TCPalm There’s a key moment during an alligator hunt where the hunter must decide, “Do I have what it takes to win this battle?” Especially when the alligator on the other end of the line is truly a dinosaur. For alligator hunters Chris Bishop, of Stuart, and Hal Camp Jr. and Shane Milstead, both of Palm Beach County, that moment was at about 8:45 a.m. Sunday morning. Somewhere on the winding wild portion of the Kissimmee River, several miles north of where U.S. 98 crosses the waterway, Bishop, Camp and Milstead rounded a bend and suddenly saw the telltale “hole” in the water where a large alligator had just submerged into the black, swift current. “We didn’t actually see the alligator, but we saw where it had been floating went down,” Bishop said. “It must have heard our boat coming as we ran the river.” The trio has about a decade of alligator-hunting experience, but for Bishop, this was the first time he drew an alligator permit for the open water of the Kissimmee River. Usually, he has hunted from a truck on the gravel roads atop the berms of stormwater treatment areas in South Florida. The men were hunting from the comfortable platform of a 18-foot Pathfinder fiberglass bay boat powered by a large outboard motor. The boat enabled them to quickly cover the 25-mile-long stretch of river in Bishop’s designated hunting unit, but what they gained in speed, they lost in stealth. They scouted the same stretch of water Saturday, but had only seen one big gator close to the northern border of the hunting unit’s designated area. “Usually, big gators don’t make any bubbles, but I think this one was so big it was making a bubble trail as it walked on the bottom of the river,” Bishop said. “So with my spinning rod — the same kind I use for catching snook, tarpon or cobia — I made a cast about five feet ahead of it, and as I reeled the treble hook back to the boat, I felt it snag the gator.” Bishop said it was challenging because of the high water. What is generally a relatively shallow part of the river was marking 22 feet in depth. Somewhere on the sandy bottom, in the black depths of the tannin stained water, an angry monster lurked. Bishop said Milstead cast a heavier hook on a heavier rod with a conventional reel. But Milstead didn’t actually snag the gator. What they realized later was the gator saw the hook coming towards it through the water column, opened its mouth and bit it. The men felt they still couldn’t get the gator to budge. “It just grabbed the bottom and held on,” Bishop said. “That’s when we knew we had a big gator — when we had two hooks in the gator with two men on rods and couldn’t get it to to move.” Bishop said they used a typical bridge gaff, the kind of gaff used by fishermen who cast from bridges, to hook into the gator and get leverage to try to haul it up off the bottom. It finally started coming to the surface. Then suddenly, it breached the water next to the boat head first with its powerful toothy jaws wide open. “When we saw how big he was, then we got nervous about landing him,” Bishop said. “Hal was right next to me and put a harpoon dart into its neck. I was able to grab the rope from the harpoon and pull it closer to us, and Shane hit it perfectly with the bang stick, ending the fight.” The battle was a thrill, but the true test of their mettle was how to load a 13-foot-long alligator into a flats boat. Since the river had overrun its banks, Bishop said there was nowhere to stand on land and lift it in. So they had to manufacture a pulley system with ropes and cleats on the boat to help them get the huge reptile into the boat. They decided not to hunt anymore, and ran back to the boat ramp. They took the gator to a place in Palm Beach County where they knew they had a chance at weighing it. Bishop said the scale went up to 650 pounds, but before they could lift the gator’s entire body off the ground, it bottomed out the scale. “There was a significant portion of its tail still on the ground as we lifted it up, so we estimate it probably weighed around 750 pounds or more. It measured nose to tip of tail at 13 feet even,” Bishop said. According to records from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the gator is the longest harvested this year so far. Alligator hunting season will run through Nov. 1.
There are still monsters out there, as proven by these Florida gator hunters, who killed the largest alligator of 2017 and one of the biggest gators in recent years. The alligator was killed in the Kissimmee River, it was thirteen-feet-long, and weighed an estimated 750-pounds but that has not been finalized because the gator was too big for the scale which bottomed out at 650-pounds. To make trapping abs killing this gator even more terrifying, and to up the degree of difficulty, the hunters trapped and killed it from a 20-foot boat. The gator, which was slightly shorter than the boat, could had easily flipped the boat over and you do not want to end up in the river with an angry 750-pound thirteen-foot-long gator. Whenever someone kills a huge gator like this I feel like they should have let it live, because seeing a massive alligator is always cool, but the gator population is strong and we will see other huge gators in the future.
This concludes another chapter of “Fucking Florida: Tales From America’s Most Fucked Up State” for more, click the ““Fucking Florida” tag on this page.