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OUTDOORS: Man with no shoulders is no fishin’ pal

“Don’t move. Don’t freak out. Whatever you do, don’t tip over the boat!”

This advice, delivered by an alarmed, wide-eyed person sitting nearby, is certain to grab one’s attention.

In the few seconds that follow such an admonition, the recipient stiffens with an adrenaline jolt, sucks in an abrupt gulp of air and delivers a hurried retort along the lines of Gary Coleman’s character in the old “Diff’rent Strokes” TV show—something like, “What you talkin’ about, Thomas?”

So, it was one sunny morning last week while bass fishing in a private pond with Woodford resident Thomas Burke, a lifelong hunter and angler and semiretired carpenter. Along with his fishing tackle, he threw a weed eater into the bed of his truck as we headed to the water.

The boat is stored beneath a small, low, lean-to structure and nearly knee-high vegetation had grown up all around the small landing. Burke fired up the weed eater, while I readied the fishing tackle.

The buzz of the weed eater echoed across the water as Burke attacked the weeds and grasses. Looking up, I saw Burke launch himself backward. “Copperhead!” he loudly shouted.

Movement appeared at the base of the short steps leading to the lean-to’s roof. An obviously inconvenienced, not to mention likely irritated, venomous copperhead snake was slithering away from Burke.

“Man, that was close!” Burke said. “That was one big, thick copperhead. It was just a couple feet from my leg; good thing I brought that weed eater or we might have stepped right on it.”

Good thing indeed.

After carefully peeking around all corners and obstructions, Burke finished the weed-eating and we prepared to launch the boat. He clambered down the roof to the water’s edge and, still mindful of the near brush with the copperhead, I slowly tucked my feet under the overhang and pushed the boat toward him.

Fishing was uncharacteristically sluggish, although Burke caught a chunky largemouth on one of his very first casts with a topwater popping lure.


Burke had a hunch around 10 a.m. that fish might be near some woody structure on the opposite side of the pond and he maneuvered us over with the trolling motor. Daytime temperatures were rising rapidly and the sun began baking the metal surface of the 10-foot boat.

Burke was sitting in a flip-up seat on the rear bench while I faced him in a flip-up seat on the small front platform. We were sitting in the sun when he uttered his “Don’t move ” warning.

He seemed to stare just past me to my right. Naturally, I feared the worst.

“I’m not going to flip the boat,” I replied in a measured tone. “What is it?”

“Snake,” he said.

“Ruh-row,” I thought in my best Scooby Doo, or maybe it was Astro, internal voice. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was the copperhead. Maybe one of its friendly family members was getting cozy with my backside.

“There’s a big black snake coming out of the middle bench seat,” Burke added, prompting a huge exhalation of air from my lungs. Nonvenomous black snakes, while not my preferred boating partners, at least can’t make you extremely sick or worse with their bite.

I looked at the middle seat and, sure enough, rising up about 18 inches like a cobra was a large black snake. It was poking out of the opening where the seat was welded to the gunwale. As it turned its head, I saw white on its underside. My guess was our boat buddy was a black racer, a species known for its ability to move quickly and willingness for aggression if cornered.

A braver man might have attempted to grab the snake and toss it from the boat. My rationale for not being that braver man is all I might have done is capsize the boat during any scuffle with the snake. Plus, the darn thing might bite me.

Burke’s rationale was simpler. “I hate snakes,” he said.

Fortunately, the snake disdained us as much and retreated back under the seat, at least for a few minutes. We actually made a few more casts, figuring the snake would stay put.


Apparently, it was getting a little too toasty inside that compartment beneath the aluminum seat and Mr. Racer began sticking his head out and eyeballing me every 30 seconds or so.

“Thomas, that snake clearly wants out. Let’s get this boat back on dry land,”

I suggested.

Burke didn’t need further convincing and within a couple minutes, we had our feet on the ground and our gear back in the truck.

These outdoors experiences are ones you can laugh about. Still, I realize that a copperhead could have been hiding in that boat as easily as a black snake.

Burke learned a lesson, too. Those openings where the seats meet the boat’s hull will soon be sealed with a spray foam—at least as soon as he is sure all serpent passengers have disembarked.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or email at