On February 3, 1864, General William T. Sherman, on his way through the deep south after victory at Vicksburg, traveled through the heart of Mississippi bringing destruction along his path. After burning Meridian to the ground, he dispatched a portion of the right wing of his army, under the command of Brigadier General Walter Gresham to my hometown to destroy two key railroad bridges in order to disrupt the supply lines to the confederate army. (Gresham would later serve as Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland.) One of those railroad bridges crossed over an area known as ‘Alligator Swamp.’ It was adjacent to the nearby river and provided a tributary. The Union troops tore up several miles of railroad tracks, heated them and made “Sherman Neckties” in the area. For a couple of years I wondered why they called it ‘Alligator Swamp.’ Now I know…more on that later.
Earlier in the year I had a report where I introduced J. D., a friend of mine, to river bassin. He was the one who fell out of his boat without a PFD and separated his shoulder. Well, it has taken several months, but J.D.’s shoulder is doing well and he said he was ready to try river bassin again. I called him on Monday night and asked if he was up for an overnighter? I told him there was a stretch of water I wanted to try which I had never fished, but it would be over 16 miles and we would need to camp out. He was o.k. with that, and I made sure there were a couple of emergency take outs available in case of another accident.
DAY 1 – 9/30/10
I did some research and found a nice sandbar around 7.25 miles from our put in. Upon more research I found out that it was next to alligator swamp and was rich in history. This made it even more interesting. However, I knew that we would pass no less than around 7 other nice sandbars before we got there and we ‘had to make it’ work, regardless. There would not be enough time to paddle back up or go past this sandbar on our time schedule. Also, we had to get close to the 7-8 mile mark in order to cut the float trip in half. Therefore, it was alligator swamp or bust!
J.D and I met up at our put in around 11:30 Thursday morning and after loading all our gear into our yaks we were on the water by 12. The water was extremely low from the lack of rain, but the clarity was great. With fall weather and cool water temps, our hopes were up for some good fishing. We would not be disappointed!
On the second cast of the day, fifteen minutes after putting in, a LM slammed my white buzz bait and put up an airborne fight. J.D.’s eyes came to life as I pulled the first fish from the water. It was a nice LM that tipped the scales at 2lb 6oz. Would this early catch jinx us or was this a sign of things to come? Here is the first fish.
We were forced to paddle through much of this section in order to get to the campsite by 6 p.m. However, we hit several good spots on the way down. This was new water to me and I did not know what to expect, but it did not disappoint. The fish constantly weighed between ¾ to 1 ½ pounds all evening. We ended the evening float with 35 bass…mostly Kentucky Spots with a couple of LM’s in the mix. It was a great time. Here are the photos of the fish from Thursday evening as well as some scenery.
CAMPSITE AND NIGHT TIME
My GPS finally began sounding an alarm to let me know we were within 1/10 of a mile from the campsite. Good thing, as darkness began crawling over the horizon. As we turned the corner to examine our campsite condition, we were met by an 8 ft. alligator resting on our sandbar!!! The gator slid off the sand making a large splash into the river. I wish I had taken a picture of the gator tracks on the sandbar, but honestly, I was not too happy about sharing a sandbar with an alligator! But, we had no choice…and now I knew why the local area was called ‘Alligator Swamp.’ Where were the Union army and cannons when you need them???
We set up camp, gathered fire wood and ate sardines and vienna sausages for dinner. I made one more cast as the sun set and caught the final fish of the day at dark. Here is the photo of that fish and the campsite in the dark background.
As we sat around the campfire, I read to J.D. the history of ‘Alligator Swamp,’ as I knew he loved history. We enjoyed various discussions and simply relaxed and reflected upon the day. A small creek tributary came into the river across from our campsite. It was after dark that we heard, and saw the waves from an animal’s entrance into the river. Yep, you guessed it…it was another alligator entering the water from the swamp! Because of the small size of this sandbar, my tent was only 6 feet from the river! This is not good!!! I took my yak and placed it between my tube tent (more like a casket) and the river. It probably would not help if the gator decided to come on the sandbar, but it provided a small buffer in my mind.
We turned in at 10 p.m. as we knew we still had 9.5 miles the next day. The hardest thing in the world is to fall asleep when you are hearing noises in the water of animals splashing and feeding 6 feet from your tent AND you know alligators are present! After finally dozing off around 1:30 a.m., I was awakened by the unbelievable loud barking and howling of wild dogs. These wild canines are prevalent in my area of the south and have been known to attack and kill deer, hogs and humans. Their howling and barking was unlike anything I have ever heard in the woods and I have spent many pre-dawn mornings in the swamps and woods. I got up, retrieved my pistol and awakened J.D. as the sounds kept coming closer.
After communicating our plan in case of attack, rechecking our lights and stoking our campfire, we re-entered our tents knowing that it was safer there than in the open. Somewhere around 3:30 I fell back asleep and did not awaken until 6:30 when the morning sun lit up my tent with a much anticipated heavenly light! Hallelujah, we had survived!
DAY 2 – 10/1/10
We woke up to temps hovering around 50, fog was rising from the river and more importantly, there were no gators or wild dogs in sight! Here is the campsite and our morning coffee!
After breakfast and breaking camp we got back on the water at 8 a.m. J.D. immediately caught a bass after putting in. I guess the gators left one for us! I thought maybe the fishing will be like the previous evening, however, it was several miles before another hit. The fishing was difficult as we had to really work for them with many different lure selections. However the scenery was stunning as it displays what I love about Mississippi waters!
We ended Friday’s float with 25 bass and three red bellys. I managed 43 fish (42 bass, 1 bream) and J.D. had 20 (18 bass, 2 bream) for a total of 63 fish. It was a great trip with great fishing and a great float partner. And the history of ‘Alligator Swamp’ added several dimensions to the overnight camping. No, we did not tear up any railroad tracks, but we did see a couple of gators, stole one their sandbars, prepared to battle wild dogs and managed 60 bass. What a memorable fishing trip!
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. God bless, Terry