Nearly two hours into the battle, Scott Lemmons of Brandon had the cane pole and hoop snare in his hand, ready to put the clincher on what he thought was a pretty good alligator. “When we got him up, close enough to snare, and his head broke the surface in the Q-Beam about 10 feet from the boat, that’s when I knew he was big, really big,” said Lemmons. “I’ve seen a lot of alligators, both in person and on film, but I have never, ever seen anything like that. “I had no idea he was that big. Honestly, when I made the cast I thought we might be looking at a 10-footer, maybe 10½. I was stunned.”
The beast, which called the extreme lower end of the Big Black River — less than half a mile from its drainage into the Mississippi River — home, measured 12 feet, 8 inches and weighed 610 pounds. Its belly was 58 inches around at its widest, and the tail 43 inches.
Lemmon didn’t put a tape to the head, but has a story addressing its enormous size.
“I’m having a European mount done on the head so I put it in the freezer myself,” he said. “When I went to put it in the freezer, I almost fell completely in, head over heels.”
Lemmon had help in the battle, and is grateful.
“It’s a team effort to successfully catch an alligator like that, and it takes a team effort to load it and skin it and everything else, and in this case, this really was a team effort,” he said. “This was not easy.”
The team of five — Lemmons and Vicksburg friends Danny Lynn, Angie Roberts and Todd and Brittney Downey — started their night at 8 at the Port of Grand Gulf near Port Gibson.
“We had scouted the weeks before the season and had made it all the way to the mouth of the Big Black,” Lemmons said. “We went up in there, saw a few gators and saw a lot of slides and other good signs. We decided that’s where we needed to go.
“I have fished that area a lot. I love the Mississippi River and its connected waters from Vicksburg to Port Gibson and this was the year we’ve been waiting for, when they would open the alligator season to that area. We knew there were a lot of gators and a lot of big ones.”
After launching, the group barely left the Port area when it spotted its first gator.
“We were hooked up to an 8-footer within 10 minutes,” Lemmons said. “We got it in and decided to let it go.”
While heading the few miles upriver to the Big Black, the team also spotted a smaller gator and took it to fill its “runt” tag.
After turning up into the Big Black, there was brief disappointment. Two other teams had beaten them to the area. Another boat came into the Big Black from the Big Muddy after they arrived.
“But they all went up a ways and we could see their lights, and we pretty much had all the lower end to ourselves,” Lemmons said. “I knew then we’d be OK. And we were. We saw a pretty good gator right away and hooked up, but it bit through our line and broke off. I think it was about 9 feet.
“What we did was go up the Big Black about a mile from the mouth of the river, turn off the motor and ride the current. Every few minutes we’d turn on the Q-Beam and look for eyes. About 45 minutes into that, I saw these two eyes cruising down the river right across the river from us. I could tell it was a pretty good gator and it was zigzagging back and forth from one bank to the other. We were paddling to stay quite and we were having to work at it to keep up.”
The key move came when the team read the zigzags, guessed and moved up into where they thought the gator would next come up.
“It was perfect, because he came up about 15 yards in front of the boat and I was able to get him on the first cast,” Lemmons said.
He was using a 10-foot surfcasting rod with an offshore spinning reel armed with 130-pound braided line. The hook was the standard snag hook, a 12/0 treble with 4 ounces of lead molded onto the shanks in the middle.
“I hooked him right where the back leg meets the body and I don’t even think he knew he was hooked,” Lemmons said, “until I really set back on him and literally rolled his leg up. He didn’t like that and took off, and buddy, the fight was on.”
The gator made an immediate long run, then went deep and hugged the bottom. And hugged the bottom and hugged the bottom.
“About an hour, and I kept pressure on him the whole time,” Lemmons said. “I got tired and I handed the rod to Danny Lynn. We were in his boat, which he made at his family’s company, Lynn Custom Boats in Vicksburg, and I thought maybe it was time to get another hook in the alligator. But instead of reaching for another rod, we had two others including a thick (tuna stick) power rod, I reached down and grabbed this 800-pound braided rope with a hook on it and lowered it down. We were right on top of the gator and I felt around, felt the gator and I hooked it.
“And he took off. I tied the line off to the boat and he started pulling us around. We had two hooks in him and he was pulling us around.”
Thinking they now had the upper hand and would soon exhaust the beast, the team got a quick lesson in lizard power.
“It ran under a log,” Lemmons said. “The reel was giving drag so we had that hook but the rope couldn’t give and that alligator straightened that 12/0 hook like it was a needle and it pulled out of the gator. Our other line was still hooked and he kept pulling drag, but I could see he was headed for the bank. I knew he was tired and needed to get a breath so I started free spooling line and we cranked the motor and started toward him. The gator then went around another snag and this time he broke the line.”
The gator was unhooked and free swimming.
The team was downhearted but not ready to give up.
Lemmons quickly tied a new hook on the surfcast rig and got ready in case the gator popped up to get a breath.
“He came up and was trying to get on the bank,” he said. “I cast, and I missed him, but I did snag the line that was still attached to the hook that was still in his rear leg and body. I reeled that in and we tied that line off to the boat and I got ready to make another cast. The gator took off and started going down the river but was obviously tiring and kept coming up for air and then going down. I was able to cast and get another hook in him.
“He kept going and went deep again, I guess to find another snag. But I kept pressure on him and every time I bowed up on him, I could feel him coming up a little so I knew he was tired.”
Everybody in the boat, by now all four had had a turn on the rod or rope, was tired and running on adrenaline. Lemmons passed the rod off again to Lynn and reached for the cane pole and snare.
“I figured he was gonna have to come up and he was gonna be real close to us,” he said. “I had the 12-foot piece of thick cane ready, with the snare attached to the pole by electrical tape.”
That’s when the gator finally popped up in the light and showed his true size. Although stunned, Lemmons acted quickly.
“I got the snare around his head the first time and pulled it tight back behind his head,” he said. “He was tired and I was able to pull his head back up and I told them to get the gun out of the case and load it.”
The 12-gauge shotgun, loaded with No. 6s, was ready and, with the massive head next to the boat, the shot was fired into the kill spot.
“It knocked him out pretty good but with a gator like that, I wanted to be sure,” Lemmons said. “We watched him and after five minutes I could see him still moving a little and I could see him blink. So we put a second shot right in the same hole. After 10 minutes, I reached for the tape to tape his mouth and I saw his eye move again. We put a third shot in the same spot and this time, after 10 minutes, he was done. I was able to tape his mouth shut.”
That part was done. The gator was caught, killed and dispatched, and the work was just starting. They cranked the motor and pulled the gator to the bank. As they were trying to figure out how to pull 600 pounds of dead weight in the boat, they saw the other two boats coming back down the river.
“We flagged them over and they came to help,” Lemmons said. “I think we ended up with six or seven big guys trying to pull that gator in the boat and we needed every ounce of strength. It was not easy.
“You see those guys on TV (Swamp People) where two guys are loading a decent gator in the boat and the announcer says 500 or 600 pounds... no way. They always had a few hundred pounds.”
Back at Vicksburg at Lynn’s shop, they used the forklift to get the beast out of the boat and weighed on a piece of scaffolding (subtracting the scaffolding weight) to get the weight.
Five hours of careful cleaning and hard work later, Lemmon’s had two 150-quart ice chests full of alligator.
“One had nothing but boned-out meat, I’m guessing 200 or 300 pounds, and it took three of us to lift it and get it in the truck,” Lemmons said. “The other, it had nothing other than the hide and it was so full I could barely get it closed.”
Lemmons still had one chore, to call his pregnant wife, Lindsey, who was two weeks from her due date.
“She had gone with us two years ago when I got drawn in the Barnett Reservoir hunt, and it didn’t go so well,” he said. “When I told her we had taken one over 12 feet she almost started crying. She really wanted to be there.”