By Ben Smith:
Last week I said records are meant to be broken. My feelings haven’t changed, I’m just disappointed that it wasn’t me. By now, most of you know that the Mississippi state alligator record was broken this past weekend. If you didn’t know, let me enlighten you. Four guys fought the 14’3” monster for several hours before landing him, a new length record for our state. He weighed in at 802 pounds, shy of the weight record by about twenty pounds. If they were smart, and dishonest, they could have stuffed some weights down his throat like those crappie fishermen did last year and had the weight record, too. The good news is that the season isn’t over yet. We’ve still got several days left to break the record again!
My alligator hunt started just like every other alligator hunt that I’ve been on…we got on the water about an hour later than we said we would. Part of it is our fault, the other part of it is the boat launch at Grand Gulf resembled a traffic jam on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. I’ve never seen so many boats in one place. Per MDWFP, this was the fault of the supervisor of Claiborne County since he didn’t see it fit to ensure that boat launches were clear and available. No surprise here either, it happens every single year. We waited in line until well after dark before we were finally able to launch our boat, not our intention.
Figuring that we’d be playing bumper boats if we went straight to our usual destination, we headed north up the Mississippi River to another location a few miles upriver. To our disappointment, we played bumper boats here too. I thought we were among the few idiots that think it’s a good idea to travel miles up the Mississippi River in a small boat in the dark. I was wrong. There are apparently plenty of others. We spotted gators as soon as we got there, but none “cranked my tractor” as Phil Hanberry would say. We pushed past the other boats with hopes of finding a stretch of river for ourselves. Our efforts were futile, and we never really got out of earshot of another boat.
After spending entirely too much time at this location, we decided to head back down the river. Others had the same idea and we had three boats follow us out and back into the abyss of the Mississippi River. On the way back down, we tucked into the Big Black River. By this time, it’s already pushing 2:30 in the morning and we are running out of time to cover the spots further down river that we’d planned to hunt. We headed back out of the Big Black and were met at the mouth by a giant barge pushing up the river. Up to this point, I’d been mostly at ease on the river.
Our lights shined the tugboat at the back of the barge, and I could clearly see the boat kicking up a “rooster tail” at least eight feet into the air behind it. We had two options: sit and wait for the river to calm down and safely go downstream or push through and hope we didn’t die. We chose the latter and I spent the next fifteen minutes on the front seat puckered up as our vessel was tossed around like the SS Minnow. I’ve been in the ocean in six foot swells, and this is the best example I can think of to describe what we were in. The only differences between the two was our boat was much smaller this time and it was dark.
Fortunately, we arrived at our destination without an issue. We quickly spotted gators and started hunting immediately with the clock as our enemy. Over the next couple of hours, we hooked several gators. None of them measured up to what we came for. They were either too big to be our runt gator, or too small to be our big gator. We’d snag them, fight them to the boat, then release them for someone else to catch later. I kept an eye on my watch knowing that it wouldn’t be long and the sun would be up.
We finally snagged a gator that we thought would be runt worthy. It didn’t take long for us to get him to the boat and snare him. After securing him, we put the tape measure on him just to be sure we didn’t accidentally kill one over seven (you can only kill one over seven feet) because he certainly wasn’t big enough to be worthy of our big gator tag. A rough measurement of 6’6” gave us plenty of wiggle room for error, so we popped him. The smell of gun powder for me was like fresh cut roses to my girls. It felt so good to land a gator, even if it was a small one. At least we weren’t going home without something to eat.
We hunted a little more after that, but the sun was already breaking, and we were getting low on fuel. We still had to cross the Mississippi River again, and if you’ve read my articles from the past, you know my story about running out of gas on the Big Muddy. It wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to relive. We arrived back at the boat launch around 7:00 and much to my displeasure there was a boat next to us with a gator that was pushing thirteen feet. It was like a punch to the gut. Before heading to the launch, I might have been satisfied with calling it a season. After seeing those guys and that gator, I’m gonna hunt until I kill one in double digits or until I run out of time. Stay tuned next week to see how it turns out!