The fish (and the snakes) aren’t biting in Pennsylvania
Nonchalantly strolling streamside on Penns Creek in Centre County recently, the only thing on my mind was fooling a wary trout with my five-weight fly rod.
Being on the receiving end of a good butt-kicking for the better part of two days, I eagerly traversed a grass-packed foot trail paralleling a fast stretch of riffles toward a long pool where I hoped to redeem myself from a lackluster fishing performance. “Down there,” I reasoned, I might actually hook up with one of those finned snobs, already fat and happy from a heavy green drake explosion earlier in the week.
Sadly, they had defeated me thus far.
Driven as much by hopeful optimism as desperate determination, I neglected to pay any heed to my surroundings other than eyeing the water with narrow focus, looking for a safe place to wade. But as I rounded a slight bend past a rock outcropping extending close to the water’s edge, I was immediately put on notice that I had encroached someone else’s territory.
I heard the snake before I saw it, sounding somewhat like a container of sinkers rapidly shaking in my fishing vest. That was my initial reaction, but my mind quickly made more logical sense of it. It was lower, faster, and more natural.
The distinct rattle came from a large flat rock at my feet, easily within striking distance had the mature light-phase timber rattler decided to send me to the hospital. Convinced this dog’s bite is much worse than its bark, I slowly eased toward the creek a few paces to give the venomous reptile some space as I looked on in quiet observance.
He or she (I wasn’t getting close enough to inspect the exact gender) was spread flat across the rock’s surface absorbing the warm sunshine. Tall grass partially shrouded its backside, but I counted at least ten rattles on the tip of its tail. The scales protruded with perfectly defined patterning, and sinister-looking yellow eyes were compounded in ominous portrayal by a darting black tongue.
As it lifted its head and surveyed the surrounding area, first peeking over one rock, then another, and eventually doubling back on itself and slithering down through the grass in my direction, I was simultaneously enamored by its beauty, alarmed of its presence, and grateful for its patience with my chance imposition.
While wading back from whence I came, I marveled at the creature just doing its thing but cringed at the fact that scores of other anglers likely have and will walk that same path every day of the week.
My hope is that they, like I, will give this impressive rattlesnake a wide berth and keep their distance out of respect for the resource and for their own personal safety.
Those fish downstream probably wouldn’t have cooperated anyway. I guess I could say, in an ironic sense, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get a single bite from Penn’s Creek, fish, snake or other.