By Mike Giles
The Meridian Star
A late summer outing to Okatibbee Lake not too long ago sent shivers up my spine and left me shaking my head in wonder. We’d planned an impromptu tubing trip to the lake, a last minute occurrence before it got too cold to swim.
Departing from the dam, I turned my boat westward, idling slowly up into Twiltley Branch Cove towards the beach. We were pulling our youngest daughter, Mikayla, on a tube when I spotted an odd sight on the clay bank on the south side of the cove. Suddenly my fears were confirmed, as a large alligator started running towards us down the clay bank.
Kawoosh! The big gator dove into the water bent on finding an easy meal. “What kind of animal is that?” yelled Mikayla. I dared not answer, but quickly made a maneuver in response to the hungry gator.
In case you didn’t know it, there are plenty of gators on Okatibbee Lake, though many go unseen. For years I’ve seen them up above the Centerhill-Martin Road on the north end of the lake. The creeks, sloughs, and beaver ponds have long been full of them.
If you would go up there at night with a powerful Q-Beem spotlight and you would see enough red eyed gators to send chills up your spine. Yep, they're up there where they can eat snakes, beavers, nutria and all manner of rodents and fish.
Kye Clearman has snapped many photos of large gators on the upper end of the lake. I don’t have a problem with them being way up there controlling the rodent population. But hanging out around campgrounds, beaches and near skiers, that’s a bit too much, even for me. Now we don’t ski, and don’t camp a lot, but when we did, key word being did, we camped in tents near where the big gator was spotted. No more of that I can tell you for sure.
A few years ago we had a drought and more gators were seen in areas frequented by humans. And yes, I’ve seen them up near the marina, and even along the dam. But I was fishing out of big boats back then and not pulling a youngster on a tube.
Kawoosh! The enraged gator slashed the water and walloped his tail from side to side as he catapulted towards our boat. I couldn’t stop now. With Mikayla being towed on a rope behind the boat I shudder to think what might have happened had she fallen into the water.
I held the boat on a steady course and didn’t slow down until we got near the beach whereupon we pulled the tube to the boat and got Mikayla safely inside. Turning back towards the main lake we passed right by the area where we spotted the gator.
As we scoured the clay bank for any sign of the monster we spotted him about 50 yards off the bank, right where Mikayla had been only minutes before. I shuddered again.
Needless to say we vacated the premises and didn’t go back in that area again. It’s one thing to fish in a boat around gators in the upper end of the lake, but quite another to have them swimming and living in our tubing territory. Was that gator looking for an easy meal from a boater, or camper? Had campers and anglers been feeding him?
Or did he see our tube and potential food on it? I’m not sure I want to know the answer, but it really opened my eyes to the potential danger in the water. Not too long after this trip occurred I reported the incident and quite a few people related stories of their own including one distraught lady who told a chilling story about one gator incident in particular.
It seems that they were camping and enjoying the scenic view with a deer feeding near the water right across the cove, when a massive gator exploded out of the water and snared the unsuspecting deer. She was terrified and shuddered to think what might have happened had that been a young child.
That gator was reportedly taken care of promptly by authorities and none too soon I’m told. We should always be careful when fishing, swimming, skiing, or tubing on any lake. But with gators on the prowl it’s even more important to keep a wary eye out at all times.
Contact Mike Giles at 601-917-3898 or e-mail him at email@example.com