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Revenge of the Bass

A Reader Contribution From Paul Stegeman

 


I had looked forward to Monday for months. The first fishing trip of the year! Sunday was a day of driving to the river located a few hundred miles from home. My fishing buddy, Pete, had backed out at the last minute because of a family catastrophe; he had forgotten his anniversary until late Saturday night. No big problem. I had my reservation at the lodge, the truck was packed with fishing gear and I had a full tank of gas. My wife was looking forward to me being gone for reasons I didnít understand. She had even rented several tear-jerkers and stocked the freezer with chocolate ice cream to dull the pain of missing me.


The drive south was uneventful and I found myself checking in at the lodge in time for a nice steak dinner and some single barrel bourbon afterwards. Early to bed and early to rise and a short trip to the access point found me at the river at 7:00 AM the next morning. Since it was Monday, I saw no one else at the small parking area up the hill from the water. It was like a dream. I had some of the best small-mouth fishing in the state all to myself.
The guy at the desk warned me that the flow was a little above normal from rainfall early Sunday but today was forecasted to be cloudy with 20% chance of rain and a falling barometer. Perfect! But now at the river, I discovered that my wading belt and folding staff was missing. If I drove back to get it Iíd miss out on prime fishing time so I opted to find a sturdy looking branch instead.


I laid out my waders and boots and sat on the tailgate to wriggle into them. Since this was the first time out this year, what was usually routine became a little more work. I had managed to get the waders up to my knees when noticed that they were definitely a little tighter than I remembered. Either waders shrink or somehow my penchant for beer had added to my overall profile. Well these things were getting a bit ragged. Itís probably time to start looking for a new outfit. Wow, that gives me an excuse to hit the fly shop next week I thought. Excellent!


OK, decision time. What do I tie on? Old reliable might work if I use a sink tip on the 5 weight. So I tied on a number 6 black wooly-bugger on a 4x tippet and I was soon ready for the first cast of the year. First step into the water. Whoa!! I sure thought it would be warmer than this. I should have layered something besides jeans. Careful now, Iím thinking, you donít know this part of the river. I poked the staff ahead of me and found the depth just about halfway up the stick. Not too bad here. OK, let out some line, let the current take up the slack, and back cast! Wap! Right into the honeysuckle along the stream. Another damned import just like these waders that shrunk! What a nuisance! I waded back to the bank carefully probing ahead with my improvised wading staff. Unwind the fly, check my knot and wade back to a casting position.
Cast, sink, drift. Nothing. Cast again a little closer to the boulder on the right. Let it sink and just a little twitch of the line. Bam!! Fish on! Wow, this oneís a fighter! Play him out retrieve and there he is. A nice 14 inch smallie. This is going to be easier than I thought was running through my mind.


I waded upstream about 100 yards to get to a place that allowed me to cast to a nice cut bank. The water here was smoother looking. That could mean slower current or just deeper water. Just slower I thought. Ok another cast, aiming for the upstream side of the bank. Short! Another cast and BAMM!! A huge hit! As I played the fish somewhere in my mind, I knew to watch my footing. I had tucked my wading staff between my legs and gripped it as tight as I could, keeping my thighs together. I played him in close enough to get a net under him. Wow, this guy was a nice one! Every bit of 4 pounds. I kept the net close to the water and bent to grab him, tucking my fly rod under my left arm. I carefully wrapped a hand around him and let the net go. The handle was securely connected to my fly vest by a large zinger. As it drifted back behind me, I slid the hook out of his lip. Spalsh! The fish slipped away before I could react. As he did, water drenched my face and I fell forward. I quickly stepped to my right to regain my balance Öright into enough water to float the Queen Mary.
Since my wading belt was back in my room at the lodge, the water quickly rushed over my waders. I was able to get a foot on a rock ledge and lean back to safety but not until I had filled myself to the suspenders. I stood up - relieved to be on solid footing when I felt something wriggle.


Something big. It moved down toward my legs squirming unlike anything I had ever felt. Our well-developed brains can compute things in an instant and in the first 5 seconds I computed crayfish, sunfish, bass, weeds, many other things before settling on snake. Holy Crap! I had a snake in my waders!


I started to reach into them but just as quickly stopped. I had absolutely no desire to grab him barehanded and I had no way to tell what kind of snake he was. Were there water moccasins around here? I knew rattlesnakes were in this part of the country. No I thought, grabbing him is out. By now he had slithered to by butt anyway. I couldnít have grabbed him if I wanted to now.


If I hit him with something he might bite at whatever is close Ė which, unfortunately, was my butt. I could see the newscast now; ďon a lighter note, a fisherman from up North was bitten on the butt today by a snake in his waders.Ē I remembered using a pick-up line something like that as a lad. Sadly, it never worked. That started me laughing. And that upset the snake.


He bit. Not once, not twice, but continually. I thrashed my way back to the bank as I pulled the waders off as quickly as I could. Luckily the snake came out just as quickly once they were down to my thighs. I jumped back and surveyed the land in hope of identifying the attacker. I saw him enter the water and dart toward a rock about 10 feet from shore. Iím not a snake expert but I was relieved that he clearly did not have a rattle. He seemed to be a lighter brown and had a sort of darker brown pattern on his back. I had enough presence of mind to grab the camera from my fly vest which was laying at waterís edge where I threw it. I zoomed in on him and clicked a quick picture.


By now I was really scared. I ran up the hill to the truck and jumped in, leaving all my gear where it lay. I could feel the bites and my rear end was on fire from the punctures. I tossed the camera on the seat found my cell phone and dialed 911. The first policeman that arrived turned out to be a woman who was on traffic duty at the highway nearby. When I explained what happened I should never have said that I had a snake in my pants and needed her help. Before I could explain she called for backup. It didnít help that my pants were also unfastened and down to my knees because when I reached in the truck to get the camera and her police training kicked in.


The taser darts entered right about where the snake bites were. Not that it mattered. By the time her backup arrived I was in a fetal position and the spasms had pretty much stopped. My head hurt from impacting the truck door as I sank to the ground. I was able to convince her to grab the camera and look at the snake picture. After that she was a nice as she could be. She apologized for tasing me and suspecting that I was a deviate. As it turned out, there was a flasher that they had been after for a while.


They drove me to the hospital to get treated for multiple puncture wounds and then back to the lodge; stopping on the way to get my prescription for an antibiotic and something to help me relax. One of them collected my gear and brought it back with my truck. The snake had been a non-venomous Northern Water Snake but I wonít call it harmless. After a few days rest and some sleep Iíd be good as new everyone said.


I checked out the next day after a night of fitful sleep. The police chief stopped by to see me off; I think he was worried about a law suit even though he seemed genuinely concerned about how I felt. I wonít sue. That would probably mean coming back. I wonít do that again. I know that thereís a bass out there with my name on it.

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