Kayaking With Alligators: What Every Kayaker Should Know
If your fishing pursuits take you paddling through the swamps and marshes of the Southern United States, you may find yourself kayaking with alligators. But don't let the presence of these prehistoric reptiles discourage you; where there are healthy populations of alligators, there are often healthy populations of game fish as well.
When kayak fishing near alligators, it's important to remember that the swamp is their home and you are simply a visitor. From a distance, alligators in the wild appear to be rather docile, even lazy.
And as cliche as it sounds, it's true that they are more afraid of you than you are of them. Still, there are times when alligators can act aggressively towards kayakers.
Before heading out on your next fishing trip in alligator country, it's good to have a basic understanding of alligator behavior and warning signs so you know what to look for and avoid.
This video is a great example of what most alligators will do when encountered by kayakers.
When Alligators are Most Aggressive
In the wild, alligators mostly keep to themselves and leave kayakers alone. However, there are certain conditions that can elicit aggressive behavior from alligators.
Alligators are typically most aggressive during breeding season. In the spring time, large numbers of alligators congregate at night to mate.
After mating, a female alligator will build a nest in a sheltered area near the water. After laying her eggs, she will guard her nest closely during the 65 day incubation period, defending against other animals that would like to eat her eggs.
After the eggs hatch, the mother will remain on guard, watching after her young, defending the baby alligators from predators.
Male alligators are highly territorial, and guard their territory as fiercely as the females guard their nests and young. Older, larger males are very solitary and are aggressive towards younger males that encroach on their territory.
Alligators have incredibly sensitive hearing. Often times, alligators will hear you coming from far away and slide into the water before you ever see them.
Alligators go underwater to seek refuge. Since the are very territorial, once in the water, they will often stay in the area to protect their territory.
Alligators are cold blooded, and spend much of their time on banks, basking in the sun.
Alligators hide in places where they can be camouflaged in order to hunt. Overhanging trees, clusters of floating plants, logs, branches and vegetation along the bank are all places alligators hide, waiting for unsuspecting prey.
When threatened, an alligator's first line of defense is to go underwater. Their sensitive ears will alert them to your presence well before you approach them, sending them splashing off the bank.
But there are certain instances when an alligator will not retreat, like when a female is guarding her nest and young, giving you a warning you should not ignore.
If you come too close to an alligator, it will usually face you, open it's mouth, and start hissing. If this happens, the best thing to do is paddle away as slow and calm as possible.
When an Alligator Approaches
In remote areas that see little human traffic, it is uncommon for alligators to swim up to you in your kayak. If an alligator approaches, it is most likely because it has been fed by humans before and is looking to you for a meal.
This is why it is critical that you never feed an alligator. Feeding an alligator draws the animal dangerously close, creating a risky scenario for you and anyone else frequenting the area.
If you are approached by an alligator, make a loud noise to scare them off. You can hit your paddle on the side of your kayak, blow the whistle on your PFD, or you may consider bringing an air horn.
Some paddlers carry a rubber mallet with them to thump the bottom of their kayak when entering an area with many alligators.
Kayak Fishing Near Alligators
Kayaking with alligators is generally a very safe activity. Most alligators you come across will want nothing to do with you, and maintaining a respectful distance will minimize any chance of an encounter.
Beyond using common sense, here are some precautions to take when kayak fishing in areas with alligators.
Do not feed the alligators. Food will bring the alligator very close to your kayak and will draw the attention of other alligators in the area, greatly increasing the risk of an attack. Once an alligator has been fed by a human, it will come to see humans as a source of food, causing long-term issues for any others that visit the area.
Give the alligators as much space as possible. Nesting females and territorial males need their space and if you get too close you can expect a warning.
Avoid banks, logs, floating vegetation, overhanging trees and other areas where an alligator may be camouflaged. Surprising an alligator that's waiting for prey could trigger an attack.
Stay far away from young alligators. Wherever there are small alligators, the mother will be close by ready to defend the young against predators.
Leave your pets at home. In some waters it's okay to bring your dog on board your kayak, but not with alligators nearby. A small animal is a nice easy meal to an alligator.
Don't use a stringer to keep your fish. If you plan on keeping fish for the dinner table, bring a cooler on board to stow your catch. If you have a stringer of fish trailing from your kayak, you could be essentially trolling for alligators.
Land your fish quickly and carefully. You may find it helpful to use a net to land your fish. A thrashing fish next to your kayak could draw the attention of nearby alligators.
Keep your hands, arms, and legs in the kayak at all times. A dangling leg or arm in the water might look like an easy meal to an alligator.
Be prepared to make a loud noise if an alligator approaches. Hit your paddle against the side of your kayak, blow a loud whistle or shout. You may consider bringing an air horn with you and keeping it within arms reach.
Kayak fishing takes you to some of the most beautiful wild areas in the world and the wildlife is always part of the experience.
When kayaking with alligators, do take some time to appreciate these impressive creatures, but do so from a distance. Keeping a respectful distance from any nearby alligators is the easiest way to make sure your day on the water is safe, enjoyable and full of great fishing.