Snake encounters are a common occurrence for every angler who bank walks in Australia. Prime fishing areas also mean, prime snake habitat.
There is likely to be an abundance of prey in the form of frogs and small mammals. Rivers, creeks and lakes also provide water, sun, shade and plenty of places to hide from predators. It is common sense that we should be aware of the risk snakes present as well as precautions that we can take to avoid being bitten. As a parent taking your children into these environments, there are a few extra factors you should consider to make your fishing adventure as safe and enjoyable as possible.
Preventing a Snake Bite
There are 3 parts to this;
1. Keeping a lookout for snakes. This involves being constantly vigilant in terms of looking where you are going and where you place your hands and feet. Children are much less reliable than adults in this regard. Every time we go for a flick I’ll remind my child that they are in a “snaky” area, to be careful in long grass, and to check where they are putting their feet when stepping over logs and rocks. I also remind them not to put hands in hollow logs or trees. A particularly risky situation is bush camping. Once relaxed and comfortable at a campsite children tend to run amok. While it is great to see them glorying in the exuberance and vitality of their youth, they are much more likely to step on something they shouldn’t.
2. Wear appropriate clothing. Enclosed shoes are a must. Gumboots are good in some situations but can be hazardous if a child wears them in deep water. Almost all snakebites involving fisherman and bushwalkers are on the feet or lower leg. I put my kids in a pair of gaiters that cover ankles and shins. There is also a strong argument to wear long pants. On a hot day you will have to tradeoff with comfort. Most of the time I’d have my kids wear a pair of light weight nylon travel type pants. These offer less protection than jeans or thicker trousers but are much more practical when walking in water. On the plus side venomous snakes in South Eastern Australia have very small fangs so are less likely to puncture clothing.
3. Make sure they know what to do if they encounter a snake. This is actually a highlight for my kids. If you are 10 metres away, it is easy to admire this sleek and graceful creature as it slithers away. You will probably feel differently if there is a brown jack-in-the-box right next to your child’s bare leg. If you see a snake and it’s a reasonable distance away, its best to stop and keep still. Nine times out of 10, it will move away on its own accord. If it doesn’t, just walk around it, giving it a wide berth. The scary interactions are when you first notice a snake as you are right on top of it. Again, most of the time, the snake will bolt. If its holds its ground and looks excited, instruct your child to keep very still. If it hasn’t retreated after a reasonable time, instruct your child to back away very slowly. It goes without saying that you and your children should never interfere with a snake. Don’t try to kill it or pick it up. Harassing a snake in any way massively increases your chances of being bitten.
What to do if Your Child is Bitten
If your child is bitten by a snake, remember that you are dealing with a medical emergency. This is going to be a scary and traumatic experience for both parent and child. The good news is that snake bite deaths in Australia are rare (approximately 2 per year). With the correct first aid and prompt medical attention the chance of a good outcome is high.
To ensure a good outcome you need to ensure you have the proper equipent. When fishing in snake country the minimum I’d carry is two broad compression bandages, a rescue beacon (Personal Locator Beacon) and a mobile phone. Basic first aid for snakebite is relatively simple …
- KEEP THE PATIENT STILL,
- Apply a pressure immobilization bandage and;
- get medical help ASAP.
If a child is involved and you are in a remote area, things can get more complicated. As a parent in this situation you may have to make some judgement calls, which will depend on the specific circumstances.
It is useful to understand how venom moves around the body and what the first aid you have administered is trying to achieve.
What Happens to your Body When Bitten?
When a snake bites, any venom will be deposited in the fluid within the body’s tissue and not directly into blood vessels. This fluid is part of the lymphatic system. Movement of the venom is dependent on movement and contraction of surrounding muscles. The pressure immobilization bandage is slowing the movement of the venom, buying you time to get the patient to medical professionals who can administer antivenin. This is really important in children because due to their small size, even a small amount of venom reaching their bloodstream could potentially overwhelm them. Also, a scared and unwell child is going to be much more difficult to keep still than an adult patient. As a parent your challenge is how to get your child to hospital as quickly as possible with as little movement as possible.
If you are faced with a potential snake bite you will need to go through the following steps;
Debunking a Few Snake Myths
Snakes are aggressive creatures that are out to kill you – Snakes probably think you are trying to eat them and will almost always try to avoid you. Very occasionally a snake might be aggressively defensive. This is usually if it feels cornered or someone steps on it or intentionally harasses it.
You need to capture or kill a snake to help the medics identify it – All this does is increase the risk of someone else being bitten. My wife who works in the hospital system was once presented with a frozen Tiger Snake head by a concerned relative of one of her patients. There is now a single antivenin that neutralizes the venom of all Australian snakes. There is no reason to try and catch a snake for identification purposes as it will not change treatment.
It is only a Python so its ok to pick up to impress the kids –Don’t do this! It is easy to confuse venomous and non-venomous snakes. Broad Headed Snakes (dangerous) can look a lot like Diamond Pythons. Even non-venomous snakes carry nasty bacteria in their saliva which can lead to infections.
If you get bitten by a snake go to the vet as they treat more snakebites – vets do not have the same level of training as medical doctors and will not have the appropriate equipment to treat humans. Asking them to treat a person would be a medicolegal nightmare for them. Just call an ambulance and get to a hospital.
It is only a baby snake so I will be alright – juvenile snake’s venom can be just as potent as an adult snake’s.
I’m old school so I will “cut and suck” – all you are really doing is putting a really toxic substance in your mouth.
Dry and Wet Bites – depending on species it is estimated that up to 50% of bites do not involve envenomation. This is useful information to convey when reassuring a casualty but always apply first aid as if envenomation occurred.
Snake bites are always painful – I’m sure they can be but not always. There have been cases where people have been bitten and have not realized it. So if you are fishing in snake country and you or your child starts getting unexplained nausea, headaches, muscle weakness or breathing difficulties consider snakebite as a possibility, look for puncture marks or scratches and apply first aid as appropriate.
Snakes only come out in hot weather – snakes are more active in spring and summer. You tend to start seeing them when the yellas start biting. It might be something to do with them being hot and hungry. However, snakes don’t actually hibernate and can be encountered any time of year.
Other Useful Tools
There are other techie toys that may provide further piece of mind when you are taking your kids fishing in the backcountry;
- Satellite Phone – allows you to make phone calls when you have no mobile signal. I don’t think many fishos use them as they are expensive (purchase price + monthly subscription fee)
- GPS Communication Devices – Depending on the functionality of the particular model these allow you to send and receive emails and texts via satellite, allow contacts to track your location via GPS and have an SOS button for emergencies. These are potentially cheaper than sat phones but still require a monthly subscription fee. Reputable brands include Garmin, Spot and Zoleo.
- Emergency Apps – The Emergency+ app uses GPS functionality built into your smart phone to give your location details to emergency services during a 000 call.
Personally, I’ve never let a fear of snakes stop me going on a walking or fishing trip. Since I’ve started to go out with my children I put a lot more thought into snake bite risk, precautions and contingency plans. With a bit of planning and the right kit there is no reason you can’t take your kids fishing regardless of the presence of slithering serpentines.
Written by Ganguddy Goodoo
‘Ganguddy Goodoo has been fishing for 3 years. His home turf is Canberra’s urban lakes and the Murrumbidgee. He spends most of his time trying to get his children off Minecraft and outside doing something active and adventurous. Before he started fishing he spent about 30 years bushwalking and climbing. Once the young ones are a bit more self sufficient he would like to revisit some remote rivers and creeks in the Blue Mountains and Australian Alps with a fly rod.’