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MCCULLOUGH: Huntin' the Statham Gator

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

A couple of weeks ago as I drove by the pond down the road from my house I saw some teenagers partaking in one of those annual rites of a country summer -- swimming in the local fishing hole.

The next day when I passed the pond I saw two keep-out signs. When I asked myself why, I immediately went for the logical answer in this litigious culture -- the owner of the property had decided to ban swimmers and fishers to keep from being sued and to ensure that a little bit more fun is sucked out of everyday life.

It turns out I was wrong. (Hey, it happens.) The Statham police put the keep-out signs up because an alligator has been seen hanging out in the pond.

Yes, a six-foot throwback to the Oligocene era, complete with claws and sharp teeth, is living in the neighborhood swimming hole. Police said they think it may be a pet someone turned loose.

My wife, who loves watching "Swamp People," immediately decided we should go catch it. I declined. But I could, if I wanted. I mean, I have caught one before. (Didn't see that coming, did you?)

Yes, I, Nate McCullough, am many things. Purveyor of clever words. Watcher of "Three Stooges" episodes and horror movies. Collector of vinyl records, eater of Reese's peanut butter cups, taker of naps and a guitar man. But at heart, I'm a hunter.

I am a hunter of game, a killer of fire ants and a swatter of flies. I'm a stomper of spiders, a hooker of fish (there's probably a better way to phrase that) and longtime readers will recall I once caught a snake right here in the Daily Post building.

But of all my conquests, the greatest was the mighty alligator.

Gather 'round, children, and I will regale you.

Call me Nathaniel.

It was way back in olden times -- probably 1983 or '84. The place: a pond in Gulf Shores, Ala.

A great storm raged that day. (It rained and then was really cloudy, so we couldn't go to the beach.) Not interested in sitting in our hunting lodge (rented condo), my friend Matt and I set out to catch some fish for dinner. (And kill some time.) We made a great journey. (Across the parking lot.)

I employed my trustiest of lures, a long, silvery-black minnow with treble hooks that I had used with great success to catch, among other things, one fish that didn't bite it but got snagged when I was reeling it in, and a seagull. (Yep, a seagull. Hilton Head Island, S.C. It was an accident, but quite entertaining to the bar-deck full of people in Harbor Town who watched me do it. Apparently, having a cocktail and watching a 12-year-old kid fight with a tangled-up living kite that swooped down and caught his hook in mid-cast makes for a great afternoon.)

Anyway, I cast my line a time or two, and soon I had a bite. A big bite. A bite so big the pole bent in half and almost snapped.

I just knew I had the monster of all bass. Or a giant catfish. Whatever it was, it would be the greatest catch of my angling career. I started to reel.

And then I saw it. The thing at the end of my line was swimming just below the surface. The biggest fish ever! Certainly Jaws himself had somehow ridden high tide from the Gulf of Mexico into this tiny pond. I'm getting my picture in the paper.

Then, a great head and back broke the surface, a massive tail propelling the creature toward the shore -- and me.

It was a six-foot alligator.

I stopped reeling and started snatching the pole backward, trying to break the line. But I'd rigged it for fishing in the ocean and had 50-pound test line on it. That stuff is strong.

Closer the beast came. Most would think about escape, but I thought about my knife. No outdoorsman is ever without his trusty knife, and there was mine, right in the tackle box.

The alligator closed in. I grabbed my knife, ready for a fight. Matt, I think, was already running away. (People always talked about how smart he was.)

I, however, stood firm, not willing to part with my fishing rod. I flipped open my knife, ready for the worst the creature could throw at me. If life had a soundtrack, mine right then would have been John Williams: Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-DUM, DUH-DUMB, DUMB, DUMB, DUMBDUMBDUMBDUMBDUMBDUMBDUMBDUMBDUMB!

And then I cut the line and ran away.

WITH my fishing pole. I let the gator have the tackle box. He apparently wasn't interested though. Noticing that he was no longer linked to me, he slipped back into the murky depths. After my heart started beating again, I retrieved my tackle box and we went back to the condo to watch TV.

So, as you can see, I'm a fully qualified alligator hunter. In fact, I'm already hunting the Statham Gator. I dutifully look out my truck window every time I go by the pond. But so far, no luck.

Then again, it's kind of hard to see anything at that rate of speed.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.