Yes, we have big alligators in Florida. No,
they don't live in every backyard pond, lake,
river and drainage pipe here. Or do
We have big gators, little, cute baby gators,
freshwater gators, and the meanest of them all;
the saltwater gator. I don't know why they are
meaner; maybe the salt chaps their rumps. Or,
maybe they just feel superior to their freshwater
cousins, 'cause they live and hunt in the salt
(I just had to throw that in...sorry).
The four of us, Capt. Jon Cave, Capt. Ron Rebeck,
Bill Parlaska and I set out on a trip to the Mosquito
Lagoon to bid a final farewell and toast our two fly
fishing brothers that had recently passed to the other
side of the waters. It was meant to be a day of
remembrance, funny stories, irreverence, yep, that
too, and juvenile tarpon fishing along the brackish
ditches somewhere along the roads of Merritt Island
(exact location withheld due to me being threatened
with my life by the other three).
I had never been to the area, but heard a lot about
the ten to twenty-five pounders that would eagerly
take a fly, then jump into the mangrove trees that
lined the fifteen-foot wide ditches.
I was in total disbelief when we got there. The
brackish waters in the ditch looked like rusty water
that pours out of a metal barrel that's been sitting
for half a century. "There's no way a tarpon, or
anything else, could live in that (expletive deleted)."
I said, as I saw the greenish, yellow-brown soup.
I stepped from the truck and damned near passed out
from the heat. It was hotter'n seven hundred hells.
The no-see-'ems, deer flies, horse flies and
mosquitoes tried to drag me into the marsh. Bill
pulled out a can of bug dope and hosed me down.
I suppose, from this point on, should provide a
I did not purposely harass the protected
Florida Alligator, besides, he harassed me first.
And no gator was harmed in the filming of this story.
After a brief moment of silence, gulping a few
shots of coconut rum to toast our friends, and a
few funny stories about them, we got down to
business. Rods were brought out, flies selected
and spots chosen along the steep banks of the
ditch to cast flies into the putrid waters, where
"mud puffs" could be seen indicating the baby 'poons
were there; at least some kind of something was there.
Ron yells from a hundred and fifty feet away. "Hey
Bill, you see that gator?" Bill is fifty feet to
my right. "Yep, looks to be around eight feet."
Picture this; I'm standing on the top slope of
a steep, ditch bank in thigh-deep grass and weeds,
four feet above the water's surface. "What gator?"
Then he pops his head up twelve feet in front of me,
scattering the mud puffs away...I mean the baby tarpon
"Okay, here he is...he's in front of me. I think he
scared the tarpon away."
I finally realized this critter was following our
voices. I'm not sure whether he's curious or trying
to figure a way to snatch me off the bank into the
murky waters. Yep, he's all of eight feet long. Not
a big gator, by any means, but enough to send the
unseen tarpon in all directions.
"I'm gonna pop him up 'side the head with this fly,
if he doesn't get outa here!" I yell toward Ron and
Bill. Oh yeah, Cave hasn't arrive yet. He's always late
I size up my cast and fling the 1/0 foam popper at
the invader's noggin. Missed. Two more casts. Missed.
Getting' closer, though. Just one more, and I'll nail
the sucker 'tween the eyes. KER-POW!!! "Gator
on!" I instinctively set the hook, and off
goes the gator, ripping brand new fly-line through
the mangrove branches, stripping line from my left
hand as I cleared the obstacles and weeds. "Get out
of the way, Bill, here we come!!! Ron, look out!!!"
The gator does "death rolls" with the new,
seventy-dollar line. But a few belts of coconut
rum had provided me with a logical reasoning that
it is worth it.
"Holy (expletive deleted)! I hope he doesn't break
my rod!!! (More expletives deleted)"
Ron now has a camera in hand to record the event.
"Do you think we can get him into the IGFA record
book?" I ask Captain Ron. All three of us are
laughing so hard we damned near fall into the
nasty water where the gator is now at the surface,
pissed off and hissing and growling at us.
About this time, Ron stretches out and grabs the
leader. "It's official, he's caught! Bill, call
IGFA!" We're still howling as our hands are two
feet in front of the big jaws and staggered teeth
of the angry alligator.
I ask Ron, "What we gonna do now?"
Ron is laughing so hard he's cryin'. "You really
don't want that fly, do ya?"
"Hell no, it'll rust out! Break 'im off and run
like hell!" The twenty-pound line snaps and we
scurry from the bank as the gator slips below
After we had calmed down, we loaded up and drove
down to the Lagoon and wade-fished for a while,
waiting on Jon to show. Nothing there, only a
few big trout crashing mullet schools too far
for us to wade out to. No gators in sight, either!
When we returned to the ditches, Jon had arrived
and we continued to fish a while longer for the
baby tarpon without success. Rod let out a yelp,
and once again, line raced from the reel as
another gator attacked the foam popper he was
casting. This one was a monster. Probably twelve
feet long and had a little more experience than
the eight-footer I had caught earlier.
Ron and Jon fought this one for a few minutes,
sharing the rod between them. I fetched the camera,
but before I could get a photo, the hook came out
at Mach six, sending the foam popper ripping between
us, causing all to duck and run, not sure where the
old gator was.
So, there you have it. All in a day's fun fishin'
for baby tarpon, catchin' saltwater gators, drinkin'
coconut rum and sayin' farewell to buddies with a
slight hint of irreverence.
Just a final thought...Do you think a retired flats
guide could make any money fly fishin' for gators?
Probably not. Hell, I couldn't afford the liquid
See y'all next week.
~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.