Epic 4-hour battle between hunter and alligator results in catch of a lifetime

Posted: October 21, 2014 – 3:44pm

When Keith Kelley finally pulled the massive body of an alligator he caught Sunday night into his boat, all he could say was, “That is a beast.”

He could have added, “We’re going to need a bigger boat,” since the alligator was just a few feet shorter than his 17-foot fishing boat. Caught in the St. Johns River just outside of Riverdale, the beast was indeed an impressive specimen at 765 pounds and 13 and a half feet long.

“I’d never seen an alligator that big before. Not even at the Alligator Farm,” Kelley said.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Senior Reptile Keeper Cody Bartolini agreed with that assessment.

“That’s a big alligator, no doubt,” he said. “The average male is between 11 and 12 feet and around 650 pounds.”

Of its approximately 800 alligators, the park has only one that is about the size of Kelley’s catch.

Kelley and fishing buddy Kelly Sziy caught the over-sized male gator in just four feet of water using an unusual technique.

They started with a two-inch by half-inch diameter wooden peg tied to a piece of fishing line. The peg is then inserted into a cow lung which is attached to an off-shore fishing reel. It is prohibited to use a hook and bait in alligator hunting, but the peg is legal, Kelley said.

“This way if the gator breaks the line, the peg won’t hurt him. But once he takes the bait, the cow lung goes into his stomach but is still attached to the line so it lets us monitor where he is,” Kelley said. “Very few people do it this way. It’s a finesse game that’s taken me literally hundreds of hours to perfect.”

The boat hovered about 300 feet away from the alligator while Kelley spied on him through binoculars. When the gator took the bait, Kelley powered up the engine and got within 20 yards. He tried to snag him with a second rod and a snag hook with a 200-pound test line, but the alligator broke that in half.

The real battle begins

Kelley then used a 1,000-pound line with a snag hook and this one took hold. Then men then put on leather gloves and engaged in a four-and-a-half-hour battle to bring the gator in by hand.

“It was epic,” Kelley said. “It was a crazy and old-fashioned way, but that’s just how we wanted to do it.”

Once the gator was close to the boat, a bangstick was used to finish the fight. A bangstick is a triggerless weapon with a chamber that holds a live round of ammunition. It goes off when forcibly pressed against the target.

After the gator was dead, it still took another hour just to drag the body into the boat.

Kelley said the gator was so big he was “flopped all over the place,” barely leaving room for the men. With the boat riding dangerously low in the water, the men began their long, slow, triumphant ride home.

Even before getting him weighed, the guys knew without a doubt, this one was huge. They took him to their favorite processor and taxidermist in Cocoa. Right after they got the 765-pound reading, the heavyweight snapped the cable on the scale. The alligator was estimated to be 50 years old.

The alligator was the second Kelley had caught on his tags this year. The alligator season runs for two weeks in August and then again from Oct. 1 through the end of November.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site, the Florida state record for alligator weight is 1,043 pounds, recorded in 1989. Kelley’s catch appears — unofficially — to fit into the top 10 records for weight since 1983.

When Kelley isn’t hunting alligators he’s the owner of First Choice Florida Realty in St. Augustine Beach. He has lived in St. Augustine for 23 years.

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