photo of mourning doves

At age 66, fishing guide Sam Crutchfield had been wading Florida’s Lake Istokpoga in Highland County without incident all his life. But on April 24, out flyfishing for panfish with a friend, he encountered one of the meanest things in the water. Crutchfield tells the story:

We were wading and taking turns pulling the little flats boat. Neither of us had had a bite in three hours. I was in a spot just over my waist, and my partner had the boat about 300 yards away. I’d just made a cast when something slammed into me. I never saw him, just felt his teeth dig into my hip and I knew exactly what he was. The force of the hit knocked me hard, almost off my feet, and I thought for sure I was going under. A gator doesn’t kill by biting, you know. He drags you down, does his death roll, drowns you, and then stashes his prey someplace where it won’t float up until it’s nice and rotten.

I didn’t have time to think. I punched down with my right fist as hard as I could. I think I got him near the eye. He let go, and I started yelling and struggling toward the boat. My partner thought I’d just caught a big fish, so he kept fishing. This was the most terrifying part–I was in up to my chest, and I was sure that gator was coming back to finish me off. It felt like years getting to the boat.

From the bite marks, they think the gator was 10 to 12 feet. The Fish and Game guys couldn’t trap him because when they looked, they found 100 gators in that range. Which tells you why there weren’t any fish. I had a huge bruise, and they put me on heavy-duty antibiotics for a few weeks. I still wade-fish, but I keep the boat a little closer.