Keith Dees and his 15-year old son Huntly have a tradition of fishing every Thanksgiving morning, then meeting up with family for that evening’s celebration meal. That’s what the pair of Fruitdale, Ala. anglers were doing last Nov. 24, targeting largemouth bass and redfish on the Raft River, a feeder of Mobile Bay.
The morning had been a good one for the duo, as they boated almost 20 fish, a mix of largemouth bass and redfish. Then Keith hooked a heavier than usual fish that struck his “Jack Hammer” chatterbait jig.
“I thought another big redfish hit,” Keith told Alabama’s Call News. “I was reeling as fast as I could. As it went by I could see something big underwater, but had no idea how big. We just followed the fish with the boat, because I wanted my $20 lure back.”
Using bass baitcasting tackle and 15-pound test line wasn’t a fair match for the monster fish Keith had hooked.
“For 30 minutes we didn’t know what we had,” Keith continued. “The fish took line, but never left about a 200-yard circle. Finally, it came up to the surface to gulp air. We went nuts when we saw the size of the fish. But we still had no idea how really big it was.”
The giant of an alligator gar would make long runs, then hang near the surface and the Dees would catch up in their bass boat, while Keith battled the oversize fish. Nearly two hours into the fight the anglers saw the gar was tiring, and they closed the gap to it.
They had no net large enough to handle the gar, and a rope noose didn’t work to lasso the fish. So, using a stiff plug-casting rod rigged with a wide gap hook, they fashioned a make-shift gaff.
“With the fish swimming alongside the boat, Huntley takes my $500 custom rod, and hooks the fish,” Keith Dees explained to Call News. “I figured the rod would break, but the fish flopped sideways and then before going down hovered at the surface.”
The anglers got a rope around the alligator gar and muscled the fish into the bass boat.
It later measured over 7 feet in length at 84.5 inches, with a 35.5-inch girth.
The anglers were uncertain about keeping such a fish until they called a state fisheries officer who confirmed that under Alabama law an angler may keep one alligator gar per day.
“Where can someone put a 7-foot long fish?” Keith asked. “We brought it home and put it in an old swimming pool to keep it alive.”
The Dees had no scale to weigh the gar, so drove the fish to the town of Citronelle to weigh it, where it scaled 175 pounds. Another set of scales tallied the gar at 165-pounds.
After realizing his alligator gar was a likely state record, Keith contacted Tommy Purcell, an Alabama fisheries biologist in Spanish Fort. There, Purcell officially identified the fish as an alligator gar, had it weighed on certified scales and helped with proper state record paperwork.
Keith’s 162-pound alligator gar is sure-to-be state record for the species, beating a tie for the previous title at 151-pounds, 9-ounces. Each previous record gar was caught from the Tensaw River, one in 2004,the second in 2009.
“This is the biggest fish I’ve ever caught,” said Keith. “It’s a memory we’ll cherish forever. He (Huntley) will be telling that story to his grandchildren.”