Throwback Thursday: Snakes in a Jon Boat


This story was originally published January 27, 2010

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite recreations was fishing on the local farm ponds around my hometown. A buddy of mine named Scott had unfettered access to a nice fourteen foot jon boat and we had permission from several farmers to get in their ponds whenever we wanted.

Mostly, we fished at night for three reasons. First, this is the Southland in the summertime. Fish have sense even if people don’t; they lie deep and don’t bite much, if at all in the heat of a July day. Second, I am about half a gene from being an albino. Sunshine is not my friend. Finally, if you ever once hear a five pound bass explode through the surface to take a Heddon’s Hula Popper on a still night under the stars, you can say you’ve lived a good life whatever may come from then on.

This particular Wednesday night, Scott and I were joined by another of our buddies, Wishbone. We got on the pond just as twilight was turning into full dark. I was seated in back of the boat because I cast right handed side armed. Wishbone was in the front seat because he also cast exclusively side armed. Scott took the middle because he was a lefty and could cast very well with a traditional overhand motion. The arrangement worked quite well and we spent an hour catching and releasing small, strong bass and an odd bream or two with more guts than sense.

We’d worked our way around the edge pond and had reached the “neck” where the stream that fed the pond flowed in. Several large water oaks and a willow or two hung out over the water and at times we passed underneath these outstretched limbs to cast to the undercut banks that were home to the real lunker bass in the lake. All had gone nicely when I heard a distinct “thump” in the boat between Wishbone and Scott. Scott whipped around and shot me a desperate look in the light of the gibbous moon. I nodded wordlessly that I’d heard it as well just about the time the thing we’d dreaded most came upon us; Wishbone wailed out plaintively, “What just hit the boat?” Now Scott and I knew quite well what had made the noise. It was most likely a brown or “yellow bellied” water snake that had dropped out of the overhanging tree into the boat. They are big eyed nocturnal serpents and about as harmless as cold blooded, scaly kittens.

At this point, I need to tell you three things of great importance. One, we were in ten or twelve feet of water. Two, I’m five feet ten inches tall on a good day and I can’t swim a LICK. Some of you may have heard an old wives’ tale about how us fat people “float well.” Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I float like a ’54 Studebaker Conestoga station wagon. Third, Wishbone was mortally, morbidly, and totally terrified — nay, freaked completely out beyond all rational thought — by snakes. Any snakes.

At this point, the night got quite interesting.

Wishbone guessed the noise had been a snake. He snatched what must have been a WWII antiaircraft spotlight from his tackle box and, before we could stop him, cut it on and began searching for Zeros and Val bombers in the bottom of the boat. The only real effect the ten million candlepower flashlight had was to blind the three of us instantly, which sent Wishbone straight from granny, past second, third, and fourth right into fifth gear of panic. Poor Wish. He only knew two things at that moment: all he could see was red and yellow splotches AND he was in a fourteen foot aluminum jon boat with — to his tortured mind anyway — a Titanaboa. He lost all control. Still, IF the very bright flashlight had been the ONLY non-fishing item in Wishbone’s tackle box, we might have made it out okay.

It wasn’t and we didn’t.

My vision cleared just enough, just in time to watch a still-partially-blinded Wishbone stand up, pull a Charter Arms Bulldog five shot .44 Special double action revolver from his tackle box and point it at the bottom of the boat where he figured the anaconda had taken refuge. I managed to squeak “NOOOOO!” in a rather pathetic way before the calm night erupted in a thunderclap not once, but five times. The boy emptied the gun into the bottom of the boat. How none of us fell out of the boat in the midst of the confusion, I’ll never know, but what I do know is this — .44 Specials make BIG ‘OL HOLES in aluminum boats.

I guess the report of the gun cleared Wish’s head because he plopped down into his seat with a sheepish look on his face and watched five .44 caliber sized geysers jetting up from the bottom of the boat. Scott calmly reached over and took the gun from Wish and said, “Well, Wish, now the boat is going to sink and we’ll be in the water with REAL dangerous snakes like water moccasins and cottonmouths.” At this point, I chimed in, “Remember fellas? I can’t swim. AT ALL.” What Scott and Wish said next, I won’t print but it would have made Samuel L. Jackson proud.

In the end, we found out the boat’s “solid” seats were packed with styrofoam or some such floatant and, with a combination of bailing like mad and some Olympic class rowing, we made it to the take out point with two whole inches of gunwale still above water. All three of us were soaked to the bone but we’d saved the boat, saved the tackle, and, most important to my mind anyway, saved my fat rear end. Apparently, our reptilian interloper had made good his escape sometime between the shooting and the paddling. In any event, we never saw tooth nor scale of him. Once we got everything loaded up in the back of my little white S-10 truck, Scott walked over and patted Wishbone on the back and said, “Wish, I love you like a brother, I’d fight a circle saw for you, drive here to Texas to pick you up off the side of the road, and drain out the last drop of my blood to help save your life, but as God Almighty is my witness, frost will form on the Hinges of Hell before you EVER go night fishing in a boat with me again.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

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