Fishing Freshwater

Tennessee Teen Catches Gator on a Swimbait, Stuns Game Warden

The 16-year-old angler reported the catch to a local wildlife officer, who assumed it was a joke at first
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An alligator caught by an angler in Tennessee.
16-year-old Justin Wyrick shows off the gator he caught from Norris Lake ; Tennessee wildlife officer Rick Roberts holds the gator by the snout.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer Rick Roberts got an unusual phone call around 5 p.m. on Monday. The caller said his younger brother had caught an alligator from a lake north of Knoxville. And because there are no wild alligators in East Tennessee, Roberts thought he was joking.

“I was off duty when Tower Wyrick called me and said his younger brother Justin had caught an alligator at Norris Lake,” Roberts tells Outdoor Life. “I know them both, and I thought at first it was a joke. But I could get there in about 15 minutes, so I got in my truck and took off.”

Roberts arrived there soon enough and saw that the brothers weren’t kidding after all. Justin, 16, still had the alligator pinned on the ground and was holding it just behind its head. 

A 16-year-old Tennessee angler holds up an alligator.
Wyrick and Roberts with the gator, which measured around four feet long.

“The gator was lethargic, likely from the cold weather we’d been having,” Roberts says. “So, it was easy to handle. It didn’t wiggle much or try to bite.”

The two brothers told Robert’s they’d been bass fishing from the shore at Norris Lake near the Highway 33 bridge. Justin said he hooked the roughly 4-foot-long gator on a swimbait. He then fought it for 30 minutes before he finally landed it on the bank.

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Roberts called another TWRA wildlife officer, Jason Lankford, who was on duty at the time. They waited for about 30 minutes for Lankford to arrive. In the meantime, Roberts got some electrical tape and wrapped it around the gator’s toothy snout.

“Initially I thought it was a caiman, because I’d had calls about those previously,” Roberts explains. “We learned later that it was an alligator that we feel certain someone had released into Norris Lake.”

A Tennessee angler with a gator he caught from a lake.
Another game warden helped transport the alligator to a nearby zoo.

When officer Lankford arrived at the scene he was just as shocked as Roberts. He then transported the reptile to Little Ponderosa Zoo in Anderson County. Roberts says it’s being held there temporarily until it can be relocated, although it’s unclear where they would take the gator.

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Alligators are classified as exotic Class 1 wildlife in Tennessee. These species are considered dangerous to humans and can only be possessed by someone with the proper permit.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in over two decades of being a Tennessee wildlife officer,” Roberts says, “but that’s the first alligator I’ve seen in the state.”