An annual Thanksgiving tradition gave a father/son duo yet another reason to be thankful. On their latest Thanksgiving fishing trip in Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Keith Dees and his son, Huntley, reeled in a monster alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) that set a new state record. The fish weighed an astonishing 162 pounds! It measured 7.5 feet long with a 35.5-inch girth.
Richard Johnson landed the previous state record alligator gar on August 13, 2009. That fish, caught in the Tensaw River, weighed a little over 151 pounds. The fish caught by Dees and his son broke the previous record by nearly 11 pounds.
Quite a Fishing Trip!
Dees and his son have embarked on this father/son fishing excursion each Thanksgiving Day for the last several years. During their 2022 holiday fishing trip, they caught nearly 20 fish, mostly largemouth bass and red drum (often known as redfish). It had already been a great day on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Alabama’s largest river delta and wetland.
But the next time Dees cast his chatter bait into the Alabama water, the trip took on an entirely new meaning. A tug on the line and a hookset was the beginning of an epic battle. Dees fought the fish for 30 minutes before the father/son duo even saw it for the first time.
“When it [came] up, I knew it was big, but I didn’t even remotely know it was a state record,” Dees remarked. “That never crossed my mind. I love to cook, so I thought I want to catch this joker so we can eat him. I’ve got a bunch of Cajun friends, and they take it and cut it in steaks and blacken it and do medallions. It’s just delicious. I’m thinking I’m about to get a bunch of freezer meat.”
The fight would continue for over two hours. Dees were fishing with a 15-pound test line, perfect for largemouth bass but certainly not ideal for a behemoth 162-pound alligator gar. Time and patience would be required to boat this monster on such a light tackle.
After the protracted fight, the fish finally tired, and Dees was able to pull it up alongside the boat. But the two anglers still had a problem. How do you land a 7+ foot long, 162-pound fish? They finally were able to wrap the boat’s towrope around the fish and haul it onboard.
How to Weigh This Fish?
But then another issue arose: how do you weigh such a mammoth fish? They certainly didn’t have any scales in their bass boat that could handle the task.
A friend agreed to keep the still-living fish in his swimming pool while Dees went in search of a commercial scale that could give them an accurate measurement of the fish’s weight. It took the rest of the day to figure out how to weigh the fish, but Dees finally made contact with someone who could help. He transported the fish, wrapped in tarps and ice, to Orange Beach Marina Harbor Master, Jimmy Beason, who weighed the fish. Dees then took the paperwork to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) for confirmation.
It took about a month and a half, but on January 19, 2023, ADCNR made the official announcement. The alligator gar caught on Thanksgiving Day was a new state record.
Where was the Largest Alligator Gar Caught in Alabama Located on a Map?
The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is located in South Alabama between the city of Mobile and Bay Minette. It consists of numerous bays, creeks, rivers, and swamps that empty into Mobile Bay.
No Longer a “Trash Fish”
At one time, the alligator gar was viewed by anglers as a “trash fish.” It was widely believed the alligator gar was a danger to popular sport fish such as bass, so anglers who caught these prehistoric-looking fish would often destroy them. This misconception caused the alligator gar population to plummet. Thankfully, a correction is now happening. Anglers no longer view the species as “trash.” Chefs have found that this previously disdained fish actually has firm fillets featuring a delightfully mild flavor. (Dees and his Cajun friends know this, for sure!) The fish’s new reputation has led to a rebound in population numbers.
World Record Still Stands
The alligator gar is among the largest freshwater fish on earth. As big as the record-setting fish in Alabama was, it didn’t come close to the world record. The record for the largest alligator gar ever caught was set in neighboring Mississippi on February 14, 2001. Kenny Williams hauled in this massive Valentine’s Day fish that weighed 327 pounds! It measured 8 feet, 5 inches long, with a girth of about 47 inches.
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