Hunters land 13-foot, 5-inch alligator

Gavin McDowell, 16, stands next to a 13-foot, 5-inch alligator he helped his father and crew catch late Saturday night in the Waccamaw River.
Gavin McDowell, 16, stands next to a 13-foot, 5-inch alligator he helped his father and crew catch late Saturday night in the Waccamaw River. Submitted photo

On an alligator hunting trip late Friday night 2 miles south of Wacca Wache Marina in the Waccamaw River in South Carolina, Landon McDowell thought he was hooked up with a stump.

Pulling with all his might, McDowell soon noticed some movement below.

The next thing he knew, he – and his crew members, his son Gavin, and friend Jim Arnette and his son, James – were in a more than two-hour wrestling match with what proved to be a 13-foot, 5-inch alligator.

“I was having trouble casting on him. He actually surfaced and he went back down. When I saw him go back down, I threw in the area where he was at and I didn’t know I had him. Normally when you hook a gator, he will run. But when I hooked up, it didn’t run. I said ‘I’m hung on a stump,’ and I started pulling as hard as I could to break it loose from the stump and then it started moving,” said McDowell, a captain who runs charters for Wallace Lee’s Fishing Guides in Murrells Inlet. “I think just because of his size it took a little more to get him off the bottom. But when he ran, it was on.

“We got two more lines in him after that so at one point we had three lines in him and he broke two of those, so we were back to one line and I thought we may lose him with only one line in him,” he continued. “After about an hour of wrestling with one line we got more lines in him and he broke off a couple more lines and around 1 a.m. we finally got enough lines in him. He surfaced twice and actually kind of lunged in the air and that’s when my heart rate was really pumping when I saw him jump and just how big he was.”

Soon, the crew won the battle.

“After about two hours, he tired out and surfaced enough to get a harpoon in him and shortly after the harpoon we were able to get a good shot on him,” McDowell said.

After hauling the gator home early Saturday morning, McDowell took the gator to a processor in Hemingway for it to be measured and weighed. The initial weight he was told was 655 pounds, but they “couldn’t get whole gator off ground” at the time and on Monday he was told a weight of 816 pounds. That was “a whole lot more accurate,” McDowell said.

“I have seen some fishing in Georgetown that I thought were close to this size, but I’ve never been on a hunt and actually seen one this big while I was hunting,” said McDowell, who’s been hunting alligators for five or six years. “So it was exciting.”

McDowell said he tried to research the state record so he could find out where his catch stood. He didn’t have much luck finding concrete numbers, but said “It’s got to be close.”

The gator was so big that McDowell – who was hunting on a 17-foot boat – needed his brother, Robbie, to bring his boat, a 20-footer, so they could bring him in. McDowell had some family members meet them at the ramp, and they were speechless when they saw the animal.

“Their jaw just dropped when they saw it,” McDowell said. “They had no clue that something like that was swimming in the river there where they’ve swam and tubed and everything.”

Despite making the kill in close proximity to Wacca Wache Marina, McDowell doesn’t believe folks should be concerned.

“It’s definitely an area where a lot of people ski and swim, but once you hunt these gators you respect them. But they do not act very aggressive most of the time,” McDowell said. “There’s very few times I’ve seen them act aggressive. It wouldn’t deter me from going back on the water as far as swimming and things like that because, for the most part, from what I’ve seen if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.”

McDowell said his father and brother have both killed alligators over 12 feet long. But this one will certainly stick with him. He plans to receive the head back from the Hemingway processor so he can mount it.

“I’ve decided that I’m going to get the head mounted because I don’t know if I’ll ever get an opportunity to shoot one this size,” McDowell said.

David Wetzel: 843-626-0295, @MYBSports