Night fishing suddenly became a frightening and potentially life-threatening event for Jay Jacobs. Six pairs of eyes reflecting in the moonlight circled around a floating deer carcass.
His boat was dangerously close to alligator territory, and he needed to get out.
“I’ve been raised to give them a wide breadth. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s that I feel a little bit more comfortable when they are not around,” said Jacobs, the outreach coordinator for Savannah Riverkeeper.
That night was a few years ago when Jacobs fished in the brick ponds near North Augusta’s Hammond Ferry, but alligator sightings haven’t lost their frequency near and in the Savannah River. Just a week ago, Jacobs spotted two gators in the river below the Sand Bar Ferry Bridge.
Alligator sightings generally increase from mid-April to May when the large reptiles are on the move searching for mates, said Lee Taylor, the game management regional supervisor for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Phinizy Swamp, the Savannah River and any ponds or tributaries of the river are common alligator habitats in the area.
In recent weeks, coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina have had their own close encounters with alligators in shopping center parking lots, driveways and golf courses.
A 12-foot alligator was captured on Hilton Head Island by an alligator wrangler who then released it in a Jasper County river. South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources said it is investigating the release because the gator was likely a nuisance and should have been killed in accordance with DNR protocol.
In the Augusta area, human run-ins with alligators are most likely when the animals are crossing between ponds or wetlands, Taylor said.
Jacobs frequently spots gators on lower parts of the Savannah River closer to Phinizy Swamp and sometimes at the rock shoals above the North Augusta boat ramp. Alligator sightings near Riverwalk Augusta are less common, he said.
At the Hammonds Ferry brick ponds, an alligator has jumped off an island and charged at Jacobs, creating a big wave that rocked his boat. He’s had to free one from his fishing lines and even mistakenly got close enough to hear a gator hissing, the warning sign that a human is too close.
Taylor cautioned that people should never approach alligators, feed them or leave trash or fishing waste near boat ramps and picnic areas. Gators aren’t usually a threat to humans, unless they begin to associate people with food.
“The best thing to do when one comes across an alligator is to leave it alone. Alligators are typically slower on land but can move pretty fast for short distances,” he said.
An alligator is often seen sunning on the side of a lake or pond, Taylor said. They sometimes appear to be asleep and let people get close before trying to defend themselves.
Georgia DNR has licensed nuisance alligator trappers for gators longer than 4 feet that act aggressively or have become accustomed to humans that feed the animals.