Start of Louisiana alligator season looking good

Published 12:50 am Sunday, September 9, 2007

NATCHEZ — The agenda was set long before Wednesday.

Sept. 5 was the first day of alligator hunting season in Louisiana and several local hunters hit the water before the sun did.

A limited number of tags — required along with a license to hunt alligators — were distributed in the state. Only 160 hunters were chosen in Concordia Parish, and only three were allowed to hunt on Lake St. John.

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As the early morning sun shined on the herons that dipped above and below the horizon, Tommy January and his assistant Gary Simpson arrived at Lake St. John. The front edge of the cypress groves at the north side of the lake was their destination. Gators were their goal.

The previous afternoon first-time gator hunter January had come out and baited hooks with the filet mignon of gator bait — spoiled, raw chicken.

The men boarded a 15-foot aluminum boat with a .22-caliber magnum rifle and a 10-foot clothes-line pole Simpson borrowed from his backyard.

They were shaded by the cypress trees before the sun got unbearable.

“I set 11 hooks yesterday so I’ve got to have something,” January said.

At the first bait site the chicken was gone. But so was the gator.

After another empty hook, January and Simpson found what they were looking for, a tight line, stretched away from the bait spot with no slack.

Simpson used the pole to tug on the line and the wet end began to cut the surface of the water like a catfish on a string. But this was no catfish, this was January’s “mucho grande.”

After a few minutes of tugging on the rope Simpson was holding at the surface an alligator strung on a rope.

The seven-foot, three-inch gator thrashed against the side of the boat and gave one final attempt to swim under the boat but January’s assistant was no rookie, having danced this dance many times before, and he didn’t let go.

After getting the reptile close enough to the boat, two shots the head from January’s .22-caliber rifle put the beast down for the count.

After a few chants to celebrate the catch, the hunters moved on to check the remaining traps but no jagged gator smiles were found.

“I’ll come back out this afternoon and re-bait the hooks,” January said as he called it a morning.

But this was only one alligator tale weaved Wednesday morning, as these alligator anglers pulled up to the boat ramp, two more boarded their boat and added their ripples to the water.

This father and son duo, Kelly Martin and his 16-year-old son Noah, picked the same area of the lake to hunt, the north end.

The tools remained basically the same, switching the 10-foot pole out for a hoe and the .22 caliber for a single shot .45-70 government.

Martin said he prefers heavier tools because he’d seen the lighter variety fail.

On his first hunting trip he caught a large female alligator.

“After pulling her up next to the boat my cousin tried to put her to rest with the traditional one shot to the top of the head,” Martin said. “The gator appeared dead but after pulling her into the boat, I didn’t see a bullet hole as she laid motionlessly under me with her head between my legs. So I asked him where he shot her at and he said the top of the head.

“At that moment I told my sons who were with us get this gator out of the boat! And as soon as she hit the water she woke up and swam away. The slug must have just bounced off her head not even breaking the skin. That’s a chance I don’t want to take again,” Martin said.

Wednesday, the Martins headed to shallower waters with thick vegetation.

With only five spots to stop at, their line checking went a lot faster than January and Simpson’s.

The Martins returned with three alligators ranging from 6 feet to 7 feet, 4 inches, leaving Noah talking about the new pair of gator skinned boots he’d soon be wearing.

In the end, Lake St. John was pretty good to its gator-getters on the first day yielding four gator tails.