The Fish Story

Snake Fishing Can Have a Bite to It; Thick Tick Times Are Approaching

By JAY MANN | Apr 12, 2017

TOXICALLY NASTY SNAKE: I got an excited call from a gal whose hubby had been bitten by a snake – one he had tried to catch on hook and line. Geez, so why did the snake bite him? Duh.

The bitten angler wasn’t a bit worried about the gnarly gash he had gotten from the reptile, but the good wife was dutifully worried sick. She felt the snake might have been – and I swear this was her exact word – a “cottonhead.”

I pieced together that a “cottonhead” is a mythical-beast blend of a cottonmouth and a copperhead, both admittedly toxic snakes, neither residing anywhere near here.

After hearing the bite was related to a Pinelands lake, I automatically pegged the species as a northern water snake – as ill-natured a slitherer as crawls the planet. I kid you not. What this water snake lacks in poison, it more than makes up for in a truly toxic attitude. Hell, it’ll sometimes just strike at the air if it’s crawling along and even thinks of something that kinda pisses it off. Give it a true target, like a human hooking it and reeling it in, and it’s one of the few snakes I’ve seen – and I’ve seen many, worldwide – that will actually rush forward … attack-like.

Back in the day, when it was legal to keep the snakes of Jersey, I owned just about every common species – and a couple highly uncommon ones thrown in. My mom was a saint, snakily speaking. She not only allowed my in-room menagerie, but often went on house-wide search missions when an escape took place.

Within my serpent menagerie, the only species that never settled in enough to be safely handled was the water snake. They’re just plain ornery. No huggies, no kissies.

Back to the snake-bit angler, I got further confirmation of the reptile’s ID when it was explained that the man, while fishing pickerel, had purposely dangled a minnow in front of the sunning snake.

While water snakes are mainly nocturnal, in spring they’re often seen sunning on the banks of lakes, creeks, even larger puddles. Hungry after hibernation, they’ll readily go whole-hog after, say, a small line-dangled minnie – never once wondering why it had suddenly taken to flying. Of course, knowing the species, this one might have simply had a patented water snake hissy-fit, brought on by seeing a minnow trying to fly. “I’ll teach you to stay in the water, you little bastard!”

So, the angler hooked up – and adroitly fought the snake. It makes for an odd fight to have a hookup first go underwater to fight, fish-like, then zip onto land to offer a terrestrial phase to the fight. The fisherman turned snakerman hung tough. I have to give him some perks before what followed – far less perk-worthy.

After getting the better of the battle, the angler got a bit, let’s say, shortsighted. Thinking in fishing terms, he grabbed the hooked snake toward the tail. Oh ... no, no. Bad idea! Too late.

Even though the snake was on-line and had also become entwined in weeds, it still managed to swing its head around. It latched onto the side of the man’s hand, toward the outer wrist. The angler’s human instincts took over. He jerked his hand away. Rippppp!

Snake’s teeth are curved a bit backward. This snake’s teeth – not huge, but highly sharp – were now sporting parcels of human skin from having the hand jerked from its mouth. A nasty little wound ensued.

At some point, possibly during the bite, the snake got off.

With a decent blood flow going, the angler performed one of those time-tested, cold cedar water wash-outs of the wound. His anxious wife did some improvised bandaging – not overly pleased when her patched-up hubby simply returned to fishing … for fish. “Men!”

It was that evening, when the bite got red and swollen, that I got the call. I was more than happy – and confident – to allay the wife’s fears of a dreaded, apparently slow-acting “cottonhead” bite. However, I have seen (on myself) that water snake bites can sometimes get badly infected, rapidly. I highly recommended an ER visit. The angler refused, opting for a tea tree oil soak – a decent choice in an alternative medicine vein. He’s at work as we speak, still smarting some, near the bite. However, no red lines running up the arm. He’s likely home free.

The snake? It’s cockily slithering about … gloating its head off, all “Mess with the best and get bit like the rest.”

I SWEAR: I was just informed that I’m likely a frickin genius of monumental proportions. I’m not BS’in’ ya. This revelation comes just in time for all the Einstein hoopla accompanying a superb movie on my brother in brainiacness.

Of course, the fact I needed to be told I’m smart as hell in a handbasket hints that even we of a kick-ass intelligentsia ilk have a few blind spots in our bad-ass brilliance.

The way I caught onto my cerebral acuteness is a bit of a pisser. It came via word-class researchers at Marist College, New York. Keep in mind this school is a mainstay of the Marist Brothers, a focal point of the Catholic Religious Institute of Brothers.

The Marist academics found out, in no undue terms, that folks with one helluva command of cuss words are often intelligent out the wazoo. Damn straight, dude.

One of their tests was to grab a stop watch, call over a passing student and have him/her reel off as many swear words as could be blurted out in exactly one minute.

WTF!? Only a minute? That timeframe is barely an appetizer for my sprawling buffet of expletives.

I did think it was cool how the researchers, after the first minute’s worth of cuss counting, would then slap the participants in the face …  and repeat the process. Man, did the participants suddenly get smarter!

That slap thing is not true! You’re so damn gullible.

After the curse-a-minute test, the same students had their smarts tested in more traditional, far less rotty-mouthed ways. Sure enough, the cuss-meisters, capable of reeling off a kick-ass litany of swear words, were smart as s***.

So, there you have it. By highly scientific and quasi-religious criteria, it’s me, Stephen Hawking and a buncha Marines I know, all sitting on the roof of the intellectual roost.

And my brainy glory can explode forth at any instant.

“There goes that Jay Mann, showing off his intelligence again. I’ll cover the kids’ ears. You get the dog’s.”

TICK-TALK-TICK: It seems like every spring there are those warning us about what a bad Lyme disease year it’s going to be. Well, this year they really mean it – among them, scientists strategically looking back on a nutty acorn crop seen in fall of 2015.

I recall it well, having written about acorns falling like rain – albeit roundish, hard, woodyish, brown rain. OK, so maybe it was nothing like rain … but those suckers were falling like I had seldom seen acorns fall.

By the by, the exact name for just such a torrential acorn downpour is called a mast year.  Remember the classic novel Two Years Before the Mast? Well, it had nothing to do with a mast acorn year … so you still don’t have to read it.

But how can long-rotted acorns from 2015 hit us with a load of Lyme disease in 2017? Through some sciency acorn/mice/tick/deer/Lyme equation, it is decidedly the second spring after a mast year when Lyme disease flows like rain – albeit a rashy, red, microscopic spirochetic … let’s just forget the whole like-rain thing. Suffice it to say this is a year to avoid ticks like the plague.

You might be disturbingly interested in knowing that our beloved deer ticks are now fully capable of harboring no fewer than six diseases. Yahoo, right?

But there’s a “Wow!” weirdness factor being uncovered by tick researchers, revealing that ticks might harbor disease-fighting clues to bettering the health of all mankind.

Bloodsucking tick gals – the guy ticks suck sap, not blood – somehow never have a sick day themselves, at least not from the diseases they carry. They’re healthy little disease-carrying wenches.

Yes, that’s utterly weird. The ability of ticks to pass on a slew of diseases without simultaneously suffering from them is unprecedented among virtually all other lifeforms. Some quirk of nature seemingly offers ticks a stunning degree of physical indifference to the pathogens, akin to immunity – but a tad more exceptional, per researchers.

“We were trying to find out why ticks are capable of acquiring so many pathogens. It is very unusual, if you think about arthropods in general,” said senior author Joao Pedra, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Noting that reviled mosquitos can transmit only one or two pathogens, tops, Pedra said, “We thought there may be something fundamentally different about the tick immune system.”

The aim of the tick researchers is twofold. Firstly, by figuring out what makes ticks tick, we might get clues to eliminating their invincibility to the diseases they carry. Removing their magical immunity would likely have the bloodsuckers falling like flies. This could rein in the rash of tick-borne diseases. And we could use a little rein. Annually, 20,000 to 30,000 people come down with Lyme disease. There’s also that slew of other ticky sicknesses, most pressingly babesiosis, which is currently busting out in Connecticut, homeland to Lyme disease. If the epidemiology of Lyme is any indication, babesiosis is crawling our way … at the speed of ticks.

Secondly, and more profoundly, by figuring out a tick’s magical immunities, researchers just might discover a way for humans to similarly fend off diseases, vis-à-vis an internal indifference to them. This indifference could bum out a disease so badly that it gets depressed and just shrinks away – at least that’s my contribution to the theory.

Using despised ticks and their sundry diseases to eventually find a far better life for humanity is yet another one of those natural paradoxes, i.e. that which does not kill us, etc.

That said, there’s still nothing that says we must now embrace ticks in some sort of thank-you-so-much manner.

RUNDOWN: I get to talk some active fishing for a change. Some really nice keeper stripers are being taken from rec boats fishing not that far out, obviously inside 3 nautical miles. In fact, an avid angler I know said it was his best bassing day ever. Not bad for earlyish April.

Way closer in, the Causeway under-bridge striper bite remains scalding hot, despite still-chilly waters. All hookups are sub-keeper, some close.

I’ll once again balk at saying you should run over and bang the bridge bite. Things are a tad dicey with all the work being done, though the construction is mainly taking place on the old Big Bridge.

Going the troll route, i.e. fishing under the trestle bridges, is likely fine and good.

As for what it takes to nab bayside schoolies, go with shad-tail plastics in white, which has been working for a couple of the under-bridge regulars. And throw in some pink plastics, just in case the weakies show.

I’ll bet bayside Beach Haven has or is soon to have bulkhead bass, after dark.

There are also some black drum working their ways through LEI. I haven’t gotten much more info than that generality, though it was from someone who really makes a big deal about drumfishing. He catches many … but never keeps any. His best was a hand-weighed 52-pounder, caught in the Tuckerton Bay area, late spring – off a bulkhead, using surf clams.

The crabbing is remarkable for this early! Not only are there epic jimmies, but the sheer number of throwbacks keeps things jumping for folks using line and/or hand-trap techniques. I’m sure Andy and the pros already know about the crab showing.

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