With gator seasons open in several southern states, hunters have been hauling some impressive catches from Dixie’s rivers, lakes and swamps, making August and September monster gator months all across the South._ Field & Stream_ tracked down five of the biggest trophies so far from Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Barry Sanders (right), of Warsaw, Virginia, snagged this 13-foot Georgia gator from shore with a spinning rod, setting off a two-hour fight that pitted Sanders and Savannah’s renowned alligator trapper Jack Douglas (left) against the biggest gator Douglas has seen in more than 20 years as a hunting guide and nuisance trapper.
Well known around Savannah for his many years of service as Chatham County’s go-to guy for trapping alligators and other nuisance animals, Trapper Jack estimates he’s taken more than 6,000 gators (including the one shown here) since 1989. He’s grabbed them from golf-course ponds and suburban driveways and swimming pools, from downtown squares and airport runways. But the gator he spotted while guiding Barry Sanders and Keith Herbert on an Ogeechee River hunt September 10 was the biggest he’s ever handled.
Herbert had earlier caught an 8-foot gator, so Douglas and his mate Paul Tomich were heading back to the dock to get Herbert’s catch into a cooler before it spoiled. Douglas spotted the gator in shallow water, and he and Sanders came up with a plan: They’d go ashore with the spinning rod and try to snag the gator; Tomich and Herbert would hand the 8-footer off to an assistant at the dock and return to pick them up. “We kneeled down in the marsh and waited,” Sanders says, “and it wasn’t more than 10 minutes before he came up right where he’d gone down. We were able to cast over him and get a hook in him.”
Sanders was using a Daiwa Beefstick rod and the same Penn 750SS spinning reel he uses to surf fish on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But instead of a striped bass, bluefish or tuna, Sanders was hooked up to an 800-pound gator that lay now on the shallow bottom of the Ogeechee, just yards from where Sanders and Douglas crouched in the marsh. Sanders says he never worried that the gator might charge onto shore, suddenly transforming him from predator to prey. “I was more concerned that we might lose him. It was the last day of a two-day hunt, and we’d already hooked up and lost several other nice gators, and I was getting a little worried I might leave Georgia without one,” he says.
“He settled back down on the bottom without struggling much,” Sanders recalls. “It was like he didn’t know he was hooked. Jack called Paul and told him to swing wide when he came back with the boat. We knew we couldn’t handle a gator that big from the shore.”
About 20 minutes after they’d been dropped off on shore, and about 10 minutes after hooking the gator, the two men were back in the boat. They got a second treble hook in the gator. “Then he knew he was hooked,” Sanders says. “For the next hour-and-a-half we didn’t see him.” Towed by the gator and pulled by the strong tides of the Ogeechee, the boat covered a quarter mile as the men tried to keep their lines free of logs, crab traps and other potential snags. Twice the gator was able to shake one of the hooks, but both times the remaining hook–secured by 250-pound-test braided line and a good knot–held fast until they were able to re-set a second hook in the gator’s hide. At one point, the boat was within 150 yards of a railroad trestle. “We knew that if we didn’t get him up on the surface before we drifted under that, we’d probably lose him,” Sanders says. “Just by luck, he decided he needed some air and came up.”
“He came out of the water head up, like a rocket blasting off, and I was able to get the harpoon in him,” Sanders says. “I was right proud of myself.” With the harpoon in, they were able to bring the gator to the boat. Sanders dispatched it with a .22 magnum pistol.
“It was almost impossible to get him in the boat,” says Sanders. “We had to roll him several times, and four people in an 18-foot boat with a 13-foot, 800-pound gator makes quite a boatload.”
“We worked well as a team to get this thing: Everybody did what they were supposed to do, and at the end we were all pretty well whipped.” From left to right: Douglas, Tomich, Herbert and Sanders pose with the prize.
Sanders has gator hunted with Douglas before, boating a 10-footer a few years ago. “I knew I wanted a bigger gator than the 10-footer, but I didn’t think I’d end up with something this big. Jack and Paul were awed by the size of it, and they’ve seen a lot of gators, so I knew it had to be something special. I’ve never seen anything that big.”
“Right away I knew it was the biggest gator we’d ever had a hold to: He dwarfs all the 12 footers I’ve caught,” says Douglas, who averages 200 nuisance gators a year and another 15 during the hunting season. The week after he and Sanders nabbed this giant, Douglas caught two 12-footers that weighed around 500 pounds. “There was only one inch difference in the size of them, and we caught them within an hour of each other, less than a mile from where we got the 13. Never done that before.”
“Barry was hoping one day to get a real monster gator,” Douglas says. “It was a really outstanding hunt for him; he was absolutely thrilled. He’s always been a big fisherman and deer hunter, but this is only the second time he’s messed with alligators, and to get the biggest one I ever got–it really meant a lot to him. He won’t be ever looking to top that, I don’t think.”
September has been a good month for catching big gators. Craig Prewett, a Powder Springs politician who last year was a Republican candidate for the Georgia state senate, caught a 13-foot, 2-inch 840-pounder in Lake Eufaula in south Georgia. Prewett caught the gator with his father and was on his first gator hunt after years of applying for a tag.
Keith Fancher broke the Alabama state record with this 14-foot, 2-inch gator that weighed 838 pounds.
Fancher, of Shelby, Alabama, caught his record-setting gator in the Alabama River, in the state’s west central zone.
Nineteen-year-old Tim Stroh reeled in a 12-foot, 3-inch, 800-pound Florida gator with a fishing pole on Sept. 16. Stroh hooked up with the gator after it passed on a bait his father cast using a specially reinforced gator rod. Using nothing more than what his father called “a puny bass rod,” Stroh was able to get the gator to the boat, where he finished it with a .44 caliber bang stick.
Zach Moore had a memorable first gator hunt, using his bow to get a line in this 12-footer on Lake Eufaula in Alabama. “We shot him one time and he came up on the bank and he was standing up and that’s when I realized how big he was, and it knocked my socks off because I didn’t believe he was that big,” Moore said, after he and his father battled the gator for about 9 hours on the first day of Alabama’s gator season.
With gator seasons open in several southern states, hunters have been hauling some impressive catches from Dixie’s rivers, lakes and swamps, making September monster gator month all across the South. Field & Stream tracked down five of the biggest trophies so far from Georgia, Florida and Alabama.