When Jim Howard agreed to go gator hunting in Lake Okeechobee one night last week, he didn’t plan on catching anything.
But then he saw “giant” gators lurking in the water below.
He whipped out his secret weapon: Beef lung.
“I leave it out for about two days so it’s extra stinky,” he said, noting he gets the bait from a “gator guy” because it’s not readily available at supermarkets. “That way the gator smells it.”
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Howard cast the bait — which is required by law to be wrapped around a 2-inch dowel — off the side of his 18 1/2-foot Sea Ray and waited. Dusk turned to dark. About 30 minutes later, the beef lung, which floats on the water’s surface, was gone.
“That’s when the work begins,” said the 61-year-old Howard, who in the past has had his haul turned into wallets, clutches and belts.
Using a grappling hook and bang sticks, Howard, who lives in Cooper City, reeled in the 12-foot, more than 1,000-pound prize — one of the largest gators caught in Florida. His neighbor and his neighbor’s son all helped in the Herculean, hour-and-a-half undertaking.
“I’ve caught gators before, but never like this,” Howard said.
The gator put up quite a fight, dragging the boat through the water.
At one point, the gator lunged his head toward them but he was so tired that he couldn’t do much damage, Howard said.
“It was quite exciting,” he noted.
Howard, who is a commercial pilot, said he’s always loved the Everglades and “being adventurous.” In 2012, his Cooper City neighbor got him curious about gator hunting.
Since 1988, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began offering the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program “for the sustainable use of a natural resource.”
“These special night hunts provide a thrilling, hands-on hunting adventure,” the FWC wrote in its alligator hunting guide. “Recreational alligator hunting is just one part of the FWC’s overall approach to managing the population.”
The state record for the longest gator was set in 2010 in Lake Washington in Brevard County. The gator was 14 foot, 3-1/2 inches, according to the FWC. The state record for weight was a 1,043-pound male gator from Orange Lake in Alachua County.
To legally hunt alligators in Florida, hunters must apply for a permit through a lottery system and adhere to the rules. Hunters only can get two gators and must be 18 years old. They can’t use guns. They can only hunt in assigned areas. Permits cost $272 for Florida residents.
Howard got his first permit in 2012, and that year he captured an 8-footer. He missed out on several seasons thereafter by not winning the lottery.
This year, his luck changed.
When the hunting season began on Wednesday, he headed to Lake Okeechobee — his designated area — and caught an 8-footer.
On Thursday, his neighbor said he was heading out to the lake and asked if Howard wanted to join him. He said sure.
After snagging the “beast,” Howard’s season is over. He met his quota of two.
So what does one do with a more than 1,000-pound gator?
“I think I’ll make my wife another purse,” he said.