Sneaky snakes out and about in Southeast Texas

With our warming weather, it’s guaranteed that snakes, and lots of them, are slithering around somewhere near you and me.

There are good snakes and bad snakes. And yes, some snakes are good to have around. Like cats, snakes, too, like rodents such as mice. But still, to me a snake is a snake is a snake. I don’t care who you are; when you look down and Mr. No Shoulders is slithering around your feet, it’s going to jangle your nerves big time.Such was the case this past weekend with me. I was fly fishing for rainbow trout at the Ramsey Ranch in the Hill Country. Everything was fine. I had caught a few nice rainbows. Then something caught my eye. I look down and there, about 2 feet away is a 5-foot diamond back water snake swimming toward me . I just about jump out of my skin. Once my heart stopped pounding, I whacked the snake with the tip of my fly rod, hoping to give it a little direction — as in the opposite direction. Luckily that tactic worked.

But reaching out to whack a snake isn’t always the best thing to do. For example, a park employee at Choke Canyon State Park in South Texas recently told me that a Boy Scout leader went into one of the bathrooms near his tent camping site and much to his surprise spotted a rattlesnake in one of the stalls. Being the leader that he is, he retrieved a stick and went back in to either dispatch the snake or get it to move outside. But something went wrong. It seems the ill-tempered rattler got the upper hand and bit the guy. He didn’t die. But any venomous snakebite is very bad news.

And there is the recent story of a state park camper that needed to relieve himself in the middle of the night. He unzips the tent, steps out and promptly gets whacked by a snake. The park superintendent told me it was most likely a cottonmouth or copperhead. Both are venomous snakes that are indigenous to East and Southeast Texas. But in most situations, their bite is not deadly.

Just about all of us that have spent time outdoors hiking, fishing, hunting and camping have had an encounter with a water moccasin. I don’t like any snakes. But I particularly dislike moccasins, aka cottonmouths. The cottonmouth name is derived from what a moccasin looks like when its mouth is wide open and about to bite something. It’s white like a cotton ball.

Some people say they can smell a cottonmouth. I don’t know about that, but I do know they are common here in Southeast Texas. Most of the time they are going to be found near marshy areas, like where you might go duck hunting. More than one duck hunter has a story to tell about a moccasin, a duck blind and chaos.One of the best snake stories I’ve ever heard is from Capt. Charlie Paradoski, who runs fishing charters on Matagorda Bay. For some reason East and West Matagorda bays are well known for swimming rattlesnakes. One day after cleaning a box of reds and trout, Paradoski reach up under the bow of his boat to get a sack of soft drinks. As he was reaching for the bag, he saw a rattler coiled a few inches from the bag.

“I haven’t moved that fast in years,” he said. “I’ll never forget that one. And I’ll never reach into a boat compartment without looking inside first. I guess the snake crawled over the transom of the boat while we were wade fishing.”

Snakes have a way of making you come unglued when you least expect it. I’ll never, ever forget the time I was leaning up against a tree in the Gilbert woods, just west of Beaumont. I was on a spring squirrel hunt right about this time of year. There was a little mud hole about 10 feet from me. And it was loaded with tiny frogs. I was thinking about what an ideal place it was for a moccasin. Not more than a few seconds after that I look to my right and there, not more than a foot from my hand, is a moccasin coiled up and ready for action. I’m surprised my heart didn’t implode.

You never know when a venomous snake is going to show up. A couple of years back a friend of mine was sitting in a lawn chair on his back porch here in Southeast Texas. He looked down and a highly venomous coral snake crawled right between his bare feet.

A neighbor of mine on the west end of Beaumont was weeding her flower garden one morning and spotted a well camouflaged copperhead just before she stuck her hand right on top of it.

You might be surprised to know that many snakebites here in Beaumont, Lumberton, Vidor and other towns occur when people are gardening.

But according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, many bites occur when people walk up on snakes and start to mess with them. They either try to beat the snake with a stick or hit it with a rock. The worst thing you can do is try to pick one up. Mess with a snake and you’re likely going to get bitten, and if it’s venomous you’ve got big time problems. The rule of thumb is to go the other way when a snake is encountered.