A father and son duo who go on an annual fishing trip to Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw Delta caught a record-setting 162-pound Alligator Gar.
Keith Dees and his son Huntley go fishing in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta every year on the morning of Thanksgiving. ‘About five years ago’ they had a trip on the Delta where they caught between 250-300 speckled sea trout.
Keith Dees said he and his son talk about that trip all the time. Saying “About five years ago, we had a 250-300 trout trip, doubling up for six hours straight. We were actually talking about that trip because we’ll never top that trip.”
One surefire way to top a fishing trip like that is to catch a record-setting fish, and that they did. Keith Dees was throwing a a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer chatterbait, according to a recent press release from David Rainer of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
He was working the chatterbait along the grass line after Keith and his son had caught a few redfish. What makes this such a special place to fish in the late Fall/early Winter is the variety of species. They can limit out (catch the maximum) on speckled sea trout in minutes then go chase bass and redfish, and/or flounder and black drum.
Keith told ADCNR he thought he’d hooked up with a massive redfish when the record-setting alligator gar took his bait.
He said “My first thought was I had hooked another big redfish. I was cranking as fast as I could to try to get the line tight. The water is salty and cold that time of year, so the clarity was not great. I see a fish go by the front of the boat, a glimpse of a fish.”
Dees added “I told my son, ‘I’ve got one of those big redfish.’ We caught one that weighed 32 pounds up there a few years ago. Then it went about 30 or 40 yards out and just kind of stopped. It wasn’t like a redfish run.”
He was fishing with a “medium-action bass rod with 15-pound-test fluorocarbon line” and knew he couldn’t overpower the fish with his gear. So Keith Dees was forced to finesse the fish and ‘fight’ it without putting too much pressure on.
For a while, he was certain he was fighting a redfish. 15 minutes into the fight and he still hadn’t seen the fish. He began to get worried he’d lose his bait and wouldn’t see what he was battling.
After 30 minutes of battling the fish, the father and son duo got a first look at the fish when the 162-pound alligator gar came up for air.
The Alligator Gar is considered a ‘living fossil’ as the fossil records of these fish date back 100 million years virtually unchanged. There are seven distinct species of gar on the planet (Alligator, Longnose, Spotted, Shortnose, Florida, Cuban, and Tropical).
According to the Florida Museum, “Gars also have a highly vascularized swim bladder connected to the pharynx by a pneumatic duct. This enables them to gulp air, which aids in facultative air breathing. This allows gar to breathe when there are very low oxygen levels in the water.”
Keith Dees said “When it comes up, I knew it was big, but I didn’t even remotely know it was a state record. That never crossed my mind. I love to cook, so I thought I want to catch this joker so we can eat him.”
Adding “I’ve got a bunch of Cajun friends, and they take it and cut it in steaks and blacken it and do medallions. It’s just delicious. I’m thinking I’m about to get a bunch of freezer meat.”
He would fight the alligator gar for about 2 hours before getting it close to the boat. Then came the difficult task of getting it into their 20-foot Triton bass boat.
Using a heavy-duty fishing rod (flip stick), a tow rope, and a snell knot they managed to successfully lasso the fish behind the dorsal fins.
Dees said “I guess my adrenalin was going, and I just pulled him over in the boat. When he hit the boat, we cut up like two schoolgirls, like nobody is going to believe this happened.”
Weighing A 162-Pound Alligator Gar To Certify The State Record
Keith Dees fought the 162-pound alligator gar on rod-and-reel all by himself. So he would qualify for a state record if it was big enough.
The father and son duo weren’t aware of what the regulations surrounding alligator gar are. So he called Conservation Enforcement Officer Jim Daugherty of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division.
He discovered there is a bag limit of 1 fish per day. But Officer Daugherty asked why he would want to keep the ‘rough fish’. Keith told him he wanted to eat the fish because it was a story “we’d be telling forever.”
At this point, Keith and his son figured the alligator gar weighed about 100 pounds.
Once they got back to the dock they took the fish to a friend’s house who had a large scale to weigh deer after hunting. The fish tipped the scales at 175 pounds.
They quickly discovered the existing Alabama state fishing record for alligator gar was 151 pounds. Now the hunt was on for a certified scale.
A local boat captain recommended they go to Orange Beach Marina to weigh the fish. Did I mention the fish was still alive at this point?
While hunting for a certified scale, the Dees family put the 7-foot alligator gar in a friend’s freshwater swimming pool at 3 pm and six hours later the fish was still alive.
Now that they had to head to Orange Beach Marina, Keith prepped his truck. He “put tarps and $200 worth of ice in the back of his truck and headed south only to find the marina closed.”
He got a tip that the man he needed to contact was Orange Beach Marina Harbor Master Jimmy Beason. About 30 minutes later he was able to get Beason on the phone.
It took some cajoling, but Keith Dees got the harbor master to agree to meet him at the Marina in 15 minutes.
Once they got the alligator gar onto the certified scales it weighed 162 pounds. They had the paperwork to make it official. And the rest was history.