The air was a bit humid that morning but still pleasant for a South Texas spring.
It was the perfect morning to take to the lake and fish.
But these five guys weren’t out for catfish or crappie.
They had their sights on something bigger.
And their catch would tie the record for the largest caught in the state.
Alligator hunting is an annual tradition for the Seals family.
Jason, Pat, Geoff and Mike Seals, along with friend Curtis Rhodes, put out lines along the Nueces River where the family ranch is located near Oakville, on that evening, April 16.
It’s a lot like fishing for catfish actually—well, if a catfish weighed 800 pounds and had a 2,100-pound bite force.
Gator hunting is fairly straightforward.
“We used heavy duty cord with a big hook on it,” Pat said.
For the past five days a gallon bucket held their bait—slowly rotting chicken carcasses.
“You take those and tie them to a tree and suspend them from a limb just over 12 inches above the water,” Pat said.
“That is to keep the turtles from getting the bait.”
Then it becomes a waiting game.
They left the bait there overnight and returned that next morning.
Pat said, “You don’t want to pull one in at night.”
The reason is simple—it’s too dangerous wrangling a gator in the dark. There are also laws against it, but that is probably because of the danger associated.
“We weren’t interested in trying to do that at night,” Pat said.
These guys do it differently than viewers see on the television show “Swamp People.”
The idea here is less drama, fewer death rolls, and nobody can be in the boat when they pull the gator onto land.
“We all got onto the bank because you can’t hunt alligators from a boat in Texas,” Pat said.
Everything is done to ensure that no one gets hurt.
“You try to pull it up as slowly as you can,” Pat said.
Some of the details are a bit fuzzy.
Pat said he believes it was Geoff who shot the gator.
Jason Seals, Pat’s nephew, was offered the chance but didn’t take it.
“I was offered the opportunity but turned it down. That is something I regret,” Jason said.
As they stood on the bank, all anyone knew was that the line was no longer suspended above the water but was now pulled taut as it disappeared into the river depths.
“I had no idea how big it was,” Jason said. “It was pretty nerve racking.”
Jason and Pat stared at the water, watching as the line slowly came up.
“All I could see was hide,” Pat said.
The next few minutes were almost a blur.
There was little time to think and no time to pontificate.
“It happens quick, and your mind is racing,” Pat said. “You don’t want anybody to get hurt. You just want to get it over with.”
The shot was clean, and the animal went down.
“It was already exhausted when we got to it,” Pat said.
To get it out of the river, they had to return with a tractor and use it to pull the gator out of the water.
This beast could have tied for the state record. They measured him at 14 feet, 3 inches long—the same length as the one caught last year at Choke Canyon.
Unfortunately, they can only estimate its weight.
“We have a scale we use to weigh deer,” Pat said.
But that wouldn’t quite cut it for this reptile, so don’t look for this in the record books.
“We weren’t interested in pursuing a state record,” Pat said.
The alligator has since been butchered, and the hide is ready for tanning.
This isn’t the first time they have caught a gator twice the length of two tall men.
“Two years ago we caught a 12-footer,” Pat said. “We we were tickled to death to get that one.”
No one suspected they would topple that personal record.
This isn’t the first record-setting alligator to come out of this area.
About 11 months ago, an 18-year-old Houston high school youth pulled the same size alligator from Choke Canyon.
The 14-footer is estimated to be between 30-50 years old, according to TPWD alligator program leader Amos Cooper.
Hunting isn’t about records for the Seals family, though. It is simply a sport they enjoy and all the better when they can do it together.
Jason said that he hunts everything from deer to hogs and even gets his line wet to catch a fish or two.
This gator was definitely the deadliest animal he has hunted.
Gator hunting in Texas is actually a relatively new sport, having started in about 1984.
This was after 15 years of protection due to declining numbers and fear that the reptile would never recover.
In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed it from the list of endangered species.
The longest recorded length for an alligator is 19 feet, 2 inches.
That massive animal was taken in Louisiana in 1890.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.