Thanks to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Prisoner’s Lake is now well stocked with rainbow trout. There was a time, however, the lake also contained alligators.

My great-uncle Chip Thomson would spend his winters fishing and hunting in Florida’s Everglades. When he came back to Bromley, his jeep would be full of more than just bags of Indian River fruit. Usually, the extra load consisted of stories he would weave for the folks at the local bars about tracking wild game. On occasion, he would also bring back a snakeskin or a stuffed alligator head. One year, he brought back something a little more tangible—two alligators for Bill and Tom Gaither, the sons of his best fishing buddy, Rudy.

The Gaither boys were enthralled by their new pets and apparently had every intention of keeping them. They dug a pit in back of their house on Carneal Street and put chicken wire around the hole. They started charging kids in the neighborhood a nickel a piece to come and look at the alligators. A steady flow of kids—and adults—made their way to the Gaithers’ backyard. The enterprise came to an end when Mrs. Gaither tried to push the alligators back into the pit with a broom and the larger of the pair bit the handle in two. The collected admission having not covered the cost of a new Fuller Brush broom, the Carneal Street Alligator Park abruptly closed its doors to Ludlow’s animal-loving public.

Uncle Chip and Rudy decided to give the alligators a new home at the Behringer-Crawford Museum. They put the two reptiles in temporary cages and went about building more secure permanent quarters. On the third day of construction, Chip and Rudy showed up to the museum to find the alligators missing. A search of the museum grounds turned up nothing. The two men assumed the gators had been stolen.

It wasn’t long until Covington police began getting phone calls about alligators roaming around the golf course. One evening, the reptiles wandered through a performance at the Devou Park concert bowl. After a quick investigation, the police knew whom to call.

Word spread quickly throughout the community about the escapade and people began searching the park for the scaly escapees. They found them in Prisoner’s Lake. About a hundred people lined the shore of the lake when Chip and Rudy showed up to catch the alligators.

According to an article in the Kentucky Times Star, entitled “Big Game Hunt on for ‘Gators in Devou,” it was quite a scene. Chip went out on the lake in a canoe and lured the first gator to the surface with some raw chicken. When the first alligator emerged for the fresh meal, Chip was able to catch a treble hook under one of its stubby legs. Rudy stood on the shore with a square fiberglass Wright Magill rod-and-reel struggling to get the animal to the shore. When he was within range, Chip jumped from the canoe into the lake and onto the alligator’s back. He grabbed a hold of the animal’s jaw. Rudy took some electrical tape and wrapped it around the alligator’s snout. It thrashed back and forth as Chip and Rudy drug it onto the shore and carried it to the pickup truck.

Rudy tossed the exhausted animal into the bed of an old pickup truck and then they went about catching No. 2. It was smaller, but much quicker. It took Chip a bit longer to hook him. But once he was hooked, bound and tossed into the back of the truck with his fellow traveler, a roar went up from the crowd. The men and boys tossed their hats in the air. Newspaper photographers caught it all for the morning edition.

The next day the local newspaper published a photo of Rudy struggling with the bent fiberglass rod to get the animals to the shore. Rudy sent the photograph to the manufacturer of the rod and they sent him a whole bunch of free gear. They used the photo in their advertisements for years with the caption, “Tough enough to catch alligators in Kentucky.”

All the kids gathered around the pickup truck and got to touch the alligator’s rough, spiny skin. Rudy and Chip told everybody that they were going to give the captured pair to the Cincinnati Zoo. However, as an adult, I went to the museum and saw a stuffed alligator on display that looked awfully familiar. I always had trouble looking it in the eye.

So, when you’re fishing for trout this year in Prisoner’s Lake, think twice before remembering to catch and release. The alligators like trout, too.

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