A Mississippi woman on her first gator hunt bagged a 557-pound monster after an hourlong battle that saw the 11-foot, 6-inch behemoth drag her boat, break a rod, and snap multiple lines.

Susan and Shambani Watts, of Raymond, Mississippi, were among 24 hunters awarded permits for a special season organized by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDFWP) to reduce alligator numbers in the populated areas around Ross Barnett Reservoir. The married couple were hunting in Pelahatchie Bay with friend Leigh Bailey on May 3 when they hooked the gator around 2 p.m.

“We played a cat and mouse game for about two hours,” Shambani Watts, an experienced angler and gator hunter, told Brian Broom of the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. The gator dove when they approached in their boat, but Shambani managed to hook it with a blind cast. “We got a second hook in him and the fight was there. He took us for a ride.”

The gator slipped the hunters’ snare four times before Susan Watts was able to dispatch it. Bailey said the gator was the biggest she’d ever encountered. “We fought him for a full hour before we landed him,” she told the newspaper. “It was vicious.”

Gator hunting has been happening at the 33,000-acre reservoir on the Pearl River since 2005, when Mississippi offered its first public alligator sport hunting season, but this is only the second year that hunting has been allowed in the Pelahatchie Bay area. The special lottery-only hunt was instituted after the safety concerns of homeowners in the neighborhoods surrounding the bay shifted from worries about hunters to worries about gators. Rising complaints from residents about frequent sightings of 9- to 12-foot gators led the MDFWP to craft a controlled hunt that is meant to have the maximum impact on gator numbers while posing the least amount of risk to neighbors.

“This alligator hunting season is set during the breeding season for alligators and prior to emergence of aquatic vegetation that restricts boating access in hopes to enhance hunting success for adult breeding female alligators,” says the department’s information page on the Pelahatchie Bay season. Two four-day hunts are conducted, each allowing 12 permit holders to harvest two gators over 6 feet long.

Alligators are common in all but a handful of Mississippi’s northernmost counties. The state-record alligator was taken in August 2023 and weighed 802.5 pounds and measured 14 feet, 3 inches long.