Daily Limit: Angling interactions in Gatorland

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Mike Suchan
Fishing in Florida offers run-ins with alligators, and anglers should know what's expected of them.

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a gator-eat-bass world down in The Sunshine State, but it can also go the other way.

Bassmaster anglers most certainly will encounter a few alligators during the Bass Pro Shops Eastern Open #1 on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes this week. To learn more about those interactions, we visited Brandon Fisher, director of media production at Gatorland, one of Florida’s original attractions in Orlando.

Fisher, who’s handled all sizes of reptiles at the 110-acre wildlife park for 14 years, said he’s recently gotten into bass fishing after mainly being a saltwater angler. Like most who have fished in Florida, he’s had gators chase his lures, but he offers much more insight on their dietary habits.

“They’re very curious animals, and they’re opportunistic feeders, so if it’s easier for them to catch the food, they’re going to go the easier route,” he said. “A little 2-pound bass somebody catches, they’re going to see that as an easy meal. Anything that splashes or hits the water, they think it is food, and they’re going to go after it.”

Bass anglers are quite accustomed to these gator pursuits, especially when they’re fishing frogs, but other baits are targets too. Fisher said anything swimming nearby a motionless, submerged gator can be in danger, because they have special receptors around their mouths. These little black dots, or integumentary sense organs, can detect changes in salinity or pressure, like a passing fish pushing water.

“They’re basically like whiskers on cat and dog,” Fisher said. “They feel temperature changes and vibrations in water. Anything brushes against that, they’re going to go for it, but it has to be within range.”

Over the years, B.A.S.S. anglers have documented plenty of encounters with gators. Large ones basking in the sun have raced away when a bass boat trolls up too close, while smaller, more aggressive gators have caught up to baits and actually been hooked.