Late Tuesday night, on the upper Pearl River at Barnett Reservoir, a boat load of Mississippi alligator hunters were facing defeat to an ornery ol’ gator that, well …
“…Well, it was kicking our butts is what it was doing,” said Ken Martin, one of the hunters on the experienced team known as River Reapers. “It was unbelievable.”
The gator had the upper hand in the battle, which had been waged for nearly an hour. The boat was full of broken lines and destroyed gear. More was in the water, and the gator was definitely winning. The hunters still had a hook in the gator but were not in control. No, they were nowhere near in control and everything that could go wrong, had done just that.
“We were discussing options when another boat came around the bend headed upriver,” Martin said. “I called to them to warn them of the line that we spooled out and I hear a familiar voice call back from the dark ‘Uncle Ken? Is that you?’
“It was my nephew, Todd Macko, and the permit holder he was helping. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
The added experience — and gear — quickly turned the tide.
“They eased up and put two more hooks in him, then a third,” Martin said. “We cut free and helped to get a snare on him, then got the .410 out and dispatched him.”
The gator measured 11½ feet in length, but from the sound of the battle it seems like it was 40 or 50. They found him swimming in the river near Ratliff Ferry, where he had a reputation for breaking lines and hearts in several previous seasons.
Heck, just last weekend, the River Reapers’ Tim Taylor had tested and been beaten by the gator.
“They had four hooks in him at one time and then tried to harpoon him,” Martin said. “That’s when he took off and broke all of the lines. We could see all the scars.”
Having survived several seasons of near misses, the gator was smart and stuck close to cover.
“He was in an area with lots of limbs and logs, so rather than cast a hook in there, we decided to shoot him with a crossbow,” Martin said. “Wade (Robinson) hit him behind the head and the gator went under. He moved along the bottom and went through a tree. Wade had hit him in a scute and the point pulled out.
“He resurfaced way back under an overhanging bush. We made several approaches for another crossbow shot through a small opening and he submerged each time, only to reappear in the same spot after we backed off.”
Knowing they had to get the gator out of the heavy cover, the River Reapers planned a strategy based on experience.
“On the last approach, when he submerged, rather than backing off, we drifted into the bush and shook it and splashed the water and stomped the bottom of the boat,” Martin said. “It worked. The next time we saw him was out from under the bush, but still protected by debris. Wade set up for another crossbow shot and sunk it in his jowl.”
This is when things got interesting.
“The gator then went through a submerged tree and hung the line to the trailing buoy,” Martin’s story continued. “When he surfaced, Tim (Taylor) put a hook in him and he took off, breaking the 600-pound bow-fishing line and losing the buoy. Wade and I both attempted to get another hook in him, but both got hung up and had to cut free.
“Meanwhile, the gator took Tim’s line under another log and headed across the river, pulling like a plow horse. When he stopped, we managed to hook Tim’s line and wrap it around a paddle handle. That allowed us to keep tension on the line and cut it to get us out from under the log. We re-tied that line to my reel and took up slack only to discover that he had taken it under another log.
“The gator surfaced again across the river, so we spooled out my line to get across to him. Tim got another hook in him and my reel depleted its line, so we cut it free. I had tied an empty water bottle onto it with a couple of glow sticks so we could find it later while crossing the river.”
The tricky gator had another card to play.
“Guess what? The gator went under another log and came up on the other side of yet another log,” Martin said. “If we cast and missed, we were sure to get hung up. We were down to two rods that still had hooks tied on and Wade was out of crossbow bolts. I carry extra line and such in my tackle box and was working on getting more line back on my reel.”
That’s when the second boat came along.
“Interestingly, Todd was looking for help yesterday and I suggested my nephew, Chris, an Air Guardsman out at the base who badly wanted to go, but, as a guest myself, I couldn’t get him on our boat,” Martin said. “This was his first alligator hunt ever. They put in at Tommy's and were hunting lower down on The Rez. Then, right when we were scratching our heads and discussing what to do next, who should show up but family and friends. Tell me there is no God.
“We were all spent and it took coordination and teamwork to roll 400 pounds of river monster over the gunwale. That was one of the most fun catches I’ve ever been on.”
Mississippi’s 2016 public lands alligator hunt continues through noon on Monday.