They are not rare, but they are sneaky. The best chance of seeing one is to catch it sunning itself on warm rocks along the river. I usually have to do a double take before I realize it is a snake, and he is looking right at me. If it senses you or you make a move toward it, the snake will make a move way from you. If you close the distance moving after him, it will turn and fight. Snap and lunge at you repeatedly. They can go subsurface in the water adding to their elusiveness. I have found, standing still and slapping the water with my rod will make him move away. Northern Michigan's species is generally darker unless it has just molted or shed his skin. It has been my observation, for you snake lovers, this species does not make a good pet!
My favorite Water Snake Story...a Father and Son were fishing in a small lake here in Northern Michigan. At the end of the trip they pulled their small aluminum boat ashore and began to unload it. When they pulled up the stringer of Blue Gill a Water snake was attached to one of the fish. When the snake refused to let go a confrontation as to who was the true owner of the fish ensued. The Son told me he watched as his Father and the snake fought it out...it was nip & tuck for a while but the Father won the fight...barely !