By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Jamie Calvert of Selma admits he is not a very good judge of size when it comes to alligators in the Alabama River. In fact, he and his hunting mates – Blake Jones, Fielding Watts and Wil Tipton – had no idea that they had hooked a behemoth until they were hanging on for dear life.
“We ran up on the gator about quarter after 12 and watched him go down seven or eight times and decided to stay on him,” Calvert said.
“We hooked him about 1 a.m., and he immediately swam out to the middle of the river and went to the bottom, about 45 feet deep.
“We were able to drag a grapple hook over him and hook him. Then we were able to get another No. 12 (12/0 snatch hook) treble hook in him. So we had two No. 12 hooks and a big grapple hook in him. He laid on the bottom for an hour and five minutes before he came up the first time.”
The alligator, which Calvert figured was 11 to 12 feet long, finally came to the surface and filled his lungs with air before heading back to the bottom.
“This time he only stayed down about 10 minutes, and we were able to get him up to the top,” Calvert said. “Then we got him close enough to get a noose around him and were able to shoot him with No. 5 shot.
Then we were able to get another noose around his foot. At that time, the two No. 12 hooks had come out, but we still had him with the grapple hook.”
Calvert said the four team members pulled on the alligator for 30 minutes, trying to get the monster gator in a position where they could roll it into their 24-foot aluminum river boat. Fortunately, there were other folks out on the river that night who were willing to give the gator hunters a hand.
“They got over in our boat and helped us flip him in,” Calvert said. “The whole ordeal lasted between two hours and 15 minutes and two-and-a-half hours.”
Calvert said it didn’t help a bit to try to emulate Troy Landry of “Swamp People” when it came to rolling the big gator into the boat.
“I’ve watched Troy do it, but we couldn’t figure it out,” Calvert laughed. “We tried, but it didn’t work for us.”
The Selma team would realize why it was so difficult to get the gator in the boat when they reached the check station at Roland Cooper State Park at Miller’s Ferry. The gator was 14 feet, 2 inches long and weighed 814 pounds, which just missed the weight record of 838 pounds set by Keith Fancher last year with a gator of the same length.
“We had done some scouting, but we had not seen that particular gator,” Calvert said. “We rode down that way about a week before and saw some nice gators, 10- to 11-foot gators. The Monday before the hunt, we went down to Bogue Chitto (creek) and looked around. We didn’t see anything big down there. We saw a bunch of small ones, so we got a game plan to put in at the City Marina in Selma and work our way down the first night and see what we could find.”
Calvert said they saw about 10 gators and passed up one their buddies were able to land later that night.
“I thought that one was about a 10-foot gator, but when they got it in, it ended up being a 12-foot gator,” he said. “But then, I thought the one we were hooked on was an 11- or 12-footer. It ended up being 14-2. It’s hard to tell when they’re in the water. I had no idea it was 14 feet.”
Calvert said he made the same mistake on alligator size last year when he wasn’t drawn for one of the 50 tags available in west central Alabama, where the Fancher gator was taken.
“We were just riding around last year to see what we could see, watching everybody else,” Calvert said. “It ended up there were a couple of guys who didn’t know the river and didn’t know what was going on, so we ended up helping them. We helped them land a 13-6 last year, but I didn’t think he was that big either.”
Calvert did say the fight with the two big gators was totally different. The 2012 gator went down, and the 2011 gator went everywhere.
“That 13-6 put up a fight,” he said. “It dragged us all over the river. This year, the gator just went down and stayed there. An hour and five minutes is a long time to hold your breath, and it’s a long time when you’re holding a quarter-inch rope with 800 pounds on the other end.”
When all the hoopla settled down, the Selma team decided to share the gator. Calvert is going to have the head mounted, another is taking the meat, another is having the feet mounted, and the belly hide may be used for some yet-to-be-determined products.
“We divided him up so everybody got a little and nothing went to waste,” Calvert said.
West central Alabama’s reputation as the big gator capital of Alabama was enhanced even further when Colby Sisson showed up at the scales with a gator that measured 14 feet, 1 inch and weighed 795 pounds.
Sisson, Bradley Cromer and Preston Reed got away from the crowd at Bogue Chitto and went down river. They spotted the big gator as it went into the water and decided to wait him out. When the gator popped up 10 feet away from the boat, Sisson tried to get an arrow in the brute, but the hide was so tough, the arrow wouldn’t penetrate. Several more attempts availed Sisson nothing. He was finally about to hit the gator with a harpoon and the fun began.
“When I stuck him with the harpoon, he came up and hit the side of the boat,” Sisson said. “Then he got the line wrapped in the trolling motor. When he came up again, Bradley took off running and knocked all the lights out. You could hear him growling, but you couldn’t see him. Then he opened his mouth, and I could see the white of his mouth.
“Then he decided to take us down river. He was jumping up and down like a dolphin. We finally got him up enough to get a shot in him. That all started about 1:15, and we got him in the boat at 4:45. We were tired.”
Chris Cook, Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said 32 of the 50 tags available in west central Alabama were filled, including 14 longer than 10 feet. Other than the two 14-footers, James Kilpatrick of Forest Home landed a 12-9 that weighed 613, while Ronald Smith of Foley had a 12-2 at 569. J.T. Dailey of Camden caught a 12-1 at 577, followed by Jordan Fleming of Sand Rock who pulled in a 12-1 at 548 pounds. Steve Perry of Camden also had a 12-footer that weighed 427.
In the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Wildlife Biologist Keith Gauldin said 80 of the 125 tags were filled, including 43 that were 10 feet or longer. Lane Parnell of Citronelle led the way with a 13-3 at 665 pounds, followed by James Sager of Semmes with a 13-1 ∏ at 525, Michael Gamotis of Fairhope with a 12-10 at 567 and Christopher Raulerson of Elberta with a 12-8 at 531 pounds.
“When more than half of the gators you take are better than 10 feet, that shows you have a healthy population,” Gauldin said. “We probably had the best weather we’ve had since we started the alligator season. We also had several first-timers who had a blast and are excited about putting in for tags next year.”
In southeast Alabama, there is no central check-in station and hunters continue to file reports of alligators taken during the season. As of Monday, there had been 37 gators checked in.