Catching Alligators

My latest catch while fly fishing for perch

My latest catch while fly fishing for perch

Let’s take a break from my blog about “Life and Leadership” this week. What I really want to write about is alligators.

Last week I drove to Louisiana for a leadership conference and arrived early. I entered the conference grounds, drove through the woods until I found the swamp-marsh, parked, and assembled my 5-weight fly rod. I tied a black fly with white rubber legs on my 4X line and waded out to a partially submerged dock.

Norman Maclean writes, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. Our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.” 

Eyeing me from forty feet away was an alligator. I stripped line from my reel, false cast in the air to be certain I had the right distance, and plopped my bug in front of the gator’s nose. I began retrieving my line. The alligator turned, followed, swimming after my fly. I kept retrieving. The gator’s speed increased, creating a wake. The skin in his mouth was white, whiter than his teeth, and for a moment I marveled at the rows of fangs and the dark maw of his throat.

He chomped down on my fly. I waited a one-count, lifted my rod and pulled my line. The hook hung and the fight was on. The alligator thrashed his head back and forth, chomped on my fly trying to swallow it. I pulled and he dove. Surfaced. Chomped six or eight times. He tossed his head around and dove again, then a third time, and a fourth.

Then it was over.

Note my fly in the corner of the gator's mouth

Note my fly in the corner of the gator's mouth

In truth, it was anticlimactic. A bass fights harder than a four-foot alligator. I’ve caught perch four-inches long that fought harder than the King of the Swamp.

If, like the Apostle John, you are a dry-fly fisherman, watching the gator close on my fly was the ultimate dry-fly experience. Pure,  giddy anticipation. But  after the chomps and dives I slowly reeled the gator to me--towed would be a more apt description.

While I gave advance consideration to how I should present my fly to the alligator, I had given exactly zero consideration to what I would do if I caught one. Now the master of the swamp was before me with my $1.95 fly snagged in his snout. I thought about grabbing him like I’d seen my friend Ben do, but then I remembered: I’m a writer. I need all my hands and fingers.

The gator opened his mouth so I could study the placement of my fly. For a moment I felt like a dentist looking into the mouth of a four-year old. When he turned his head just so, I jerked backward on my barbless fly and it popped right out. That was luck, not skill. Believe me. The gator didn’t even know he was free, or maybe he refused to back down. He just floated, looking up at me with his right eye.

I think the whole charade of floating there showing me his teeth and my fly was a distraction. As I turned to wade back to my truck, another gator was lying across my path, mouth open. When in doubt, bluff. I puffed out my chest, tucked my chin, and waded directly for my truck.

I’ll conclude by noting that I have all my fingers and toes. None are in a jar. All are attached to knuckles just as God originally designed.  

Next week, I’ll return to “Life and Leadership.” In the interim, this is the perfect time for you to subscribe to my blog. Be honest: You had no idea you could catch alligators on a 5-weight fly rod and 4X leader until you read this. Sign up. You don’t want to miss a thing. Each week I’ll drop two or three thoughts about “Life and Leadership” in your Inbox—for free, no less.