Florida Couple reels-in 900-pound 'gator

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October 7, 2001.

Couple reels in 900-pound gator

By Joe Julavits, Times-Union outdoors editor

Ron and Lynn Davis of St. Augustine fish for gators just a others do for sharks. Their theory is: the bigger the bait, the bigger the gator.

On Sept. 5, during the first week of Florida's public alligator hunt, the Davises used their unconventional method to catch one of the largest gators of the season, a mammoth reptile measuring 13 feet long with an estimated weight of close to 900 pounds.

"It's hard to imagine something that big in the water," Ron Davis said. "He was 2 feet across the eyes at the top of his head."

The husband and wife team have been participating in the annual public hunt since the mid-'90s, fine-tuning their technique to focus on big gators.

Except for a bangstick, firearms are prohibited during the public hunt. That leaves several ways to capture a gator, including the use of snatch hooks, snares and crossbows. None of the methods is particularly easy, and most require the maneuverability of a trolling motor to get within range of the target.

The Davises take a different tack. They purchase animal lungs -- from pigs, cows, deer -- at a slaughterhouse for bait. Then they go fishing.

The bait is attached to a rod and reel spooled with heavy monofilament line. At the end of the line is a wooden peg, which is embedded in the bait. On the night of the hunt, the bait is placed in an area where the Davises have observed a large gator. Then it's a waiting game till a big 'un swallows the bait.

"A lot of people don't hunt like we do," Ron said. "We'll scout a big gator and pursue him. It's like going to a fishing hole.

"Usually early in the morning, just before the sun pops up, you'll get a sighting on a big one."

On Monday, Sept. 3, Ron, Lynn and Dennis Davis -- Ron's brother -- spied a massive gator near Drayton Island in Lake George, the area designated for their hunt. They "fished" for the gator from their 17-foot center-console boat Monday and Tuesday nights, with no luck.

On Wednesday, the hunters set out their baits about 7 p.m.

"About an hour and a half later, the drag started zinging on one of the reels," Ron said.

While Ron fought the gator on the reel, Lynn held the spotlight.

"After about 30 minutes, he came up for air, and he scared all three of us," said Lynn, a grandmother.

When Ron finally reeled the gator in close, Dennis stuck it with a harpoon, to which was attached a jug and line. The gator took off again.

"He gave us a ride, going around and around," Ron said. "We just held on. After another 30 minutes or so, I hit him with the bangstick and put him down."

Trying to muscle such a gator into the boat was out of the question, so the Davises lashed it to the side of the hull. Back at Camp Henry Fish Camp, where the Davises had put in, a crowd gathered.

"We called and told them to round up some help, that we were going to have trouble getting this thing out of the water."

It took a tractor with a bucket attachment to lift the gator ashore. Everybody at the camp wanted to pose with it.

The Davises' gator figures to be one of the largest taken in the state this year. The official state record, captured in Lake Monroe several years ago by a nuisance gator trapper, measured 14 feet and 5/16th inches. The heaviest gator on record was an Orange Lake behemoth that weighed 1,036 pounds.

"Every year, upwards of 10 or more gators greater than 12 feet are killed in the state," said Harry Dutton, who oversees the annual hunt for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "And every year, we get one or two in the upper 13-foot range."

No strangers to big gators, even the Davises were stunned by the size of their catch. They're having a mount made at Mike's Taxidermy in Jacksonville.

"We've taken a 12-6 before, and 6 inches makes a lot of difference," Ron said.
 

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