Rattler Country?

Mike Etgen

Not Quite A Luddite, But Can See One From Here

I'm beginning my second full season of flyfishing the PacNW and, being as I'm someone willing to get off the beaten track, do a fair amount of wandering. All along I've been warned about snakes, and being as I understand that most folks seem deathly afraid of any kind of snake, I've been pretty cavalier about it - not necessarily foolish, but sort of "I'll believe it when I see one."

On Friday I saw one - in fact, nearly stepped on a rattler around 3 to 3 1/2 feet long. I heard it before I saw it, rattling (more like a buzz, though) just as I stepped through a section of Bunchgrass here in easstern Wa.

Since I'd never seen or heard one this close (and I'm on the upper end of the age range represented here) I backed up and used my rod carrier to part the grass and verify what I thought I'd heard. The buzzing started again and this time I got a good look at the guy coiling up.

Whew...I have to admit my pulse accelerated, knowing I'd been that close to one of these guys...and recalling all the times I've wandered "off the path" and scrambled up rockslides, grabbed at weed clumps, stumbled, caught myself with my hands. You know, all those things that happen when you're bushwhacking.

My post is meant to raise some questions...

Here in eastern WA (or western for that matter) are there REALLY a lot of rattlers or did I have one of those rare and "lucky" experiences?

For those of you who do some "bushwhacking" and know you might very well encounter snakes, are there precautions beyond the obvious (watching where you step and especially where you put your hands) that I should know of? Is a snakebite kit a necessity or is that over-reaction?

Anyone else have a "near-rattler" experience they'd like to recall and share?

Thanks as always!



Active Member
I have put in my time hunting a lot of upland birds over there and run into my fair share of rattlers but your experience is just one of the things to be aware of when you are out there.
There are certain places that have rattlers everywhere you look and sometimes you just can't find a rattler.
I dont really think you need a snake bite kit because if you are careful you shouldn't get bit. Of course there is always the possibilty but if you are aware that they are out there and take action to avoid the snakes, you should have no problem.
I haven't had any really close calls with them but I have shot a couple just to keep my dogs from running into them.
On average i think more will move out of your way than curl up to strike but just be careful when you are out there.


Mike, I have not only had 'near-rattler' experiences but 3 'on-rattler' experiences over the years and I am more wary than ever of them. Certain areas of central and eastern Washington are prime rattler habitant and need to be approached with caution. I have stepped over them, on them but the most disturbing of all was encountering one in a tree at about eye level. A few years back a rattler crawled under my buddies chair while he was relaxing at the rivers edge after a hard days fishing. His expression was pricless but the fear was real! I camped at Crow Butte for many years before it closed and always parked my rig at the top of the campground between the 2 red signs that said RATTLESNAKE AREA. Somehow it always seemed less crowded up there.
So yeah, there are places where you will encounter more rattlers than you care to see. The San Poil River area springs to mind, the Seep Lakes, most anywhere in the Great Basin country you are going to see rattlesnakes. I killed 7 young ones on the Deschutes one morning walking down the road above Maupin. Normally I would leave them alone but these aggressive little critters all charged at me instead of slithering away. I ended up stomping them all into the road with my studded boots. I thought their attitude would be a bad addition the gene pool. Watch your step, Ive
I have hunted and fished in Eastern Wash for 45 years and have seen very few snakes seen few more around dry falls that area. I carry a snake kit but am told if you gid bit don't suck the venom out because if have a sore or cut in your mouth the posion will get in that ways never have heard of any one of my friends getting bit. Also no rattlers in western wash. I would be more worried about the Black Widow Spider which is found in Washington worse the rattle snake.:beer2 :dunno
Interesting topic
I like to fish small streams in "upcountry meadows". I like to take one or both of my dogs and let them run a bit while I'm fishing (as long as they are in sight). We lived near Bozeman, Mt. and fished this way for years without incident (not counting a couple of skunks and porcupine). Eastern Washington is a different matter, I do not know the rattlesnake range. I do not live there to learn since I'm a westside guy. And the information I have found on the web does not give me confidence. I don't know where to take my dogs. Any discussion of safe elevations to stay above; definite places to avoid would be appreciated.


resident lurker
I've spent a fair amount of time wandering in what appears to be rattlesnake country in Eastern Wa, although the only rattlers i've seen have been a few small ones that lay on the road just after dark. Apparently they soak up the heat left in the road for a while after dark.
I don't exactly go looking for them or anything, but I certainly keep an eye out for them. My contention is that it's just one of those things you keep aware of and use common sense, but don't let it stop you from going out and enjoying the outdoors. I think as Western Washington-ers we're kinda spoiled in this aspect, growing up in just about the only area in the country that doesn't have poisonous snakes. As a kid, i was always paranoid that as soon as i crossed over the mountains there would be swarms of rattlesnakes everywhere.
The only "close encounter" I had was in Colorado, walking along a trail next to Beaver Creek near Pueblo. I happened to look down and froze in mid-step because i was about to step on a 5-foot Corn Snake(?). Wasn't a rattler, but the pattern was similar. Any snake that big sneaking up on you is enough to make you check your drawers.
As for the spiders, i woke up one morning in the Yakima Firing Center with a Black Widow crawling on my sleeping bag. That's the only one i've seen, but it was enough.

Kaari White

Active Member
Are you sure that was a rattlesnake? Bull snakes make a buzzing hissing noise to imitate a rattler.

Snakes really aren't that dangerous and you are very unlikely to die from a bite. Just watch where you're stepping and wear good shoes. The only place I've had multiple rattler encounters in the same day is Rocky Ford. I once found a bull snake there (just above the fast water) that was at least 4 feet long.

As for dogs, they are much less affected by rattler bites than are people. If you're going to be in snake country, carry Benadryl (1/2mg per pound) and a first aid kit. http://www.petfirstaid.org/products/sprtdog.html

I never "snake proof" my dogs as I think its a bit of an over kill in WA.

I like snakes (not of the human variety) and haven't had problems with them. My guess if you're more likely to kill yourself trying wading a river than you are being bitten by a rattle snake.


Active Member
I was bank fishing the beavertail area of the Yakima last fall when I saw a snake slithering away from me in the grass toward the river. It was dark and probably a bull snake, but I was jumpy the rest of the day as I made my way along the bank. The only rattler I've run across was a pencil-sized one near the KOA campground on the Yak that I almost stepped on.

Mike Etgen

Not Quite A Luddite, But Can See One From Here

Yes, it was definitely a rattlesnake. Ever since I was a kid (growing up in New England where we never worried about poisonous snakes) I've been fascinated with, though respectful of them. Heck, I used to catch and keep smaller ones, especially garter, milk, and grass snakes.
I moved down south as a teenager and that's when I first realized that some people were terrified of snakes - all snakes - and usually made no attempt to discern between harmless and poisonous snakes. Where we lived there were rattlesnakes (eastern timber rattlers) and copperheads and for all my time in the woods, including cutting four to five cords of firewood a year for several years, I never saw any poisonous snakes anywhere but on the roads.
Nevertheless, I made it a point to know which was which, and occasionally I was able to save a king or corn snake by convincing some local good ol' boy that he wasn't facing a dangerous snake. This almost invariably involved picking the subject up!
I'm just telling you this so you'll believe I know what I came upon. The reason I shared it is that until this happened, I'd figured I had about as much chance of seeing a rattler here as I did back in the Appalachian mountains. Having had the one sighting, I was wondering if I needed to be a bit more careful or if common sense would continue to work.
Truthfully, my greatest concern is that in this part of the country you can end up a long, long way from anywhere and I'd hate to underestimate any risk and put myself in an unsafe situation. But you're right - a person could turn an ankle in a badger hole or slide down a rock pile and put themselves in just as much of a predicament, not to mention all the water-related possibilities.
I'm barely on the high side of fifty so I think I've been pretty careful and I'm not changing now...but this gave some of my friends some new credibility. There really are some snakes out there!
Thanks for your input!

Mike :thumb
Grew up in Easter Wa and saw them at Lenice, the Potholes, Ice Harbor, Priest Rapids, Paterson, Scootney Res, probably others I have forgot. Now live in MT, last year visiting "home" went and fished the sloughs around Paterson, saw two, gave me the willies BAD. (OK, I was carp fishing) BTW, the worst snake infestations are around those hidden secret creeks and lakes out in the desert, the rattlers are EVERYWHERE and strike without warning!!!! So stick to those places right next to the road, and if possible, just cast from the hood of your truck.
A friend and I spent a week fishing the Coleville reservation and we saw between 12 and 15 rattlers. Most were crossing the dirt roads or sunning themselves on the dirt roads. I have never seen so many snakes in a one week period. We were very cafefull reaching under the trailer or turning anything over because of the number of snakes we had seen. I had seen few snakes in eastern or central Washington, including one at Chopaka. The Coleville trip made an impression on me as to how many snakes there are in the wilder, less populated parts of this state. A friend of mine, fishing Chopaka, heard a fellow angler yelling "He thinks you are an island, move." Monty looked down only to see a snake heading toward him looking for a spot to sun himself. Rod slapping the water, fins kicking like hell, he looked like the Budweiser crossing the lake. Yes we have to be wary of snakes over there, but in general they are not that common in most areas that we fish. The number of people in most areas keep the snake population down.
:beer2 :beer2
My sentiments exactly! I dislike rattlers more than beavers. I discovered two years ago that I cann't hear them anymore. I prefer to cast while standing on the top of my trucks canopy. A little further off the ground. Snake chaps are a GOOD thing! I won't even tell you about any snake stories I get the willies just thinking about them!

Mike Etgen

Not Quite A Luddite, But Can See One From Here

Do you recommend the bootfoot waders or stockingfoot with kevlar-lined wading boots?

Does a 4x2 truck offer enough clearance to discourage snakes from climbing on or should I have one of those hi-risers with the twenty-inch tires?

Whew...I'm sure glad you wrote in with this life-saving information!

I have seen multiple rattlesnakes at Chopaka, Lenice, Nunnally, and Merry Lakes. Castle Lake is supposed to have quite a crop but I have never been there. The area around Evergreen Reservoir is populated. I saw one on top of Steamboat Rock. At each viewing, we have each gone our own ways without bloodshed or punctures.
If you are inclined to night fish anywhere in the basin during the late spring through early fall months, I would make sure I had a good headlamp. I know I always walk much heavier when leaving a lake during that time of year-no pussyfooting here.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
I used to know it all---but now I forgot it all.

Would you all quit writing about snakes. You make me feel like I'll never make it back over to the dry side to fish anymore. I used to never mind about snakes and it never crossed my little mind about them,but now when ever I make it over there I'll probably have the willies. That might be why I like the wet side. No snakes,no ticks. Just a lot of little biting mosquitos.