It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June when I heard the call; ?Pigpen, this is the Rubber Duck, we are about to go hunting bear.? Wait just a minute it was September 4th not the sixth of June and nobody was hunting bear. As far as I know nobody on our hunting trip was bare at any time during the entire night!
For several years my son, John, and I had planned to go alligator hunting together and this year (2012) vacation, funds, the right guide, selection from the state, everything, had fallen into place for us to make a trip to Lake Eufaula to hunt alligators. While we had hoped that my Dad would be able to make the trip circumstances and health had kept him from going with us. This year it was not just Mom?s health that kept Dad from going it was also for his well being because as Mom had stated to me; ?If your Dad tries to get in that boat with you to go alligator hunting, I?ll kill him!?
John and I were being guided on our trip by Chris Blackmon, a young man who works for Delta Air Lines and takes folks on gator hunting trips each August and September. Chris picked me up as he drove through Newnan about 3PM on Tuesday the 4th and we headed south to Eufaula to meet John who was driving from Albany to meet us at a local BBQ restaurant in Eufaula.
The ride with Chris was most pleasant as we talked about old dogs and children, and watermelon wine ? no wait that was just a song on the country radio station. What we talked about was alligator hunting, alligator hunters and most of all the love(s) of Chris? and my lives, our families. Chris has a burning passion for hunting and fishing, especially bass fishing, alligator hunting and duck hunting but the real love of his life is his girls: his daughter, his late wife who passed away a few years ago after battling cancer and his Mom. The moments we shared with each other about our kids, siblings, and parents developed a bond and kinship between us that I will always cherish.
We arrived at Eufaula just minutes before John and after a quick supper of chopped pork, stew and slaw we were ready to get back into the trucks and drive to the boat dock where our hunting adventure would begin. Lake Eufaula has long been known as a place to go for outstanding bass fishing and a great place to fill up a cooler with crappie. Only in the last few years has the reservoir gained a reputation as a premier hunting area for trophy alligators. Most notable was last year when also on September 4th the largest Georgia alligator taken to date was pulled from Lake Eufaula by Craig Pruett who was also guided by Chris Blackmon. That monster was 13 feet 9 ? inches long and weighed more than 800 pounds. In fact Chris has guided 5 hunters to 5 alligators 13 feet or longer in the last two years. Little did we imagine that before the sun dawned again that those numbers would be 6 hunters who had killed 6 alligators greater than 13 feet long!
Just as the sun was starting to go down and while we were still at the dock preparing to launch the boat a bald eagle glided overhead. This was the first one I had ever seen at Lake Eufaula and I remarked that it must be a good omen. We soon launched ?Putt-putt? Chris? smaller shallow running boat and were headed for the backwaters. We were still in the main channel traveling south and it was just getting dusky dark when I spotted our first gator swimming across the lake. It appeared to be a smaller gator, maybe 5 to 6 feet in length but that was enough to get John and me excited.
From recent scouting trips and prior hunts Chris knew that in the area we were hunting that there were gators more than 11 feet long. After waiting 9 years John and I had both drawn tags and had told Chris that what we hoped to kill was a mature, heavy alligator in the 10 foot range. Chris thought this task was well within his capabilities and in fact told us if we did not both fill our tags that evening he would take us out another night. His experience and enthusiasm inspired John and me with confidence
It was not quite dark when Chris hooked a small alligator, about 6 to 7 feet long and handed John the rod so he could get a chance to see what to do when we got a larger one. We quickly got the small gator next to the boat and at that time he quit playing with us and with a slap of his tail was gone. Time was pasting fast as we listen to turkeys roost, wild pigs waking up to the night air and several owls which were keeping us company. It was a great night to spend with each other and enjoy the beauties of nature which God allowed us to see and hear.
We had already missed getting 3 or 4 alligators to the boat and saw several more before hooking up to the beast we were later to land. We were never targeting the large alligator we were to tangle with later in the night. It was just good luck for us and bad for the gator that the one we final hooked would be as huge as it was.
Of course the skill, knowledge and experience that Chris possessives stacked the odds in our favor and gave us a chance at a nice alligator. We were just in the right place at the right time for John to connect. Chris had just tried to hook an alligator which dove quickly out of sight when we heard, then saw a swirl of water next to the far bank. It was a long cast, maybe 45 yards and from my vantage point at the back of the boat I remarked; ? I believe you were just short and behind that one.?
Little did I know that I was only half right as the small treble hook on the ?casting? rod might have been behind most alligators. But when the creature is more than 13 feet long the distance from the top of the snout that I could see to the place where the hook had connected was difficult to see. The placement of the small treble hook, which was a couple of feet behind the back feet of the alligator, and in to a soft spot on the underside of it?s tail would turn out to be one of the most significant factors in the entire hunt. That lucky placement would become critical before the night turned to dawn. John was once more given the rod with orders to keep the line tight. As Chris closed the distance on the beast with the trolling motor at high speed John was hard pressed to keep the line taught but he was up to the task.
The colossal alligator was hooked just prior to midnight but I do not think he even knew he had a line attached to him. Since the casting rod has only 100# line John could not put much strain on the alligator. Chris asked; Does this one feel bigger than the last one?? John?s response was just a grunt which we interpreted as a positive response. Anyway he continued to pump the rod and keep the line tight. We closed the distance to within 20 yards of where we expected the alligator lay in the murky water. Chris cast a second line with 300 pound breaking strength and connected. Now John took the heavier tackle and I was given the lighter casting rod and reel.
Within minutes we had a second hook with 300 pond line attached to gator and John and Chris thought it would be a good idea to rare back and show the alligator who was in charge. A very bad move because as soon as he knew he was hooked he shot for the surface shacking his enormous head and body out of the water like a 10 pound bass and threw off both the heavy treble hooks. In an instant he was again held by only the light rod and reel which we all knew after seeing this alligator would never hold him if he decided to run. Acting swiftly Chris and John both made desperate casts toward the swirling water and mass of reptile and both reconnected with the alligator. After 3 or 4 tense minutes without taking a breath we all gasped for air and with a sigh of relief started to breath again. The next excited words spoken by each of us were did you see the size of that alligator. We were all shocked and guesses from 12 to 15 feet long were quickly expressed.
The alligator had also got a significantly large breath when he surfaced and for the next 40 minutes seemed to stay on the bottom in about 25 feet of water just walking on the river bottom and towing the boat up and down the channel For most of the first two hours he was under the boat in about 20 feet of water and just walking along the bottom pulling the boat any where he wanted to go. We were hardly able to keep him away from the bank, stumps, and trees until he tired. Once we had a little control I was also able to exchange my light rod for one of the saltwater rigs with heavier line.
Twice more during the fight with this gator he tore two hooks out and was restrained by only one hook with 300# line. The gator was so powerful that even after we had the three "heavy" lines with a combined breaking strength of more than 1,000 pounds hooked to him we could not "hoss" him to the surface. He did pretty much what he wanted to do until approximately the third hour of fighting. It took the three of us 3 and 1/2 hours to get him off the bottom and then could not load it in the boat.
If fact our greatest struggle of the evening was trying to get the alligator into the boat. John had killed his first alligator and it was the trophy of a lifetime. The alligator was so huge and heavy it was impossible to load it into the boat. We had to secure it to the side of the boat and drag it back to the boat ramp. Once at the ramp even using the winch attached to Chris? truck we could not lift it into the truck bed until we used John?s truck to help lift the alligator.
At 5AM we were still making pictures, shaking hands, sharing hugs and giving high fives. The mammoth critter was 13 feet 5 inches long and over 700 pounds; yep more than 1/4 ton of alligator was finally loaded into Chris' truck and we could head home.