, Port Arthur, Texas


December 8, 2012

Chester Moore column: Catching a snake in December

PORT ARTHUR —    Last week I caught a yellowbelly watersnake.

    While walking near the fishing pond at Claiborne West Park I nearly stepped on the serpent and so I did what comes naturally to me. I caught it.

    Although we've had some cool weather, it looks like we will have more than our share of warm weather this winter and that means encounters with reptiles which do come out on warm days.

    Big snakes seem to give people the creeps more than small ones but the fact is most of our big snake species are harmless.

    Take the mud snake for example. They are black on tap and red on the bottom and can grow to nearly six feet in length.

    Mud snakes are the source of the “hoop snake” legend in which a snake waits atop hills and when it sees someone riding by on a bike or strolling along, they grab their tail with their mouths and roll down hill after them.

    In reality, the mud snake does have a very specialized tail that is very pointed and sharp and they use it to jab amphiumas and other amphibians they prey on. I know these are sharp by the way because one jabbed me a few years ago after picking it up off a dirt road near a big rice canal. It is a good thing the barb on the tail is just as benign as the other end.

    There are four venomous snakes species in North America (and numerous subspecies) and all four are present in Southeast Texas.

    The coral snake and timber rattlesnake are rare sightings but we do have many cottonmouths and copperheads both of which are pretty small.

    Cottonmouths are the most aggressive and are far more dangerous than the typical docile copperhead. And due to the lowland habitats destroyed by Ike, they are the most likely poisonous snake to be encountered in debris. Most cottonmouths are from 18 to 24 inches but they can grow up to three feet long and should be avoided at all costs.

    Diamond-backed water snakes grow to nearly six feet and are one of the most frightening non-venomous snakes because they look a lot like a cottonmouth. Several of the photos circulating on the Internet showing alleged huge cottonmouths are indeed this species.

    Although they are not cottonmouths, they try very hard to be.

   When alarmed, they open their mouth full and strike just like their dangerous cousin. These snakes and several other local water snakes will also change the shape of their heads to look like a cottonmouth as well.

    This gets most of the ones spotted by local outdoorsmen a death sentence, especially when most people are far more concerned with cleaning their properties than enacting snake conservation.

   And there are only two real ways to tell the difference between the cottonmouth and other local water snakes. One is to look them in the eyes. If the pupil is round, the snake is nonvenomous. If it is split, it is a cottonmouth. The other way is to look for fangs as water snakes have bunches of fine teeth while the cottonmouth has fangs.

    Despite giving these identification tips, I do not think many people will get close enough to look or at least I hope not.

    The most common large snake in the area is the rat snake (aka chicken snake), which attains lengths of over six feet, is common around barns, campsites, and does quite well in the city. In fact, I have removed two from my neighbor’s garage over the last few years.

    Rat snakes are excellent climbers and have been known to get into attics by climbing straight up houses. They will actually do you a favor by eating the rats have also sought refuge in human habitations. I would personally rather deal with the snake, but many would rather have a horde of rats to deal with rather than a single snake, even if it is harmless.

    Don't think just because the calendar says "winter" that snakes will not be around. Its the temperature, not the date that affects their activities.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at


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     Summer is one of the best times to seek catfish in Southeast Texas and thankfully, for local anglers without a boat, there are catfish in just about every canal, drainage ditch and bayou in the area.
      Fishing from the bank has its disadvantages but there is a way around it. This involves making the fish come to you.
      European catfish and carp anglers who typically fish exclusively from the bank use a system called “ground baiting,” which involves putting chum out with the bait. They attach a small cylindrical device above their swivel, which holds chum and dispenses it as the water rushes by. The problem is these rigs are not readily available in our marketplace.
      However, with a little ingenuity, taking a 35-millimeter film canister, punching a hole in the bottom and on the lid and then punching more holes along the side can make a similar device. This acts as a perfect chumming device and is very inexpensive.
      Not everyone has film canisters these days so the softer plastic aspirin bottles will also get the job done.
      Rig this above your swivel and weight, and then fill it with your favorite chum. Now you will not only be chumming the area you fish in but also bringing fish directly to your bait.
      Any kind of chum will work, but a mixture I have had some success with was menhaden oil (available through many mail order offshore supply catalogs) mixed with soured milo. The oil creates a huge chum slick and when it mixes with the milo, the smell is almost unbearable, which means catfish love it. The best part is that a little bit goes a long way.
     Something else to consider is using jack mackerel as bait.
     This oily fish is available in larger supermarkets in a can for less than $1, and I can attest it will bring in fish. While fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and tagging sharks for the Mote Marine Laboratory, my partners and I were able to chum in and catch nearly 40 sharks while using less than two cans of the stuff. It is oily and stinks to high heaven, so catfish should love it.
      For anglers interested in using film canisters to chum their bait, something else to consider is the use of a popping cork. Even if your bait is on the bottom, you can rig a popping cork above it and attach a baited film canister below. This will allow you to do some extra chumming and use the cork to “pop” the chum out whenever you want to release more.
     Another great tip for land bound anglers is to use braided line. In talking with several anglers who pursue brackish blues from the bank, I have learned that loosing striking fish can be a problem.
      I am not sure as to the reason but a definitely solution is using a braided line because they have no stretch. When making long casts with monofilament from the bank you have the potential for lots of line stretch when can make a poor hookset.
     Sixty yards of line might have five or six feet of stretch and that is plenty for a big blue to undo. When using a braid like Fireline, Gorilla Braid or Spiderwire you can forego these problems and greatly enhance your chances of putting some catfish in the frying pan.
     (To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at and watch him Saturdays on on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore”.)

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