GATOR BAIT-ALMOST

                              FLORIDA FISHING DANGER

                                                             

It was following my fifteen month unaccompanied tour in the Western Pacific that I was assigned to the Naval Air Training Command as a formation flight instructor in Navy Training Squadron Three (VT-3) located at NAS Whiting Field, just north of Milton, Florida in the panhandle of northwest Florida.  Being avid about sports and especially freshwater fishing, I immediately bought rods and reels and went fishing at any opportunity.  I found a couple of nearby fishing spots for Bass, Shell crackers and Blue Gill fish.  When talking to Navy Lieutenant Dick Thomas, he told me about a farm a couple of miles northeast of Milton where he fished in a good sized pond.  It was owned by a middle aged lady who farmed the property and took care of her mother.  Dick took me out to the farm and introduced me to the lady and her Bass-stocked reservoir.  The pond was situated in the middle of a large pasture with no creeks or swampy areas around.  From that day on I fished there frequently without ever seeing a snake or any other reptile around that fishing pond.

One day in 1961 I picked up a dozen shiners and took my minnow bucket, tackle box and fishing poles out to the Bass pond.  I took the minnow bucket interior and put it into the murky pond water to keep the Shiners alive.  I baited a hook with a lively shiny minnow on a hook set a bobber-cork about 3 feet above the shiner and cast about 35 feet out into the pond.  No bites for fifteen minutes so I cast about to different spots in the pond.  I decided to sit down and relax while waiting for a strike.  I had never been skunked by catching no fish at the pond.  I sat down at the water line on my rain jacket with my knee boots just out of the water.  About fifteen minutes of sitting quietly with no bites, I was becoming discouraged and considering giving up.  The wind was blowing lightly just rustling the swamp grass that grew from the pond edge out a few feet out into the pond.  I was ready to give up when I noticed two bubbles appear about 8 feet out directly in front of me where I was sitting beside the pond.  The two one inch diameter bubbles were about 8 inches apart showing on the water surface just outside the reeds.  I was thinking maybe a turtle was down below stirring the mud and causing bubbles to rise.

                                                                    

Suddenly I just didn't feel right.  I was ready to quit anyway.  I always carried my 38 special in a shoulder holster to kill poisonous Cottonmouths.  Without thinking about why, I reached under my left arm and pulled out my .38 Cal. Special revolver, sighted in on the bubble on the right and fired one round.  The bubble exploded in a sharp splash.  The bubble on the left was gone as well.  I shouldered my weapon and stood up, reeled in the shiner, gathered my tackle and minnow bucket and went home. 

The nice Lady who owned the pond called about a week later and asked if I had shot a big old alligator out at her pond. I said that I had shot my pistol out there but didn't know I had hit a Gator. She said it was a huge gator and it smelled to high heaven. She sounded very unhappy about the smelly carcass but I did not offer to clean up the pond.  I apologized for stinking up her pond and her property but it was only after duck season, when I gave her two of the band of ducks I had shot on Bagdad peninsula, that we continued on good terms for another year.

I had never even seen a baby alligator up to that point in my life.  I read some years later that hunters near Milton, Florida had killed a huge alligator when they were searching for a prized missing hound.  When they cut the record sized gator open, there were a dozen dog collars in his stomach.  Apparently the swamps of the gulf states are rife with Alligators.

Kevin Pierce with the Florida Environment warns:  "If you've been seeing more alligators recently, that's because Spring is mating season and some of Florida's biggest gators are up and moving.  Mature males are going to be actively looking for mates so you're more likely to see large alligators.  Obviously, you're going to see them in the lakes and rivers and habitats where they occur, but large male alligators will also move over land during the mating months of April and May going from one water body to another."

                                                           

Shooting what looked like a bubble that day probably saved my life. The eye is definitely a vulnerable place to shoot a Gator.  He was most probably getting into position to charge his prey about the time I killed him. The big gators can move at a high rate of speed even on land--from 15 mph and up to 30 mph for short distances. 

Looking back at my life, there were a dozen or more times I could have died but for some lucky chance happening like the Gator killing. Seems like somebody wanted me to live when I could have died. Probably my Saintly little wife of 55 years working through those Rosary beads. God Bless Her!

Mofak

Donald Cathcart