Rattlesnake population is up, and so are bites

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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There’s a major problem lurking in the foothills and high country this year: Rattlesnakes.

Last count I heard, there were nearly 150 reported rattlesnake bites in California.

You’d think the majority of bites would be the younger generation. When you go camping, kids tend to be excited around the camp area, running, playing and just having fun. The last thing they think about is what might be lurking around old, fallen trees, in and around brushy areas, etc. However, most bites this year have been on adults.

Snakes are cold-blooded critters. They head underground in the fall, when the weather begins to cool. They huddle in groups until their senses alerts them to warming temperature outside. When they emerge from their dens in the spring, they look for warmth and food.

OK, we’re well past spring, so what’s the problem? Apparently, the number of rattlesnakes is up. If it’s your hope to never get bit, you must have an understanding of this snake’s habits.

During the heat of the day, you’ll find them in the shadows: in high grasses or brush, under rocks or huddled beside a fallen tree.

Early in the morning, when the temperature might be cool, they’ll get out in the sunshine, laying on rocks beside a stream or in a sunny area, retreating to a shadowed area after they warm up.

Rattlesnakes don’t like being disturbed. They’re solitary, not the least bit friendly.
Given the chance, if they know you’re around, they’re going to retreat.

However, if you go crashing blindly from Point A to Point B, you won’t give that snake enough notice to disappear.

A rattlesnake will sound off — coil, with its tail raised and rattling — only when it feels threatened. That means it has had enough time to see you without you moving away.

If you come across a rattlesnake that hasn’t had time to move away, it tends to strike out. No rattle sound is made. There wasn’t time.

It’s accepted that an adult rattlesnake isn’t as dangerous as a young snake. An adult has learned a human is too large to eat and won’t expend its precious venom on something it can’t utilize. A young snake could release a full load of venom into you.

Even a dry bite from an adult is dangerous simply from remaining venom residue on the fangs.

There are several reasons you don’t want to find rattlesnake fangs buried in your body. While I’ve never been bit and have no plans to, I’ve been told it’s extremely painful.

Secondly, the cost of anti-venom has skyrocketed. Some bite victims have seen hospital costs reach upward of $100,000. Also, it’s impossible to adequately train your dog to avoid them. If your pup gets bit, the cost can easily exceed $5,000.

If you’re in brushy or grassy areas, move deliberately and slowly. Make noise. Give the snake plenty of advance notice of your presence and a chance to move.

If you’re in mountain areas, don’t blindly jump over something like a fallen tree or crash through brushy areas. If you’re fishing a stream, moving along as you fish.
Watch for a snake that might be soaking up sunrays. Watch where you put your hands and feet.

Over the years, I’ve seen probably a couple hundred rattlesnakes. I shudder to think of the ones I didn’t see that were close by.

Just be aware they’re out there and use great caution when you’re on foot — in their territory.

Current fishing

Salmon fishing has been phenomenal this year. It’s hard to believe just a couple of years ago there was no salmon fishing allowed due to a lack of fish. Most ports are having great catches.

There were some slow days from the San Francisco Bay fleet, but that didn’t last long before the boats again were finding limits for everybody on board. At Fort Bragg, the fishing fleet had to rely on salmon that don’t hold in the area but swim back and forth. They’ll have good days interspersed with terribly slow days. Bodega Bay remains one of the top areas, as trolling action remains hot.

I found out the hard way that finding a party boat to ride is almost impossible. Most boats are booked well in advance, in some cases a few weeks out. I had to book nearly a week out.

San Francisco Bay: No word on stripers breaking loose on a hot bite. Boats such as the California Dawn are mainly fishing in places like the Marin County coastal regions and filling the boat with limits of a mix of rock cod and ling cod.

Ice House Reservoir: It’s a popular lake for anglers, but the summer heat may have put it out of commission. The water is too warm, and it will be awhile before the temperature drops enough. Even at the upper end at Loon Lake, the surface temperature is nearly 70 degrees, and the fishing is slow, slow, slow.

Lake Berryessa: Bass fishing is decent. You have considerable shoreline in the main body. Carolina-rigged or drop-shotting plastics off the points have worked well. If you get out really early or just before the sun sets, top-water offerings have worked well, too. Can’t say much about rainbow action, but trollers are picking up limits of kokanee. You must have a downrigger, as the small salmon are down 55-65 feet. Launch at Markley Cove. It’s a quick run out of the marina cove to the deeper water of the main body and dam area.

Collins Lake: The lake is still in excellent shape regarding the water level. Those dunking bait around the dam at the lower end or around the bridge at the upper end have found the trout fishing still good. Soak worms or Berkley’s Power Bait or Power Eggs. The lake also is known for its spotted bass population, and the east side is doing well for its warm-water fish — catfish, bass and even a few crappie.

Eagle Lake: The fish are transitioning, and those fishing the traditional shallower areas are returning to the docks without fish. There are still fish roaming around the straits of the Youth Camp and around the south side of Pelican Point, but the fish are becoming fewer and fewer. Bobber fishing and trolling these areas is getting really slow. If you go, you need to fish the deeper, cooler water, where the underwater springs exist. The fish are there. You just need to follow them.

Contact George deVilbiss at