JACKSON, Miss. --- A Vicksburg, Miss., woman caught Mississippi's longest alligator on record from public waters Saturday night, but it was almost a tale of the one that got away.
Tiffany Wienke and a party of six captured a gator that measured 13 feet, 7 ⅞ inches and weighed 686 pounds. The belly girth measured 59 inches and tail girth 43 inches.
Wienke and her group said they were trolling the waters for alligators off the Mississippi River south of Port Gibson.
About 9:30 p.m. Wienke and her party of six spotted a gator that looked like it had potential and began easing toward it when one of the hunters noticed another lurking nearby.
"He was swimming across the water in front of us so we could see his profile and could see he had a big head," Wienke said. "We knew it was a big gator."
Wienke's husband, William Wienke, got a hook in the gator and another hunter managed to get a second hook on him. The hunters knew they were battling a large animal that was difficult to control, but not long into the fight they got their first clue as to just how big.
"We'd been fighting him about 30 minutes before we got the first good look at him," Wienke said. "He came up about 5 or 10 feet from the front of the boat. We were all like, 'Oh, my gosh!'"
It was the biggest gator Wienke had encountered in her seven years of alligator hunting and it wasn't even close to giving up. The gator went back down in the murky water and eventually swam under a log and brush.
"About 10 or 15 minutes he just sat there," Wienke said. "We were preparing for what to do when he came up. He was tired, and we knew he'd come up for air."
As expected, the monster gator surfaced, but it was in the brush. Wienke said the team managed to get a noose on the alligator, but a branch was also in the noose. That allowed the animal to slip out and go down.
Her husband's line broke first and not long after, the second line gave way. The biggest gator they'd ever encountered was gone — or was he?
The hunters sat tight thinking he wouldn't go far, and about 20 minutes later he surfaced again.
"The second time we hooked him, we hooked him in the mouth," Wienke said. "We had no idea where we'd hooked him until it came up.
"We'd hooked him basically like a fish. We put the second line on him when he came up. He'd come up, get a breath, go down and run line out. He crashed into trees a couple of times running bank to bank."
The hunters pulled him near the boat, but the line in his mouth was a major issue. That's when Wienke switched from her light-holding duty to battling the monster gator.
"He came up beside the boat and we knew we couldn't get a noose on him," Wienke said. "My husband put a third hook in him and handed me the pole. We cut the line off the mouth so we could get the noose on him."
But it was a little early for the noose because even after the hunters got a third line on him, the gator was not giving up.
"It felt like you've hooked into a ton of bricks," she said. "I fought with him a good 35 to 45 minutes.
"If he wanted to go to the front of the boat, we went to the front of the boat. If he wanted to go to the back of the boat, we went to the back of the boat. All you can do in those circumstances is hold on."
And they did hold on and after a total of almost two hours, the gator was secure and dispatched. The battle was over, but not the work.
Wienke said it took all six hunters and a pulley system to get their harvest into the boat. Inch by inch, they tugged and pulled until they got the head in the boat. At that point, one of the hunters sat on the head to hold it in place while the others slowly pulled the rest aboard.
When the crew arrived at the boat launch, Wienke said conservation officers were there and measured the gator at about 13 feet, 8 inches. That would put the alligator ¼ inch over the current record.
"We were celebrating because we knew he was over 12 feet," Wienke said. "We knew he was a big gator and we knew he was the biggest gator we'd caught, but we had no idea what we potentially had until we got back to the landing."
The hunters caught a few hours of sleep before taking the alligator to a processor. After straightening the gator's body, he measured 13 feet, 8 inches. With the standing record for a male alligator from public waters at 13 feet, 7 ¾ inches, it was time to call Ricky Flynt, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Alligator Program Coordinator for an official measurement.
When Flynt arrived, Wienke said she was nervous.
"He said, 'I'm going to measure him three times because that's what I do,'" Wienke said. "We sat there and held our breath."
When Flynt finished, it was official.
"He said, 'Congratulations, you got ⅛ inch. You got the new record,'" she said. "I got chills. That's when I let everything sink in and I let myself get excited."
Flynt said while the gator is huge, there's always a chance the record can be broken.
"I maintain that the record can be broken every year and there's potential every day," Flynt said. "We see these gators that are over 13 feet, so you've got to think there's something significantly larger out there.
"I'm saying over 14 feet. We've already had one on private land over 14 feet. I won't be surprised to see one come in over 15 feet and break maybe 900 to 1,000 pounds."
But until someone harvests an alligator longer than 13 feet, 7 ⅞ inches, Wienke has the record and she said it's an accomplishment made possible by her fellow hunters.
"Even though the tag was in my name, we all individually participated," Wienke said. "If it wasn't for everyone in the boat, we couldn't have done it."