By Bobby Cleveland
It broke a trolling motor.
It broke a boat trailer winch strap.
But what the 697 1/2-pounder will most be remembered for breaking is Mississippi’s record for heaviest alligator ever taken by a hunter.
Killed last Friday night (Sept. 21) in Issaquena County during the private lands hunting season by Tom Grant of Boyle, Kenny Winter and Jim Reed of Greenville, and Michael Robbers of California, the 13.15-foot gator is one fat, massive lizard.
Biologist Ricky Flynt, who heads the alligator program for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, verified the record on Saturday.
“It is the record, beating the old one of 690 1/2 pounds, which was also set in Issaquena County in 2011,” Flynt said.
Flynt said the beast had a belly girth of 65 inches and an even-more-amazing 45-inch tail girth. The boned-out meat from the tail alone filled three 48-quart coolers.
“That old boy was fat, and he was healthy,” Flynt said.
And, he was a handful.
“About wore us out,” said Grant, who was the permit holder and hunter of record for the gator. “We had to work for him, as you can well imagine.”
The night started right at sunset when the four friends set out with two goals.
“Our first goal was to get Michael an alligator,” Grant said. “He is originally from Germany and now lives in California. This was his first alligator hunt. He works for the same company (Uncle Ben’s).”
That goal was accomplished rather quickly in the gator-filled waters of a hunting lease in which Grant and Winter are members.
“We got a 6 ½-footer pretty quick, accomplished that goal and moved on to get a big one,” Grant said. “We had caught a 12-foot, 9-inch gator there two years ago but we never weighed it. We knew there were bigger ones.”
Winter was sure of it.
“I told you two years ago when we caught that one that we were going to break the record, and we did it,” Winter said.
After releasing the smaller gator, the group kept spotlighting and finally saw the reflection of what appeared to be the eyes of a bigger gator.
“It was moving toward the bank, which was lined with willows and brush,” Grant said. “Before we got within casting distance, he submerged and disappeared. I was pretty sure he was still hanging around so I made a few blind casts.”
Using a Penn 336 offshore reel, an Ugly Stick casting rod, 100-pound Power Pro braided line and a 10/0 weighted (4 ounces) treble hooks, Grant covered the area until ….
“I finally hooked him,” he said. “He immediately headed for deep water at a fast pace, which is when I realized I had hooked something significant. Once he pulled us to the middle of the lake and we got over him, Kenny was able to get a second hook in him, at which point he headed back toward the tree-line bank.
“On the way there, he got my line around the trolling motor and actually bent the shaft before he broke my line. It was one of those portable trolling motors that you just screw on the boat but, he bent it so bad we couldn’t even pull it up out of the water.”
Winter, fortunately, still had the gator hooked up, and his line was 150-pound test. Grant quickly tied on another hook and got it back on the gator — which, of course, didn’t please the big beast.
“He turned immediately and went back to deep water and sulled up on the bottom,” Grant said. “We needed another hook in him.”
Reed rigged up a hand line, a heavy rope and hook, and handed it to Robbers in the middle of the 15-foot, 42-inch-wide johnboat.
“Michael was able to get that hook in him, which seemed to really rile the big boy up,” Grant said. “He headed back to the bank. He had been fighting for about 30 minutes at that point, and I was sure he was gonna get air soon. This time we didn’t stop until we reached the bank.
“The gator went to the bank, and actually surfaced and got his head out on the bank. That was our first good look at him, and we realized what we were dealing with.”
They didn’t get a long look: The gator blew out water, gulped a big breath of air and headed for the deep.
“He was getting tired, and so were we,” Grant said. “We decided that when he stopped this time, we would use our handline and try to pull him up so we could get a snare on him.”
Obviously, pulling up a nearly 700-pound hulk of irate reptile is not so easy. The handline pulled out twice, but finally something broke the surface.
“It was a hind leg,” Grant said, “and Reed was able to get a snare around it before the gator went back to the bottom.
“For quite a few minutes the gator didn’t move and we couldn’t make him move. We actually thought he might have drowned, but that didn’t last long.”
They were soon being towed back to the bank, but the alligator, still working on that one breath drawn on the bank so long ago, was tiring.
“He didn’t make it all the way to the bank,” Grant said. “Jim handed Michael the snare rope, grabbed the 20-gauge shotgun and got it ready. As we suspected, he was coming up for air.”
It is at this point that things got a little dicey.
“He came up under the boat and rocked us so hard we took on water on one side,” Winter said. “He was so big, he just lifted up the boat. Water came in the other side.
“We started stomping on the bottom of the boat, trying to scare him out from under us. It worked.”
It is at this point that things got a little icky, at least for Winter.
“The next time he came up, his head came up right at the back of the boat, which is where I was,” Winter said. “I guess, during all that fighting and running and running out of oxygen, that he had inhaled a bunch of water. He blew it out right in my face. It was green, nasty and stinky.”
“We checked, and one hour and 45 minutes had passed since the initial hook-up. After the (gun) shot, he sunk to the bottom and we took a well-needed rest, while making sure all our lines (four of them) stayed tight. After we cranked our 30-horse motor, we towed him to the landing.”
There, the group surveyed the situation and realized the enormity of the task accomplished and what lay ahead.
“We weren’t going to be able to load it, so we decided to use the trailer and its winch and pull him up on the trailer to take to camp,” Grant said. “Well that didn’t work. The strap broke. It snapped it. It was all we could do to get his head up on the trailer.
“We decided we had to drag him. It was just a dirt road back to the levee and then when we got to the paved road, we went real slow and pulled him in the grass until we got to camp. Then we moved him into the walk-in cooler and went to bed.”
Next morning, when the group was rested, they immediately began researching ways to get the gator weighed on certified scales.
“They got hold of me, and (conservation officer) Tracy Tullos and I were going over in that area anyway to check some things so I told them if they had a way to lift it, we’d bring scales,” Flynt said. “I knew those guys had caught big gators before and if they said it was big, then it was pretty big.”
Grant said the help from the conservation officers was appreciated.
“I have to really thank Ricky Flynt and Tracy Tullos for doing that,” Grant said. “They certainly didn’t have to, but to come over and not only bring the scales but also certify it as a record, well, I can’t say enough about how professional and nice they were. Ricky took great pictures.”
The photo session brought Winter an ugly flash back.
“When we were sitting beside him and opening his mouth to get the picture with those massive jaws open, you could see that nasty green stuff in there, oozing out,” he said. “I flashed back to the night before, and it brought all that back about him blowing that gross stuff in my face.
“I could taste it all over again.”
Click here to read about a 600-pound gator killed earlier in the season in the Big Black River.
|The crew of (left to right) Jim Reed, Michael Robbers, Tom Grant and Kenny Winter set the Mississippi state record for the heaviest alligator killed by a hunter on Friday (Sept. 21) when they took this nearly 700-pounder in Issaquena County.|