‘Gator Bait

World War II ended in August 1945 and by the summer of 1946, military surplus stores were booming. Eliminating the middleman, one of my industrious Uncles, Austin Bryan, a Navy Sea Bee, had appropriated a two man, inflatable life raft that had been “lost” off of a Catalina flying boat. It had never been used so Uncle Austin made a plywood box for it and shipped it back to the ‘States, to his Brother, my Dad. We now had a “fishing boat” and me, being young, thought pumping it up was neat.

Our first trip was with our neighbor, Dave Miller, a WW II veteran and former student at Texas A & M College (now University) and his son Bill, to an oxbow lake off of the Brazos River, south of Richmond, Texas. This was a very “private” lake on a large State Prison Farm. This trip being arranged by another Uncle, A.C. turner, who, at the time, was the Rehabilitation Director for the prison sysytem.

We drove to the lake, inflated the boat and then “took turns” fishing out of the life raft. Bill and I went first and learned quickly the art of paddling a life raft. Our first attempt resulted in an inglorious circle! Our fishing results were better, several small bass, that were put on our communal stringer and then we headed to the shore and turned the raft over to our Dads.

Left on the bank while our Dads were working on the bass, Bill and I caught some grasshoppers and went to bait fishing. Not much wind, a real nice afternoon and we noticed a snag drifting near our spot. It drifted up and stopped and quit drifting. Being nine and eleven years old we thought nothing of it and kept fishing.

Our Dads were headed back our way with a couple of more fish on the communal stringer and Dave yelled to us, “What’s that in the water out from you?” Being young we answered, “Where?” My Dad said, “Boys, watch where I cast,” as he cast a wooden, Lucky 13 plug, toward us and across our “snag”.

He twitched his rod tip and reeled one turn at a time, “walking the dog” back over the “snag” and then the water exploded and a big, it seemed five or six feet long, alligator, our “snag”, cleared the water in a twisting, mouth open, teeth showing jump, made a great splash as it returned and then took off, at top speed, pulling the life raft behind it!

My Dad’s Calcutta rod was dangerously bent! He was yelling because the ‘gator was stripping line from his reel, and the reel’s only drag system was his thumb! Trying to stop the ‘gator’s run, his thumb was being blistered because he was using it to put pressure on the reel spool. The ‘gator jumped again, the plug pulled loose and came sailing back toward my Dad and, a ducking Dave and settled on the water behind them. “Whoopee” exclaimed Dave, followed by a “Damn” from my Dad, as both anglers paddled back toward us.

Laughingly, my Dad told us “ ‘Gators like to eat little boys if they can catch one and this one was sizing both of you all up for a dinner.” Silently we deflated the raft, packed it in its plywood box and did not enjoy his attempt at humor!

In a picture box display, in the main hall of my ranch house, are all of my Dad’s old fishing plugs, including the tooth scarred, wooden, Lucky 13 that he “walked” over the ‘gator.