Captain DaleFour of us passengers with Dale on this new swamp boat. He said he was the only boat captain who is a local, and his father taught him to drive an airboat when he was nine years old. Although the engine was very loud, we had aviation headsets with comms and we would often stop to look at things, and talk with the engine idling. Dale had great animal-spotting eyesight and answered all questions confidently.
AirboatThis new boat cost about $70k and it has a 500hp engine and a 16-blade fan. Dale said with a light load it did not even need water to ride on: it happily skimmed across flat land. The only problem is there are no brakes, so if we wanted to return to a point of interest we'd just do a U turn, flattening tall reeds or vegetation. Top speed is an impressive 60mph.
Gators, gatorsWe saw two large solitary males, a female with several young (surprisingly she lay placidly even when we came to within a few metres), an adolescent and several smaller young that must have left the nest recently. The females are usually 6-8 feet long, a big male can grow to 13 or even 14ft.
Typical swampscapeSometimes deer and hogs are seen in the trees along the swamp edge (not today, though). We did see a large river otter (a rare sighting), turtles and many species of birds, including the Snail Kite that is highly endangered. It eats apple snails - freshwater snails that grow to the size of apples.
ReedsDale said he knew of about 14 gator nests in the swamp and he knew where to find them, despite the featureless reeds. He said it's common for people to get lost in the swamp, especially when a fog comes up.
Catfish restaurantOn Dale's recommendation we went to a nearby restaurant that the locals frequent. We had gator and catfish and it was so heavily breaded and fried that all we could taste was the crust. Pretty awful and we didn't finish it. Curiously they have light honey as a table condiment. Our waitress said it was good with the hush puppies (fried corn meal balls - not bad) and even the fish. The sweet potato fries came with a cinnamon butter, also pretty good.