I spent the past month bass fishing in the swamp waters of the Florida Everglades in constant company with alligators. In fact even my campsite is on the edge of a pond hosting several gators. I’ve seen thousands of alligators throughout my lifetime, but never have had such an opportunity coexist with them and observe them so thoroughly. Even though I did have one big gator sneak up on me and then charge at me, I can honestly say that in the past month I’ve developed true fondness, love, and appreciation for these daunting creatures.
It was the fishing that really allowed me to interact with and study the gators closely. These Florida gators seem to have developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with fishermen. I could be fishing a canal or pond where no gators were visible, but as soon as I caught my first fish and managed to get the hook out, by the time I looked back up, there would very often be an alligator hovering in the water in front of me only a few feet away. Many times the gator would literally be at my feet, swimming right up to the pond’s edge, waiting and watching. In many senses they reminded me of begging dogs, very much hoping and expecting that I would toss them the fish.
The park service down here, over-regulating, micromanaging, authoritarian, power trippers that they are, heavily frown upon feeding the gators and will either heavily fine you, jail you, or both, if they catch you feeding a gator. And they have a legitimate reason: just like feeding the grizzlies in the parks out west, it habituates them to people and trains them to approach people in hopes of scoring a snack… which can become very dangerous. Grizzlies and gators aren’t quite as polite as most people, and don’t always take no for an answer. This is actually why the gator charged me. He was very pushy, constantly hovering at my toes whether I had a fish or not. Anytime I moved on down the bank he would follow me, and park himself at my feet again. I admit, it was a bit intimidating. He was a good sized gator, easily big enough to rip off my leg or pull me under water to drown me. I felt like he was stalking me and I kept moving away from him, keeping a close eye on him. That is, until I turned my back on him to tie on a new lure, thinking he was far enough away that he wasn’t a threat. I turned around to catch him out of the water only a few feet away, silently trying to creep up on me. The moment we locked eyes, he bolted into a charge straight at me. I lept backwards into the 60 mph highway I was fishing off of. Thank God there wasn’t any traffic coming, and thank God I turned around in time. After I lept he didn’t chase, but boy did he have a bloodthirsty look on his face. He did hesitatingly continue to creep forward, but by now I was actually a bit angry rather than scared, so I bluff charged at him to try to put him in his place and shift the energy of the encounter. It kind of worked. He froze in place. Gators are at a bit of a disadvantage outside of the water. I know that people warn they can run fast and all, which they can, but all in all they aren’t too nimble. It was a standoff. I did the smart thing and left. I actually was grateful that the incident happened. The experience taught me that I really did need to be more careful and watchful around the gators. They aren’t to be trusted.
That was my only real negative experience with a gator throughout the month. The rest of my experiences were quite pleasant. I kind of liked the games they would play while I was fishing. It kept me company and gave me real interaction with these fascinating wild beasts. They weren’t just waiting to be tossed a fish, they were also waiting to steal fish off my line as I was reeling them in. They tried several times but only succeeded once. I was fighting a good-sized bass I had hooked with a plastic worm and no gator was in sight. Suddenly the bass seemed to be pulling A LOT harder, my line snapped, and then I spotted the yellowish outline of a gator eerily drifting under the water right where I lost the fish. I was thrilled rather than mad, although it was a good bass. The gator got his meal, and I still got mine, eventually taking an even bigger bass back to camp.
Fishing top water lures (lures that float on top of the water and splash around like a wounded frog) also provided a fun game with gators, basically like playing fetch with a dog. Everytime I fished top water, if a gator was around, they’d chase the lure itself thinking it was indeed an injured critter. I’d cast it out and start wiggling it, and the gator would swiftly bee-line to it. Then I’d reel it in quickly to avoid losing the lure, and the gator would put on a full-speed chase all the way to my feet and then stop. I’d cast it out again and the whole scenario would repeat. Then I’d start to toy with the gator and the gator would start to get suspicious. He’d start chasing the lure, but then I’d stop reeling, and the gator would stop too, sensing something was awry. I’d start reeling again and the gator would chase again. I’d repeat this start/stop pattern until the gator was at my feet again. It was actually pretty fun, but hopeless for catching fish. Eventually more gators would become attracted to the scene, and then I’d just have to move on to another spot.
Beyond playing these fishing games, I simply observed the gators doing their thing a lot. They actually live pretty peaceful lives for the most part. They lay in the sun on the bank motionless most of the day, or just hover in the water as if weightless, slowly paddling with their long blade of a tail. They move very gracefully in the water, as if in slow motion, and at night when they do most of their hunting, they remain in the water. One of my favorite things to do at night is to shine a flash light over any pond in the glades to see their eyes light up like little flickers of flame. It’s quite eery. What first appears as a peaceful little pond shows itself to be full of large reptiles on the prowl.
As sedate and lethargic as gators can appear, they sure can spring into fast and ferocious action in a split second. I watched many gators make a kill and it can be quite startling. The go from total stillness to violent wrath and then back to stillness before you even realize what’s happening. You just see and hear this massive uproar of commotion in the water, and by the time the splash and waves clear, the gator is just floating in stillness again with a sinister look of satisfaction on its face. The silence of the Everglades is punctuated with these uproars all throughout the day, and eventually you start to take less notice of them. They just blend into the backdrop of the breeze and birdsongs. I also got to see some gators fight each other. It was never anything prolonged, just a quick, angry, strike when a competing gator got too close. It’s not uncommon to see gators missing a leg from such fights. It’s also not uncommon to see gators with fishing tackle stuck in their face.
As I said earlier, the gators did remind me of dogs, not only for their habit of begging, but also for their general habituation to man. Most wild animals don’t really want to hang around people or look them in the eye. But gators have no problem being in close company with humans. Many, many, times I’d be fishing so close to a gator that I could reach out and touch it with my pole and neither of us were bothered in the least. Dogs also display a sensitive understanding of humans, their emotions, their ways. I got a sense of this from the gators as well. They really would interact and communicate, and remember me when I came back around. I enjoyed their company. I enjoyed observing them. They truly made my fishing experiences more pleasant and enjoyable. I love alligators.
And please forgive the ads on this video. I never monetize my content, but since the audio was borrowed, youtube made me do it.