The other day, I was starting to get cabin fever and wanted to get out to chase some river smallies. I was reflecting about my last trip in the fall and the memorable water moccasin encounters I had. I thought I'd throw the story out on here for fun and get your thoughts. But first, I little backstory...
When I was nine, or maybe ten, I got to go on my first Ozark river smallie adventure with my dad and one of his buddies from high school. We fished for three days - two on the Gasconade and one on the Osage Fork. On the Osage Fork, it seemed like there were moccasins on almost every log (admittedly, my memory is probably inflating the numbers, but my dad and I still seem to remember it the same way). These were fat, dark, big headed, things with glands and my dad and his friend were positive they were moccasins (they both grew up floating Ozark rivers routinely). My dad and I still talk about it to this day because neither of us has seen anything like that since. It was late summer and very hot, and the snakes never bothered us. They just hung out and we left each other alone. After that, I was a little scared of snakes and at the same time very fascinated. I grew up in Iowa so obviously never saw moccasins up there.
Over the next 20 years, I fished probably a dozen Ozark rivers in MO, AR, and OK (and many trips on just the Current, alone) and don't recall seeing a confirmed moccasin. That isn't to say there wasn't any, I just figured if I had a doubt the odds were water snake (however, I left them alone as if they were moccasins). Last summer, I had the opportunity to fish like crazy and went on most weekends from early June through the end of September. I saw three or four confirmed moccasins in OK while fishing root balls. Usually, I would see them as they sneaked out the back end to get away from me.
In late September, a buddy and I did a weekend float on Kings River. It was upper 90s-100 degrees all weekend. We would get up and on the water as soon as we could see (well before official sunrise). On both mornings we saw several moccasins. We counted seven that we confirmed (if we had a reasonable doubt we assumed water snake). This is the part that spooked us (both Iowa boys): On four occasions, we were paddling through an eddy when a snake would swim across probably 20-50 yards out in front of us. The snake seemed to then feel threatened by our presence so it would stop, stand up in the water, and "gape" at us revealing the cotton mouth. On all four occasions, we immediately started quietly back paddling to give the snake plently of space. Each time, the snake just stayed there frozen and gaping at us for what seemed like 30-60 seconds and then would go on about its business and slither up into the woods. Once the sun came up and it got hot, we wouldn't see many snakes the rest of the day.
When we got to the take out on Sunday, our shuttle driver was a little surprised that we saw that many because he did the same float earlier in the week and saw none. However, he said a guy who had taken out the day before us had seen 12 and supposedly had to beat some of them back with a paddle because they were coming after him. From our experience, it almost seems that maybe he was floating toward them and they were frozen but it looked like they were coming at him - heck if I know, I wasn't there. I know the last one I saw was in current and if I hadn't been alert I would have floated right into him.
Anyway, it was pretty crazy but definitely interesting to see. My friend and I wondered if we were seeing them because:
- they hunt at night and we caught them as they were finishing up before going inactive for the day
- they were gorging for winter
- it's just a snaky river
- it's just a coincidence
- some or all of the above
Just thought I'd share. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your views), no snakes were harmed during these events, except maybe for the ones that apparently got clubbed by the other guy.