishing. I caught plenty of fish, even though I kept discovering that I was fishing behind people. The bright spring colors provided excellent opportunities for my camera, but the memory of the snake kept me watching me step, at least occasionally missing the beauty of new life around me. Probably the biggest difference between this and normal fishing trips was the fact that I hiked out with probably 2 hours of daylight to spare. No, I’m not afraid of snakes, its just healthy respect…I promise.


  1. Dave, I've only tried fishing in the Smokies a couple of times and I haven't gone very far off the beaten path. I guess one of the reasons has been my fear of snakes. Not a real fear, but a fear the I won't see one before it is too late. I still plan to go fishing in the Smokies again, and I hope to be a little more brave and adventuresome.

  2. While its a good idea to watch for snakes in the mtns most snakes you see will be the common water snake. These snakes are very aggressive but not at all venomous. Dont kill them!
    see below for more..

  3. Scott, don't worry too much about the snakes. Just don't get crawling around through thickets and you should be fine. Just pay attention to where you are walking...

    Lungs, thanks for the link. Most people have no clue about the difference between copperheads and watersnakes. People tell me all the time about the "copperhead" just up the trail or by the creek, etc., and invariably it turns out to be a far at least...

  4. David, great photos and report, as always.... As for snakes, they give me the creeps.... But they are cool too!

  5. Anonymous9:14 AM

    David. How about the time you, Trevor and I got caught downstream in the lightning storm on the Watauga. I couldn't count how many snakes I stepped over trying to get back. If memory serve me correct you guys did the same. ~Kevin Thomas

  6. Doug, thanks for the kind words.

    Kevin, yeah, that was definitely unbelievable. I was doing the snake dance the entire way back upstream. We probably looked pretty funny high stepping it upstream and jumping around each time we saw a snake...

  7. Great report, I love snakes. You should always watch were your walking when your off the trail, when you see one just be calm and slowy walk away.

    Check out my blog

  8. Hey there I was just reading your blog and thought you might be interested in seeing a brook trout I just caught in a lake located in New Brunswick, Canada. I used a regular silver spinner and worm bated hook. Thanks. Happy Fishing.

  9. Nice pile of Nerodia and sweet shot of the rattler!



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