How To Hunt Alligator In Florida
"Getting gator tags is one of the hardest parts of the overall process."
Floridians are often known for doing some crazy things that most of the rest of the country wouldn't even consider doing. I'm not sure that this hunt is on that level, but I know it's pretty close. Last week I took on a major bucket list hunt - hunting a pair of alligators using only rod and reel to catch them.
Getting gator tags is one of the hardest parts of the overall process. A friend (Byron Fang) and I both applied, knowing full well that most people that apply are not awarded tags by FWC due to how regulated the alligator populations are in conjunction with the popularity of the hunt. We both struck out on the first round, and all of the locations we were interested in hunting were completely filled up. There was a second application period, however, and this time I was lucky enough to be awarded two gator tags on Orange Lake. This was not one of our preferred hunting destinations and it turns out that Orange Lake was 30 minutes from Gainesville, and a 5.5 hour drive from my home in Miami. The location is not up to the applicant and instead determined by FWC, based off of where they believe how many tags should be filled regarding each geographic area.
I was awarded my tags while I was guiding up in Alaska at the Royal Wolf Lodge. I patiently waited 4 months for the time to roll around. When it got to the right time, I invested in 8/0, 10/0 and 12/0 treble hooks as well as 125 LB mono leader and appropriate crimps (No knots except for the braid to swivel connection). 200 LB barrel swivels to 65lb Bullbuster Braid completed the setup on an 8000 series spinning real with heavy drag capacity (20lbs at a bare minimum, and that would still feel light). We were only using about 2 ft of leader to improve the casting capability.
I also invested in a .357 magnum powerhead that was then mounted to a 6' pole spear. This would be our method to dispatching the gators, and the setup cost about $220. Of course, I needed to buy a box of .357 mag bullets - which I acquired over at bass pro. Electric tape is additionally necessary to secure the jaws together as well as a knife to ensure a safe and humane kill after dispatching the gator with the powerhead (bang stick). If using the setup I did, you also will need a crimping tool to set up the leader. FYI - A crimper is a great thing to keep on the boat because it can cut through hooks that you may have accidentally stuck into yourself while fishing that one time.
"At 145 AM, I finally connected on a solid gator"
We made the long drive up on Thursday night to my friend Captain Mikey Moser's house, who conveniently lived only 30 minutes from Orange Lake. He was going to host me and Byron and join us on the hunt. I brought up my 18' Tracker 190 TX, which is fully loaded and matched with a 150 HP Mercury Optimax. It was a great boat for this hunt.
On the first night, we were seriously disappointed to run into some engine trouble. We tried hunting without the main engine but with moderate winds and very spread out gators, the hunt was almost impossible. We got the engine restarted (barely) and limped our way back to the ramp.
I spent the next full day trying to fix the boat - we rewired some questionable connections, pulled off the cowling, and checked the air compressor. We couldn't fix it and it looked like the hunt was over. As we were preparing to leave the area, we decided to call a friend and see if he would join the hunt.
By a miracle, our friend Drew Rodriguez was on board and within two hours had his boat on behind his truck and was making the 5.5 hour trek north. He got in at 1 AM and the three of us decided to go straight to the lake. We learned a lot that second night, and had an absolutely insane moment. After spotting a gator only 20 yards in front of us, I made the cast over his head and hooked up - while watching the gator thrash and dive under. We were finally hooked up! However, I quickly felt like most of the weight was gone and I was shocked to reel in a half eaten catfish that was still alive. I had somehow pulled the treble hook right through the feeding gators mouth. That is definitely a once in a million catch, but not the type I wanted.
As we were heading in at sunrise, I spotted a big gator (8 ft or so) and finally connected. This gator was the real deal and tore underneath some heavy cover on lock down drag, and ultimately broke us off. We headed in disappointed, but much more confident than the first night.
With one final night left, we made some preparations and headed out right at sunset. We were content on getting slightly smaller gators tonight if it came to it, as it was the final night of the hunt.
At 145 AM, I finally connected on a solid gator that we spotted swimming in our direction in open water. After a quick fight, Byron snagged a second treble into him and we knew we had a good shot. After Drew grabbed the tail and I loaded up the bang stick, a well placed shot humanely ended the battle. One gator was in the books, a 5.5 footer (big enough for the final night).
The two problems we ran into were dealing with an insane amount of grass as well as high water. This was making fishing with a treble hook on rod and reel near impossible, compared to some areas down South by us where it would have been perfect. These gators were sometimes 100 yards back into the grass and without using bait, would have been completely impossible to catch. We were dead set on not doing it that way.
At 4 AM, Byron and Drew had been quietly stalking an open water gator for 15 minutes before finally getting a shot. The gators will dip underwater and their eyes will disappear, only to pop up a minute later in a new place. Byron went for a very long cast and missed, but after the gator went under he made the fatal mistake of swimming towards the boat. He popped his head back up and Byron capitalized on the opportunity. Another very well placed cast and after a good battle, we had our second gator tagged and in the boat.
All of these gators were put to use the following day. We cleaned them ourselves and salvaged every single piece of meat, and additionally saved the hide and skull for future taxidermy projects. Nothing went to waste, which is essential to me for a proper hunt. And for the record, the alligator meat tastes absolutely amazing! I have been eating quite a lot of it since the hunt, but still have the majority to go.
For a complete DIY trip, I was very happy with the end result, but now I am completely hooked and next year the goals (and gators) are going to be set quite a bit higher!
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