What an exciting hunt!! Pure adrenaline rush and to have done it in the pitch black was something I have never come close to experiencing.
We had two boats on the lake looking for the first gator by 9:30 p.m. I actually saw my very first one before ever leaving the dock area; albeit a tiny one around 2.5-3 feet long. That was exciting for me though since the closest thing to a gator on a lake I have seen in person was the alligator at the Panama City Beach Zoo in Florida.
It was definitely going to be a beautiful night from the looks of the sunset.
Lake Hancock is a vast lake that encompasses roughly 3 square miles. With spotlight in hand and a slight breeze we rode around the lake casting beams across the water and along the shores. It was eerie to see eyes shining back at us. Our guide, Chuck could tell the size of the gator by the eyes and knew which ones we wanted to go after. The first part of the night we saw many eyes but none that he felt were worth going after.
Pat was on the bow of the boat with a rod and treble hook in hand waiting for the chance to cast at a gator. I was on the center console stool with a jab spear set up with a float to follow up the catch.
Eventually we changed seats and I sat up on the bow for a while. We rode around and had several gators that we got on. When we would get up to the gator, it would sink, we would watch for a bubble trail and cast in front of it and reel in hoping to snag the gator with the treble hook. Casting a weighted treble hook at a specific spot within 10 yards of the boat is harder than it sounds and I have to admit for the majority, if not nearly all casts, I failed miserably.
We had one incident where the gator made it to the bank. As we watched the water bubble trail head that way, I got on the bow of the boat with the spear. Let me tell you, if that was not scary. As the boat pushed into the floating hyacinth and the plants just moved on top of the water, I was told to look for the gators back and plant the spear end in it.
Whew, the water and plants moved as we pushed into them. I backed away from the bow of the boat as the plants crept over the edge. It was pitch black in the water and the spot light illuminated the greenery and darkened the water. I was expecting huge gator jaws to come lunging at me from the depths of the water. Just when I thought we had gone as far as we could, Chuck gave the boat engine some gas and the boat lunged forward softly, pushing up the the greenery even more. I literally was straddling the bow stool and on my tippy-toes as I was backing away from the bow with the spear in the air aimed at the dark water.
My heart was racing, every nerve ending was running in the opposite direction, chills were running down my arms and legs but I was stuck between the bow and the stool. My common sense was screaming out to me, “What have you gotten yourself into? Back away from the bow quickly!” Finally, Chuck backed the boat up–but that didn’t bring instant relief from my heightened awareness of the possible dangers of what lurked in the water. It wasn’t until we were back out on the flat water and spot lighting for another gator when my heart quit racing.
We had several more encounters with some nice gators, a few more dilemmas with poorly or failed casts, and some time spent trolling and just sitting with the engine off waiting for movement. We were the only two boats on the lake after midnight.
Around 3:45 a.m. Chuck found a set of eyes that he felt was worth going to check out. We had about 200 yards to cover to be on top of that gator. As we got close to the eyes, they slowly sunk into the black water. Chuck followed the bubble trail and we could see the mud getting stirred up from the bottom and whirl at the surface. He told me to cast in front of the bubbles…well, the first two casts were no where near the front of the bubbles. My third cast was on top of the bubbles. Finally, my fourth cast was way in front of the gator and Chuck told me to reel it in slow and wait to see if it would snag the gator.
I reeled slowly and I could feel the hook raking the bottom of the lake in the shallow water. I felt it snag on something like a weed so I tugged and when I did the hook set in the gator. The next 10 minutes was a total adrenaline rush.
The first two cranks on the reel broke the handle and pieces dropped to the deck of the boat. I looked at Chuck and said “It broke!” He said “No, it didn’t, keep reeling.” I said, “I can’t!” and he replied, “Yes you can, just reel it in!” I said, “No, the reel handle broke.” I was stripping line with my hand as I felt the slack in the line. I kept saying, this is like fly fishing. It really was, except I was really having to hold a lot of weight on the line.
The gator pulled the bow of the boat around as it started out toward the middle of the lake. I was hanging on to the line with my bare hand, conscious not to wrap it around my fingers. That gator tugged and pulled on the line as it pulled us out away from the bank. This was like deep sea fishing. My muscles were straining, adrenaline was pumping and all the sudden the jacket I had put on to knock off the chill in the air was burning me up like a sauna. Whew!! What a rush!
Chuck finally got a second treble hook into the gator and I was able to swap rods and start pulling this gator to the boat. Just like fighting deep sea fish, I kept the slack out of the line and reeled in with all my might. Finally, it was close to the boat and we could see it. Chuck said “Yeah, that is a good one.”
Once we had it close to the boat, Chuck took the spear and stuck it into the gator. Then he said, “Okay, now we can relax, it isn’t going to get away.” Poor Pat!! It was at this moment that I looked over and saw that she was trying to man the spotlight with one arm, I had handed her the de-funk rod and reel which she had with her other arm and now Chuck had handed her the spear pole. She looked like a clothes horse with too many things on it. During this whole ordeal we were asking her to shine the light here, no there, right here, hold this, hand me that….Bless her heart; she is a trooper.
Chuck took the bang stick and hovered the power head over the gators head and asked me to raise it to the surface. I did and he hit the gator. The first shot was good but he wanted to get a second shot into it to make certain. The second shot hit the gator above the eye and planted the jacket just inside the surface of the hide. I tell you this, if a 185 grain, 357 magnum jacketed hollow point has issues penetrating these animals, they are seriously made of armor. The third shot did the trick. After taping the spinal column and severing the main nerves we were ready to bring the gator on board and to tag it.
Once this gator was on board, I could not have been happier. I was amazed at the skin and how it felt. I was even perplexed by its feet but nothing was more amazing than the scoots that it had that start from the back of the head to the thin part of the tail along the back ridge. I thanked Chuck and Pat for all their help and teamwork. What a neat hunt and definitely an adrenaline rush.
We spent the next 4 hours hunting a gator for Pat and were able to find a few good bubble trails but with no success. We took one more loop around the lake right at sunrise to see if there were any gators just off the bank. We were unsuccessful so we decided to call the hunt and head in for breakfast.
We made plans to hunt the lake named Hell-N-Blazes (Helen Blazes) the next evening so that Pat could have a chance to harvest her gator. Unfortunately we did not have any luck and fought air boats most of the night. That is hunting…I sure hope I am not an unlucky charm for her. Hmmm?