21.05.13_Snake caught while fly fishing_P1020286

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

I started fishing when I was six. We were renting a house on a small lake as we waited for our new house to be finished. We had just moved in and it was nap time. My dad decided to check and see whether there were fish in the lake. I couldn’t take the suspense so I stood on the hot water heater and watched through the slit windows to see whether he caught anything. It only took him a few minutes to land the first fish. Now I had to wait until nap time was over to go out and try my first cast. It felt like an eternity, but it was only an hour. Mom came in to tell me it was time to get up. As she opened the door, I rushed out as she tried to come in.

A few minutes later dad taught me how to cast his fake bamboo fly rod. We caught several fish that afternoon and I was hooked for life. Now it is nearly six decades later and my enthusiasm for fishing has not dwindled. In fact, it has grown stronger with each passing year. I don’t want to guess how many hours I have spent fishing (no sense in ruining my wife’s count). At this point in life, one would think I have seen it all. But this spring I had an unusual first!

It was midafternoon and I was killing time waiting for the sun to get a little lower in the horizon which usually cued a nice BWO hatch. There were some lazy risers in the tail of a long pool so I figured why not take a few casts to see whether any one was interested. I began working up the pool mostly day dreaming and enjoying the suns warmth on my back realizing it was a long shot to catch one. I went to pick up the line and felt weight on the end of the line. It happened so fast that I just got a glimpse of what was on my hook. It looked like a small branch or possibly a big piece of grass. I eliminated the grass option as the grass was only starting to bud. I heard an audible plop as it landed behind me. Hoping it would come off on its own, I heaved the line forward and watched whatever it was sail over my head and land with a large splash in front of me.

My strategy to lose the debris failed so I started hand-over-handing the line in to get to my fly. As the leader came closer it looked like the stick was swimming upstream in a writhing motion. I still couldn’t tell what it was until it was right in front of me. Unbelievably, I had hooked a garter snake in the mid-section and it was none too happy to have the hook stuck in its side. As I lifted the snake out of the water it started winding around my leader. To be honest, I am not nuts about snakes. In fact, I flat out don’t like them.

I was a counselor for a boys camp in my late teens. It was my second year and I had a group of 8 or 9 year old boys. They were a fun group of kids and more or less listened to my directions so they were happy and so was I. One of the kids was a blast. By mid-week we were best buddies. This kid loved nature and collected and picked up everything. In fact, he found a garter snake and kept it in his pocket so he could pull it out and play with it if things got too dull. I knew I had reached the pinnacle of friendship with him when he proudly and excitedly offered to let me have the snake in my sleeping bag that night. I politely declined saying something like, “I wouldn’t want your snake to miss you.” Translated loosely that really meant, “There’s no way on earth I want a garter snake in my sleeping bag all night!”

Back to the river. Not being fond of snakes and not wanting to touch the snake, if at all possible, I messed around for a while trying various maneuvers. Every time I raised the snake out of the water, it began wrapping around my leader. When I put it back in the water it would unravel and try to swim away. I gave it every possible opportunity to unhook itself (I use barbless hooks so this was not completely unreasonable) but it never happened. It became clear the only way out was to grab the snake out of the water and unhook it. If you look at the picture, the fly is clearly hooked on the top side of the snake. After steeling myself, I reached into the water and grabbed the snake on the tail end a few inches away from the fly. The hook had worked its way between two scales. It took what seemed to be an eternity (probably 4-5 seconds) to work the hook out and promptly drop the snake back into the water. Now everyone was happy again! The snake swam downstream and I continued working my way up the hole watching for other snakes before I picked up my line for each cast.

I tried to identify the snake on-line and got it down to a couple of possibilities. But could not make a definitive identification (feel free to enlighten me if you know). So I decided to go with the bail out answer of a garter snake. All of the possible snakes were supposedly common and plentiful. I have been fishing the river for over forty years and have never seen one of these on land or in the water. Two weeks ago, I saw another much smaller one swimming past me in the river. I quickly cast my line the opposite direction not wanting to do the sequel, Snakezilla 2!


  1. Joe, as luck would have it I saw what I think was that same type of snake in the water yesterday while fishing a little creek. First time I’ve seen one with those markings…but I was so close that I stepped on its tail by accident in 4 inches of water. It tried to hide in plain sight while I got a photo.

    I looked it up later and it appears to be an “aquatic garter snake,” which I’d never heard of before. They’re also called a “California garter snake,” and their expected habitat is CA within 100 miles of the coast, although they seem to live in rare cases elsewhere near water too (near Pensacola, near the Chesapeake Bay, possibly elsewhere). Maybe it’s not the same snake, but the one in your photo looks identical to the one I saw.

    Anyway I wish I’d hooked the one I saw. If I had, I could say I wasn’t skunked.

    – Mike

  2. Hi Mike,
    Bummer on getting skunked. However, at least you have the chance to get skunked. Our rivers are closed to trout fishing until the first Saturday in Jan. 2022. That’s hilarious that you just saw a similar snake. Like I said, I have been fishing for nearly 60 years and never seen one in the water before this incident.
    All the best, Joe

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