What would you do to catch a trophy fish? If you’re like me, the answer is simple: just about anything. And, now, I can add swimming with alligators to that long, colorful and adventurous list.
I was enjoying Spring Break in Howey-In-The-Hills, Florida, a quiet, peaceful city some 35-miles northwest of Orlando, and in the country. The home is on Little Lake Harris, one of the Sunshine State’s top bass lakes. Now, I’m a saltwater guy inside and out and only dabble with freshwater fishing, mostly for a change of pace.
On this particular day, there was a mother gator and at least 14 baby gators sunning themselves on a sandy burm some 20 feet from the dock. This is not unusual, for every spring a large gator lays her eggs here, and watches over the hatchlings for a bit. I walked by the gator, got in the boat and scored a couple small bass on the lake. I brought the boat back to its lift, got up on the dock and proceeded to walk back to the house, until I spotted a “bright” area underneath the sitting-area section of the dock. I stopped and peered into the water; it was a bass bed - with a monster bass on it!
Now overwhelmed with excitement, I fetched a spinning outfit – fresh with a purple Mann’s Jelly Worm, and tried to catch the bass – to no avail. I caught and released the smaller (maybe two pounds) male bass twice, but couldn’t even get the big female to acknowledge my worm. I switched up and dropped a plastic lizard, a jig, and even a swimming lure – nothing. The bass just kept swimming around that nest. I needed a live bluegill for bait.
After rigging a small spinner with a hair hook and baiting with a tiny dough ball, I attempted to catch a small bluegill. To my surprise, I caught a big shiner! This was as good as “gold” and a virtual guarantee I would hook that bass.
I ran the shiner back to where the bass was bedding, hooked it to a 12-pound test spinner, and dropped it down from the dock. The shiner saw the bass and went crazy. I had all I could do to keep the now scrambling shiner out of the thick weeds. For fear of losing the bait in the weeds, I reeled up and tried to reposition myself for a better angle to drop it onto the bed. The problem was, in the excitement, I walked right off the opposite end of the dock, caught ten-feet of air and ended up in the lake. Immersed in water and thick weeds, I quickly looked for that big gator, which had left its burm. There was a ladder some 40 feet away by the boat, but being down in the water and weeds, it might as well have been in Bimini; I was concerned over swimming through those weeds and encountering any moccasins or gators.
I swam to the closest dock stanchion, but its cross member was too high to reach. I swam through the weeds to the next one, where its cross member was low enough to access. The cross member here was indeed within range, but at an angle that made it very awkward to get onto without contorting my body like a pretzel. I managed to lock both feet into the cross member and lift myself from the water, to where my rear end was about two feet above and facing the lake. I kept watching for the gator. I needed to get up on that dock pronto, but didn’t have enough solid footing to thrust myself up there. I had to try. I gave it my best effort and ended up, chest down, on the edge of the dock and several inches away from reaching the opposite side with my hand, to where I could have pulled myself up.
Feeling myself slipping, and knowing I didn’t want to fall back into the lake, I made one last thrust and got a grip on the dock. I proceeded to pull myself up. I’d like to say I did this in grandiose fashion, but I actually resembled a walrus sloppily rolling up onto the dock. I made it! Dejected and a bit upset, I walked to the house to get a warm shower. My cell phone was ruined, my money was soaked, my sunglasses were lost, and my pride was bruised, but I held onto my Penn rod and reel combo. Priorities!
After showering and calming down for a half-hour or so, I walked back down the dock. I looked at the bed, and that bass was still there! I took the small rod and another dough ball, and caught yet another large shiner. Once again, I felt that excitement coming on. However, this time, I made sure to slow way, way down and keep my cool. One dip into the lake was enough. I pinned the shiner to the hook on the larger spinner and dropped it down to the bed. The big bass went crazy, chasing it all over until she inhaled it. I set the hook, and the big bass went nuts. I’m not sure how I navigated that big bass through all the weeds and down to the end of the dock, where I could get to her, but I did. I caught the bass!
Thinking ahead, as I did not want to harm the bass, I quickly put the fish on a stringer and secured it to the end of the dock. The fish was doing fine here. I had jogged back to the house to get my camera, and saw that my wife and youngest daughter had just returned. I asked Edie,my wife, to take a few pictures. I removed the bass from the stringer, weighed it quickly on the Boga Grip scale – it registered eight-pounds, three-ounces, held it for a few pictures, and then promptly released it back over her bed. Later than afternoon, I walked back down, and she was still on her bed.
Talk about an event-filled day! I scored my largest freshwater bass to date, and even went swimming with wild alligators. I felt like Tarzan.