Waterways near Vicksburg are home to some of the world’s biggest, baddest alligators

Published 12:12 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015

Deep in the murky waters of Mississippi swim prodigious creatures of the abyss. These river monsters are found all over the state from Vicksburg to Brookhaven, and McComb to Natchez.

The 2015 alligator hunting season saw record-breaking gators being caught in the Mississippi River. A 9 foot, 11-inch female and an 826-pound male measuring just over 14 feet were both captured in the West Central and Southwest hunting zones of Mississippi’s hunting region.

Earlier this week, a 10 foot, 1/2-inch gator harvested in Issaquena County was certified as a new state record for length. It weighed 283 pounds, lighter than the shorter female taken a few weeks earlier.

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The 14-foot male was harvested at Rosedale Hunting Club on Davis Island, located in the Mississippi River 16 miles south of Vicksburg.

Mississippi’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks alligator program coordinator Ricky Flynt said the 10-foot female alligators were historic catches.

“That’s a very significant regard in fact that females of that size — in the 10-foot range — are extremely rare all over the south. Even though she didn’t break the length record,” Flynt said of the 9-foot-11 gator caught in Eagle Lake.

In total 978 alligators were har- vested this season, the majority by rod or reel. Of those, 521 measured less than 7 feet long and 456 were greater than 7 feet.

“Technically there were three records that were broken, but two were broken twice,” Flynt said. “We now have a new all-time length and weight records on public waters for a male and another alligator that was taken on private lands.”

Flynt said the reason for the abnormal size of the area’s gators is due to the Mississippi River and the alluvial valley, which is one of the most highly fertile areas of the country and even the world.

The alligators are reaping the benefits of that, which results in abnormal specimens. Flynt said the alluvial valley is gathering nutrients and is being funneled into the Mississippi River. Vicksburg is at the bottom of it.

“If you know a little bit about the food web and how nutrients are taken up by the smallest of organisms, those nutrients are taken up by fish and the nutrients are taken up by the alliga- tor, which is the apex predator,” Flynt said. “All the wildlife in the alluvial valley is healthy and is not found in other parts of the state.”

Clay Gibson from Natchez held the record for heaviest gator on public waters for a day on his first ever hunting experience. He brought along three of his sons and two of his grand- sons, Ashton and Aidan.

While on the water, he saw about 50 alligators and caught a couple of 10-foot gators, before he came across his record breaker. He could tell the monster was bigger than the others he caught because his eyes were wider than the rest.

Reeling in the river monster was the hardest part as the gator put up a fight every step of the way.

“We finally got two lines on him and he startled us for a minute,” Gibson said. “We snared him around his neck and he started biting the boat and bit the splash rail. We finally got him up to dispatch him and couldn’t get him in the boat.”

Gibson and his team caught an 822-pound, 13-1⁄2 foot gator, but that record lasted less than 24 hours. The 826-pound, 14 foot, 1/4-inch gator was killed the next day.

Craig Jones caught a female gator weighing 319 pounds, setting a new record weight for a female. She was an inch shy of being 10 feet and was miss- ing part of her tail. Jones had been on the water for 11 hours before coming across his record-breaker.

“It was just a good sized gator and we didn’t know she was female until we loaded her,” Jones said. “We fought with her for over an hour. You had to get it up and put a snare on it and contain it. It’ll wear you out with a rod and reel.”

The sex of an alligator can’t be determined just by looking at them. Once the gator is captured, hunters have to flip it on its back, look between the legs and press down on a fold — known as the alligator’s vent — to find the sex organs.

Jones took the gator to B&B Meat Market in Mendenhall to get it weighed. He, like Gibson, made this a family event and had his son with him.

Angela Rivers and her husband Ken had an experience similar to Gibson. They set a record on the first day of the season only for it to be broken the next day. The Rivers set the inaugural length record of the season with a gator measuring 13-feet- 7 3⁄4 inches and weighing 694 pounds.

Ken Rivers has guided hunts several times. When he saw three sets of eyes he knew they were nice- sized gators.

“We got on the water late, around 10 p.m. We did catch a 6-footer and decided we didn’t want to keep it. Then several hours later around 3 a.m., my hus- band spotted three sets of eyes,” Angela Rivers said.

It took about 45 minutes to reel their gator in.

“He did go down for a little while and was pulling us from side to side in the river, there wasn’t much you could do,” Angela Rivers said. “Eventually he got tired and that’s when he came up. I was expect- ing a little more action than that.”

Danny Boler of B&L Processing in Vicksburg bought 220 gators this season. In the past he has processed them but this season just purchased them. He bought the first record-breaking gators caught by Gibson and the Rivers the day after they were caught.

On separate occasions Boler’s coolers were filled to capacity this season. He also saves the heads of gators if the customers want them.

“We store them for two or three days and a buyer picks them up. We just got overran that opening day. I didn’t want any to ruin or go bad,” Boler said.