By William Heasley, SMWIA Local 12
Here in Okeechobee, Florida, it’s hard to find a nice ripe tomato in the grocery stores or even at the roadside markets. The only ones that taste good are the little grape tomatoes. I miss the taste of the home grown tomatoes from my garden back in the “Burgh.” What they do have here that tastes “mmm mmm good” are gator nuggets. And the best tasting ones, like home grown tomatoes, are the ones you harvest yourself.
That’s why Bette and I decided to go out and get our own gators. The first one, a mere seven footer, resulted in some really sweet deep fried nuggets, but we wanted to try for a larger gator, so we could have larger nuggets! Sunday afternoon, after watching the Steelers humiliate their opponents, Bette and I decided to go fishing on the Kissimmee River for gators.
We were in the boat and on the water at 4:30 p.m. We saw a few alligators, and at around 6:45 pm, I threw a perfect cast over a nice large gator that Bette spotted 40 yards away. I reeled tight to him and set the treble hook hard with three sharp snaps of the rod.
Fight on! The gator lazily swam out into the river and went downward. I followed by pulling hard on the rod and setting the hook twice again just to ensure a good hook up. I was actually pulling my boat towards the sunken gator and ended up directly above it in about 20’ of water.
After awhile, I began to think the gator had slipped the hook and wrapped my line around something heavy on the bottom. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I was sure I had hooked it good and decided to be patient and wait. I knew it would have to surface for air, and it did 2 hours and 50 minutes later. It breached like a whale with its head four feet above the water. It was dark by then, but by the light of a nearly full moon, I could clearly see I was hooked to a very large and dangerous beast. I pictured myself strapped to his side like Captain Ahab on the great white whale. This dinosaur that just burst through the surface looked liked “Moby Gator.” I started to think about the fishermen in Jaws and thought that I may need a bigger boat. What I really needed was to get another hook into the leviathan.
During the six hour and 15 minute battle, the monster surfaced eight more times like a torpedo fired at the surface. At 12:10 a.m., it smashed into the bottom of my boat and gave Bette and me quite a fright. Hell, I was afraid of it from the moment I saw it in the moonlight. That’s how the battle went — the gator would hold on the bottom, come up for air, spend about five seconds on the surface and then head back down to the safety of the muck on the bottom. I just sat there with my rod in hand, while keeping steady pressure on the creature.
Bette and I had plenty of time to talk and make plans to successfully land the gator. Bette kept notes on the time of the events and kept all the ropes, hooks, harpoons, gaff and bang stick at ready for use. Everything was stowed by Bette in an orderly and safe manner. I kept thinking this was going to end in a story about the “one that got away.” I desperately wanted to get another hook into it. I tried with another fishing rod and a hand line. I was able to get him hooked with the second rod three times, while Bette held onto the first rod. Each time the hook pulled loose, and the lizard became angrier. I worried that it would break the line while angrily fighting, so we gave up on the second hook idea.
At 12:25 a.m., it breached near the boat and stayed on the surface long enough for a shot. Bette placed the harpoon in my hand, and I made a good 10’ throw aided by the moonlight. Now we had a much more secure line fastened to the gator. Four lines are better than one, so I pulled him to the surface three more times and nailed him with another harpoon each time. At 1 a.m., I was able to control the monster with the four harpoon lines and bang stick him in the head. There is a “sweet spot” to hit that will dispatch him quickly. I missed the sweet spot! I was inexperienced, excited, scared and out of 357 magnum shells, and this huge animal was still alive and blinking his eyes.
We waited two hours for it to expire and then slipped a rope around him for the tow back to the boat dock. Two and a half hours later, we are at the boat ramp for high-fives, knuckle bumping and a little hooting and hollering. We just couldn’t believe this big animal was NOT “the one that got away.” Bette and I straightened out the curves in the gator as well as we could and measured him to be 11’ 7’. I loaded him into the pickup truck using a homemade ramp and a come-a-long. We took him to the local meat processor and were told that the estimated weight was at least 750 lbs. and that the true length was 11’ 9” – almost as big as some of the mosquitoes that were biting us during the night!
We have two more gator tags to fill, but right now, I feel worn out and tired from the long battle. I think our next major endeavor may simply be…planting a tomato plant.
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