Photos: 5-Foot Water Snake Steals Bullhead From Angler

High-school art teacher and avid angler, Jim Swearingin took his 13-year-old son fishing with his wife, Jennifer, at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt Lake near Elkhart, Iowa. The hope for the Labor Day weekend trip was to have Addison catch some bullhead's, but Mother Nature decided to give the Swearingin family a completely different kind of show. A 5-foot long northern water snake smashed one of the bullheads Jim hooked. Here's his photo series from the encounter.
"We were fishing bullheads that day -- they bite all the time and they're fun to catch," Swearing says. His son Addison was fishing on his own at first, and then Jim grabbed his ultra light and decided to catch some with him. After a while the fishing had slowed down. Addison and Jennifer were catching tadpoles, and Jim kept fishing. When he finally hooked up, he saw a flash of gold out of the corner of his eye. A 5-foot northern water snake screamed across the water and latched onto his fish.
"I hollered for my family, while I tried to shake him off, but he wouldn't let go. I was literally fighting him for the fish," Jim says. "Initially it was pretty shocking, because that's pretty aggressive. I guess he was just focused on that fish, but I was surprised. It was something I'd never seen before."
He had his son grab the net -- an aquarium cleaning net, not a deep net -- so they could put the snake and fish in it and Jim could try to unhook the bullhead. He was afraid the snake might try and bite him, but the second he put his hand in the net the snake dropped the fish and slumped to the bottom of the net.
Jim unhooked the fish, but he decided to see what the snake would do if he gave him the bullhead. When the bullhead got near enough to the snake, and far enough away from Jim's hand, the snake latched right back on. And then the snake launched himself (fish still in his mouth) out of the net. "He just launched out like a spring. I've never seen anything like it!"
He jetted across the water to a bank where there were some rocks, and Jim followed him, taking pictures the whole time. 

"I'm pretty stealthy. I'm like a cat," Jim jokes.
In this picture the snake was breaking off the fins of the fish so he could swallow it whole. "He'd obviously done that before … he sure knew what he was doing."
"It was a neat thing to witness, having nature right there in front of us. I've been out there since I was a kid, and I've never seen anything like it."
After the snake finished he just took off. When Jim was walking back he saw another snake with a bullhead in its mouth. "It must be what they do. They're just mean, nasty snakes at that lake. They're known to be very aggressive and they'll bite the crap out of you if they get the chance. He didn't bite me though because he just wanted that fish," Jim says.
"It's about the strangest thing I've ever had on my hook. That snake had to weigh about 5 lbs and it was stripping drag off my reel when I tried to pick it up. I couldn't pick it up with just the ultra light," he says.
"I don't know if he thought [the bullhead] was wounded. It was like it was a trigger. It happened so fast I couldn't see him coming. I don't know if he saw a moment of weakness he saw to grab on it," Jim says.

Jim Swearingin was fishing for bullheads with his family in Ohio when he hooked into this 5-foot northern water snake. Here's how the fight unfolded.