In the end, it was chicken on a string that brought a wayward "alligator" out of the Patapsco River.
A two-hour search on Monday evening by Natural Resources Police failed to find a trace of the critter. But Eric Hammack Jr., the 16-year-old fisherman who first reported the reptile on Sunday, returned to the pond off Belle Grove Road in Patapsco Valley State Park on Tuesday. He had decided to try luring the gator with a hunk of chicken on a string.
"It was a chicken wing," said Hammack, who lives nearby in Pumphrey and fishes in the park often. He pulled the meat off the bones and tied a string and a fishing hook to them. Then he tied the string to a tree, and threw the chicken bones into the river.
"I fished for, like, an hour and a half," he said. Then he had to leave for a while. And when he came back, there was a 2 1/2-to-3-foot caiman on the line. Caimans are close relatives of alligators.
The critter was hooked. Hammack had come with a net and a container to put it in, but the animal by then was snagged under a fallen tree.
"He couldn't move," Hammack said, and he couldn't get to him.
So Hammack called the Department of Natural Resources Police and Anne Arundel County animal control officers, who were on the scene in about 45 minutes.
"They used the kind of pole they use to catch animals, and got it over his body and pulled him up," Hammack said. "Then they cut the line and put tape around his mouth, and they walked out."
The animal control folks "are looking for somebody to take control of it, either a zoo or someone who has the proper permits to take care of it," said Sgt. Art Windemuth, a spokesman for the DNR Police.
Possession of an alligator or a caiman is illegal in Maryland. It's also against the law to release any nonindigenous species into the wild.
Even so, DNR officials say they encounter one or two cases like this each year. Travelers acquire a caiman or a small alligator somewhere, bring it back to Maryland and then release it when it grows too big to handle.
"I'm sure he'll have a better location in a zoo, and get the three meals a day, or whatever they get fed," Windemuth said. "And he'll get protection and when winter comes, he'll be able to survive."
And Hammack can go back to regular fishing. Still, it was pretty exciting along the Patapsco for a while, he said. "It was fun. I could do it again."