“Sure, just watch out for the gator.”
The words resonated in my head as I walked toward the pond that reportedly held some bass and panfish. Moments earlier, my ears perked up when I heard the owner of the small citrus-picking operation mention a little pond in the corner of the grove – and a gator. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to ask.
“Any fish in that pond?”
“Yeah, there are some bass, and a few tilapia,” she replied.
“Mind if I fish a little?”….
An orange grove was the last place I expected to be tossing a fly in southwest Florida, but the prospect of catching a big Florida bucketmouth sent chills of excitement down my spine. Only about a hundred feet long and half as wide, the pond was small, if not tiny, easily in range of casting a fly to the other side. A little grove of palm trees hung over the water, breaking up the grassy bank. I imagined a largemouth lurking in the shade, waiting for a helpless baitfish to wander by.
Then I spotted her. Eight feet of massive gator was sitting on the opposite bank sunning herself — out of reach, but still far too close to be comfortable. With one eye on the beast, Braden grabbed a #4 rusty brown Meat Whistle and tied it on with a Rapala knot.
I was on gator watch while Braden probed the depths. The murky water was full of tiny minnows. Occasionally, something would erupt on the surface, sending the minnows scattering and fueling our excitement even more. One restless corner of our minds was always on the gator, no matter how much we focused on the fish. Braden ran the Meat Whistle through the middle of the pond and along the shore, but nothing showed any interest. After a few minutes of fishing, he decided to shift gears and switch to a panfish fly. He tied on a #12 Flash Bugger and repeated the process, hitting every little fishy spot in that corner of the pond.
A few minutes later I took the rod and headed over to the other side of the pond. The gator kept an eye on us as she lazily sat on the bank. The uneasiness was beginning to wear off, but it’s hard to be completely comfortable (or at least it should be) with an apex predator staring you down. I cast my flash bugger deep into the shade, and started stripping it back. The line tightened up, and I set the hook on a fish! As soon as the gator saw the rod bend, she launched herself into the water and started cruising right at us…I stripped in line and yanked the 6-inch bluegill onto the bank, using the backbone of my eight weight to my advantage. The gator was getting closer with every moment. Braden snapped a quick picture before I fumbled with unhooking the fish, chucked it back into the pond, and took off in a hurry! We tried to fish some more, but every time Braden started casting, the gator would slowly sneak toward us, forcing us to get out of there before she got too close. Today was an awesome experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.