Lee County gator hunters snag major trophy in Tibbee Creek

Kevin Tate | Daily Journal Weighing 620 pounds and measuring 12 feet, 7 inches, the alligator hauled home by Wayne Mask, in red, with the help of, from left, Dusty Kelly, Mark Burleson and Ben Mask, was quite a catch for the first-time gator hunters.

Kevin Tate | Daily Journal
Weighing 620 pounds and measuring 12 feet, 7 inches, the alligator hauled home by Wayne Mask, in red, with the help of, from left, Dusty Kelly, Mark Burleson and Ben Mask, was quite a catch for the first-time gator hunters.

By Kevin Tate

Outdoors Writer

When Wayne Mask, of the Brewer community, put his name in the hat for the state’s limited-draw alligator season, he had no idea he and his crew would encounter a beast of the size they did. Measuring 12 feet, 7 inches from snout to tail and tipping the scales at 620 pounds, the trophy they brought home from the waters of Tibbee Creek in the wee hours of Monday morning surpassed all expectations.

“I know we went down there gator hunting, but I never dreamed we’d come back with something like this,” Mask said.

Mask, along with son Ben Mask and son-in-law Dusty Kelly, tied into the gator roughly a quarter mile up Tibbee Creek from Columbus Lake late in the evening on Sunday and hung on for what turned out to be a lengthy fight. Unlike many techniques seen on television, Mississippi law requires alligator hunters to have their quarry secured next to the boat before a firearm can be involved in the issue. Baited hooks and other attractants are not permitted. Allowable methods of bringing alligators under control include snagging equipment, bow fishing equipment, harpoons with attached lines and buoys and wire snares on poles. Mask and company used both the first and last of those methods, as many prefer to do.

With heavy duty fishing poles they cast across and snagged the alligator first with one large treble hook, then with a second. After holding on for a time they were able to bring the boat and alligator close enough together to snag the gator with a third, much larger treble hook, this one attached by way of a nylon strap. Rather than settling the matter, though, this step provoked a new burst of resistance.

“He straightened out one prong of the 20/0 treble hook and, when it came loose, it snagged one of the two other lines and broke it,” Ben Mask said.

In an instant, their hold on the monster was reduced from three hooks to one. They were able to regroup and re-rig, however, and eventually brought the gator boatside roughly 90 minutes after the struggle had begun. There, a wire snare was secured around the gator’s snout and a succession of shots from a .410 put the harvest to rest. The adventure, though, was not yet over.

“We had about the front third of the gator pulled into the boat when water started pouring in,” Ben Mask said. Comprised largely of muscle and bone, the sheer mass of the critter pushed a corner of the boat’s stern under the surface when they tried to drag him onboard.

“We wound up tieing him alongside the boat and towing him in,” Kelly said.

Back at the landing, they telephoned Mark Burleson, another of Mask’s sons-in-law, to bring a low trailer to haul the prize home. Once the gator was measured and weighed, their plans called for preserving the hide, mounting the head and turning all of the edible parts into tablefare.

“He ought to make quite a few gator bites,” Wayne Mask said, “quite a few.”