When Kenny Williams of Vicksburg set out on Valentine's Day to run his nets on Chotard Lake in Issaquena County, he had no idea he would be landing one sweetheart of an alligator gar. In fact, an alligator gar was the last fish Williams wanted to find in his gill nets; not only can these ancient giants destroy expensive commercial nets, but they also wreak havoc on the buffalo Williams makes his living catching.

Williams set out in his 16-foot aluminum boat from the Chotard Landing to run 10 gill nets he set in the South Delta oxbow the previous afternoon. Fishing alone, as was his habit, Williams was having incredible success. By the time he reached the final net, Williams had already caught close to 90 percent of his weekly quota of buffalo.

"I was totally exhausted," Williams recalled. "I was ready to run the last net and head home to relax. I told myself that if I only get 15 or so fish from this last net, I will be happy."

The net was tied to a tree branch on the shoreline and anchored with a buoy about 100 yards out toward the middle of the lake. Starting from the shallow water along the bank, Williams began running the final net. Like the previous nine nets he had run, this net was loaded with buffalo.

"After landing a few fish, I ran into a section of net that was hung on a snag," said Williams. "I untangled it and boated a few more fish before running into another section that was caught on something that felt like a log. Trying not to rip my net, I began tugging on it slow and steady.

"Surprisingly, the dead weight of the object started moving toward the surface."

Expecting a log, Williams was shocked when the massive head of an enormous alligator gar broke the surface of the water. Although the monster's snout was all that was tangled in the net, the big fish never put up a fight. Williams attributes the fish's inactivity to the cold 40-degree temperature of the water.

"As soon as I laid eyes on him, I knew he was huge," Williams said. "The adrenaline kicked in and I forgot about how tired I was. All I could think about was getting the giant fish into my boat."

Without a fishing partner or any tools to assist him, Williams would have to land the monster with his bare hands.

"I wrestled with him for several minutes, but the slimy fish kept slipping out of my hands," Williams said. "Finally, I put on a glove and ran my hand deep into his gills, and grabbed the first thing I could get a firm grip on. Then using all the strength I had left, I was finally able to wrestle the massive fish into the boat."

It was at this point, with the monster lying motionless in the bottom of the boat, that Williams realized what he had done. He had just hauled in a bigger fish than any Williams had ever seen.

Hoping to keep the giant gar alive, Williams fired up the outboard and headed toward the landing. After almost capsizing the over-laden boat, discovering that he had locked his keys in his truck and fighting off an angry cottonmouth, Williams was finally able to secure the boat on his trailer and head for home. Unfortunately, the fish expired before Williams could get him to a live tank.

After contacting a game warden buddy, it wasn't long before word of the massive alligator gar was at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks headquarters in Jackson. Several biologists with the agency arrived and began taking measurements and got an official weight on a set of certified scales.

The giant fish topped the scales at 327 pounds. It also taped out at 8 feet 5 ¼ inches long and 47.95 inches in girth. Using a length/girth/age table developed by LSU fisheries biologists, the age of this fish was estimated to be between 50 and 70 years old.

"After researching all the data I can find, no bigger alligator gar has ever been officially certified," MDWFP Fisheries biologist Dennis Riecke said. "But because it was caught in a net and not by rod and reel or an accepted IGFA method, it won't count as a world record."

While Williams' giant gar may not make the pages of an official record book, it will be mounted and kept on permanent display at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson.

"Although I had several out-of-state offers, I wanted the fish to remain in Mississippi in a place that everyone could enjoy viewing it," Williams said. "I could think of no better place than the Natural Science Museum."

So until a new division is created in the IGFA record book for fish caught by any method, Williams is quite content knowing that he single-handedly landed the world's largest alligator gar right here in his home state of Mississippi.