I learned about catching alligators from my neighbor, Butch Dobson. His camp looks like a mobile home jacked up onto pilings, but upon close inspection, it isn’t. They’ve just modeled it after one.
Butch and his brother, Trip, both have camps in the Delta. Trip and his buddies in Camp Bream Chaser, the most remote camp in our part of the Delta, are mostly Vietnam Veterans. I was told once that they probably had dead bodies strewn throughout the swamp. But I’ve gotten to know Trip since then, and he is a very respectable and honest man. And, he is only about 5-feet, 5-inches tall. If the Camp Bream Chaser bunch is responsible for dead bodies, Trip was not involved.
I see more of Butch, since he is just around the bend, and a few times I’ve stopped off to visit with him. I don’t know his bunch very well, but we get along fine. I like to sit quietly and listen to their stories. One of these stories, which was more of a passing comment, gave me my most successful entertainment: alligator catching.
“You catch alligators?” I interrupted.
They stopped and Butch looked over at me. “I’ve been catchin’ alligators since I was a kid.”
“With your hands?”
Butch made a claw with his hands and thrust it at the deck. “Grab ’em right behind the neck. They won’t hurt you.”
“What’s the biggest you’ve caught?”
I don’t remember what he said, but it was impressive. Impressive enough to leave me thinking that my enter-tainment value and authenticity had just doubled.
The next weekend I used my younger cousin, Connor, to test the technique as it had been described to me. I presented it to him as if I’d done it a hundred times myself.
“With your hands?!” he asked.
“There’s nothin’ to it. They won’t hurt you.”
“How big are those you grab?”
“Just little ones.”
“What’s little to you?”
“You know, a 2-footer.”
“Serious. Just grab it behind the neck.”
Connor had a few drinks in him. And my brother, Reid, was there to encourage him further. We eventually had him lying on his stomach on the bow of the boat as we drifted up to a small alligator. Reid held the Q-Beam on the target while I sat at the stern and used the engine noise to drown my laughter. Connor reached down and I saw his arm begin to wave wildly and knock into the boat. Then he turned over onto his back and had the alligator in the air. I was crying. Reid was doubled over. Even though he was laughing with the rest of us, Connor must have sensed that he’d been had. He stood with the reptile and began to threaten us with it, chasing us around the small jon boat and jabbing its snout at our faces.
“Connor!” I yelled.
Then the alligator began to twist and flip about. Connor couldn’t hold it and dropped it into the boat. I climbed up onto the motor. Reid ran to the front. Connor stood up on the gunwales, tilting the boat up onto its side, and we all went into the swamp.
All I could think about was “Where’s momma alligator? Babies got mamas.” I’ve never climbed back into a boat so fast in my life.
Connor laid down rule No. 1 of alligator catching that night: The one who catches the alligator has the option of letting it loose in the boat. I don’t have a problem with that; it only adds to the excitement. There have been many other rules, but most of these were shouted after the fact, under threat of alligator, and soon forgotten.
Another Reptile Tale Heard Round the Delta
“Anything goin’ on at their camp tonight?”
“I just came from over there. They went out in that Go-Devil and slipped up on this big old alligator they thought was dead. Somebody poked at him with a paddle.
Sum-bitch flipped around and bit the boat. Their eyes are still wide. Sittin’ around not talkin’ much.”
Trading Post Shenanigans
“We met this fellow on the Causeway. He had a stretch RV. Said he was from Tennessee and asked did we know where he could get some alligators. We said, ‘What for?’ He said he had a big old pond he’d just built and wanted to stock it full. Said he’d pay $100 apiece for gators. We looked at each other and told him we’d be back later. We set out in a Stauter with a crocus sack. Wouldn’t you know it started thunderin’ and lightnin’ like nothing we’d ever seen. We’d caught all the alligators we wanted all summer, and that day we could hardly find any. But we got back late that evenin’ with eight little ones and one 4-footer. His RV was still stittin’ in the same place. He waved us inside like we were makin’ some kind of drug deal. We walked to the back and shook those alligators out of the sack into his shower. He pulled out a big wad of cash and thumbed seven $100 bills at us. Then, he said he was gonna give us $300 for the big one.”
“Damn. Thousand dollars for eight alligators?”
“And I figure every one of ’em died in the first freeze.” MB
Watt Key is an award-winning novelist who grew up on the Bay in Point Clear. His third novel, “Fourmile, ” which was released in September, received a coveted Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews.
text by Watt Key • illustration by Kelan Mercer