Water snake puts up a fight

Stubborn diamondback water snake doesn't want to turn loose of sand bass

? April 15 was a beautiful Sunday following two days of horrendous spring weather. R.D. Vanderslice decided to walk to the bank of Lake Ray Hubbard, make a few casts and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Vanderslice is a newly retired insurance agent who lives in a lakeside subdivision in Rockwall, Texas. He frequently catches largemouth bass within casting distance of the bank, so he was fishing with an H&H spinnerbait in hopes of tempting a bass.

“We also have sand bass that surface in that area, and I’ve caught quite a few of those,” Vanderslice said. “While I was casting for bass, a school of what I thought were sand bass came up in casting distance.”

The angler heaved his spinnerbait into the school of feeding fish and was quickly into a small fish. What he didn’t realize is that the dual hooks on the spinnerbait had foul-hooked the fish near its tail.

To land the fish, Vanderslice had to reel it through a bed of weeds about 15 feet from the bank.

As he did so, the water suddenly boiled around the small fish.

“At first I thought that a big fish had eaten the small fish,” Vanderslice said. “Whatever it was, I could not pull it in. I just kept pressure on the line and was finally able to reel the fish close enough to see what had happened.”

The small fish was a hybrid striped bass, only about six inches long. Its struggles had attracted a four-foot diamondback water snake that had apparently been lying in ambush in the weed bed. The snake took advantage of the fish’s lack of mobility and latched onto its head.

Water snakes lack the speed to capture many fast-moving game fish. Their usual diet consists of frogs and rough fish. The snake that nailed Vanderslice’s fish was a big specimen. Most adult diamondback water snakes measure two to three feet.

“I couldn’t believe how tenacious the snake was,” the angler said. “I tried jiggling the rod and jerking on the rod, but he would not give up the fish. He had at least half of the fish’s head in his mouth.

“When I got the snake up to the bank, there’s a willow tree there with exposed roots, and that snake wrapped its tail around a willow root. It was a tug-of-war over the fish, and the snake wasn’t giving up. I knew nobody would believe this story, so I laid my rod down, put the reel in free spool, in case the snake tried to leave, ran to the house and told my wife, Lynn, to bring her camera.”

The commotion attracted a throng of neighbors. Vanderslice finally pulled the snake up on the bank. He dangled it in the air and continued to jerk on his line, but the tug-of-war lasted at least 10 minutes.

One of the neighbors was convinced the snake was a cottonmouth and should be killed, but Vanderslice didn’t think it was poisonous. He pinned the snake’s head with his rod tip and another neighbor managed to pry its mouth open.

No white lining – the definitive identification for a cottonmouth. The snake was allowed to crawl back into the water and headed right back to the weed bed.

Vanderslice unhooked the hapless fish and released it, as well. It, too, swam right into the weed bed. The angler is uncertain what happened next, but the snake was probably too tired from fighting out of its weight class to do anything about the fish.

While the western cottonmouth, an ill-tempered venomous snake, can be found in the Dallas area, most aquatic snakes identified as “moccasins” are diamondback, blotched or yellow-bellied water snakes.

Diamondback water snakes are aggressive biters, when cornered. This aggressive attitude, coupled with their aquatic habitat, often gets them in trouble with humans.