In most years, the average length of alligators harvested in Franklin County during the fall season is anywhere from about seven to nine feet, with maybe 100 or so of them brought in from September through November.
But this past September, on a Sunday morning, in the north channel of the Apalachicola River, across from Up the Creek restaurant, under the watchful eyes of onlookers, an Eastpoint man and his buddy landed a gator for the record books.
The state has the gigantic alligator recorded at 13 feet from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail, which puts it right up there with the fewer than a half-dozen gators that are the biggest on record.
Thirteen feet is a darn good size gator, and was a good foot-and-a-half longer than the next biggest one caught, in Grassy Creek, less than a week earlier.
Eastpoint’s River Banks, an expert fisherman ever since he was but a young barefoot boy competing in the annual Fisherman’s Choice fishing tourney, landed the gator together with his friend Drew Monroe.
“We’ve known about him for years,” said Banks. “People have tried to hunt him for years and nobody has ever been able to catch him.
“Every year during gator season, he disappears from where he’s usually at, and nobody can find him,” he said.
But this year was different.
It was during duck season that Monroe planned to show Banks where the gator was lying on the hill, and so at about 5 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 21, the gator came off the hill, where they often sun in the daytime.
“He come off the boat and almost hit the boat,” said Banks.
From then until 8:30 a.m., the men went duck hunting in the bay, but could see their prey from the bridge.
“We were re going to try to get him that day,” he said. “We thought we could harpoon him when he comes off the hill.”
Banks spotted the gator about 10 yards further north. “I could see him swimming underwater and he laid down on bottom,” he said. “We barely missed him about 8:30 a.m. He spooked out of there.”
The next morning, they awoke early to go out duck hunting and checked again, but there was no sign. “We spooked him and he’s smart,” said Banks.
The men did land two teal, though. “We didn’t do very good, so we were going to look,” Banks said.
So at about 9 a.m., the men explored the vicinity of where they thought he would be, planning to drive about 100 yards to see what they could find.
“While were driving, we went by him in the water facing the bank, he was about five feet from the bank,” said Banks.
The men launched their attack, first with a snatch hook, after they pulled on to the marsh grass. They threw trebled hooks, three barbed hooks, and sat there for 30 minutes, with no luck.
“We thought ‘let’s throw a few more times just to make sure,” Banks said. “We had hooked several logs. I set the hook, swam five or six feet, throwing a big treble hook on a rope and pulled them up to the boat.”
The water was about 25 feet deep, and they couldn’t see anything moving. “We were thinking we’ve gone crazy and I hooked a log and I hit a log,” said Banks.
“Finally, Drew hits him with a big treble hook. It just bumped him, and now we know for a fact it’s him,” said Banks. “We get back above him but we can’t get him. So we trade out.
“I finally get a big hook on him, and I set the hook with a big rope,” said Banks. “All I could do is hold on. He straightened it, he bent it out and the little hook comes off.
“He hit the bottom. The hooks usually won’t go through skin. He bent the hook out, so I tied a new hook on,” he said.
Meanwhile, Monroe is on the cellphone to Banks’ new fiancée, River Fielder, from Ocala, who he had asked to marry him just two days earlier.
“She goes gator fishing with us all the time,” said Banks. “We’re calling her on the phone to bring bigger treble hooks.”
Soon, Banks feels him on the hook again. ‘Hang up the phone and get ready,” he yells to his buddy. “I’m about to get him.”
It was then the gator started to do his death roll. “Every time he rolls he’ll take five feet of line,” said Banks. “I couldn’t hit him on the head, his scutes were so hard.
“I’ve got him on the hook, and he’s hitting the bottom of the boat and throwing it up in the air,” he said. “Finally he rolls out and we can see the gigantic muscle on the size of his jaw.”
It was then Monroe hit him with his harpoon.
“Drew threw his harpoon first and it didn’t go all the way through his skin. Then he grabbed my harpoon and hit it and it went through his right front leg,” Banks said, “We saw how deep it got in him.”
Believing the gator was deceased, the crew drove up on the marsh grass, and quickly taped his mouth shut with electrical and duct tape.
By that time, Banks’ father Ricky, with a crew of clients, pulls up, and Banks’ little brother Tyler hops on to the boat, and helps tie ropes on his top jaw, behind his teeth.
“I pick his head up, and my brother makes a comment ‘he’s still alive!’” Banks said. “He lifted both of his front legs and stood himself up. Just him swinging his head around can break your leg.”
Now it was time for the bang stick, and four shots to the head silenced the gator forever.
They loaded him into the boat, tagged him, and took him to Ten Foot Hole, and later to David Barber’s for measurement.
They calculated the gator was 12 feet 11.5 inches, and so the state credited them with 13 feet even. Banks said he probably weighed around 550 pounds.
“It took six grown men to get him out of the boat so we could hook him up with a fork lift,” he said, estimated the gator was about seven or eight years old. “It had back feet as big as a pie plate.”
The animal was processed and cleaned by McAlpin Processing in Crawfordville, and the skin and head preserved by Marshall Taxidermy.