THE UNFORGETABLE ALLIGATOR CAPTURE
By Bob Jamison
Most legal alligator hunts and captures begin with a 50ft rope and a 10ought heavy hook baited with a hunk of meat or chicken. At first, this alligator wanted no part of the hunk of chicken because it obviously sensed a hook in its midst and spit it out twice. However, the third time it worked. As you might know, the state requires certain procedures and license to capture an alligator during the September season. One example is a baited hook hanging about two and an half feet above the water. If and when it is swallowed by the alligator, the rodeo begins.
Brian Hollingsworth and I tested the area of alligator habitat much like the state of Texas alligator program did a number of years ago. You use a powerful spot light at night to search the area for which you apply for a tag to harvest an alligator and report the results. Our habitat of the Trinity River bottom swamp land near Dayton, Texas is ideal with the cypress trees draped with romantic Spanish moss hanging from the limbs and swaying in the gentle breeze. We fixed a test bait (no hook because the season was not yet open) near a “slide”. We chose the spot where the alligator likes to rest in the shaded summer sun, thus causing a muddy slide.
Some of the baits hanging from the wire were taken almost immediately. This laid the plan for the actual event to take place when the season opened. It wouldn’t take long for the season was a few days ahead and just in time for the famous Gatorfest in Anahuac. Anahuac, in Chambers County of south east Texas, boasts of more alligators than people in its population. The reason is real because of the Galveston/Trinity Bay marsh land is ideal for these critters of prehistoric nature that have survived floods, drought and depredations of man until they have become almost a common place nuisance for pets, livestock and uncomfortable birders along with a few duck hunter’s valuable retrievers.
“The line is down”, is the sight at first light in the morning on the day of the Gatorfest. That simply means we likely have an alligator that has taken our bait and swallowed the hook. The flexible limb upon which the line was tied was jerking like a big fish on a limber rod. While floating in a twelve foot boat we began carefully pulling the line toward the alligator. Excitement reeked of seeing that great trophy or getting the fantastic photo of a lifetime. But the worst was yet to come. A tug on the rope felt the movement of the catch but it wouldn’t budge. We quickly realized that the gator was hooked and went deep into its hole beneath an island. He wasn’t about to volunteer to come out and he was mad.
Back up for Brian and me were Steve Johnson and his airplane driving buddy Henry and wife Lynn Matt of Lake Houston area that were on hand to observe. Their son Harrison joined us shortly. Lynn is an expert photographer and dearly wanted to see her first wild alligator for a picture. She got a little more than she thought when the alligator was dislodged from his hole and knocked me into the bottom of the boat with a huge thrashing of his tail against the boat.
Cautiously, we joined our onshore buddies in pulling the 700lb plus monster to shallow water where I could get a brain shot from our old trusty 20gauge single barrel shotgun loaded with number three buckshot. The shot again caused the alligator to throw water over much of us and the boat. Then the alligator rolled over and played dead. But like a snake, they are not ‘quite’ dead. Steve Johnson can attest to this as the rookie of the hunt is required to insert a knife into the end of the tail in which to place the state approved tag. The alligator’s reflexes handedly knocked Steve off and the imposition of the knife. This was much to his embarrassment. We all had a laugh along with our three Brittany Spaniels that saw their dangerous adversary on the way to the weigh in at the Gatorfest in Anahuac, Texas….the land of more gators than people.