The other alligator: A fishing trip to Georgia

The rod tip bumped, but my guide cautioned, “Let him take it some more and then set the hook when it makes a significant dip towards the water.” I waited, then another bump on the line, baited with a live three-inch bream. I waited.

Then came the solid dip; I set the hook and the line took off like a snagged tuna, but this was fresh water and we were fishing for bass and stripers. This was clearly a big one and it must be the giant striper I’d come for; then it jumped.

It looked like an alligator, but came out of the water like a sailfish; then it ran taking line as the spray from the reel seemed endless, but it was only a few seconds. It then dove and I could feel him rolling, trying to throw the hook, and then he surfaced. It looked like a log in the water.

My guide, the legendary Woody Grainger from All Seasons Guide Service, shouted, “It’s an Alligator Gar, the largest I’ve ever seen in these parts. It may be a new lake record.”

Now my adrenalin was really pumping, as I saw its teeth. It was hooked at the rear of the jaw, but the slightest touch of its razor sharp teeth would cut the line. Then it went for the anchor line. Tightening the drag a bit I was able to turn it, with its teeth snapping and flashing, as it rolled on its side, tired.

The net was ready and Woody took the fish head first. Its length was half in and half out as it came alive again and fell into the belly of the net; it was over.

It then came onto the deck of the pontoon boat as I hear “Oh, shucks,” or something similar to that (must have been a local expression). I am silent in awe of this prehistoric looking monster, not even responding to the congratulations and complimentary remarks. Then all I could say was, “Wow” and it was knuckles and handshakes all around.

The fish was still very much alive and I’m later told they can live out of water for several hours breathing air due to a special bladder near their gills.

Pictures are taken, after the jaws are securely tied like an alligator’s, from which it is so aptly named, and measurements are taken (57 inches).

I’m told the meat is a delicious delicacy, but this one is going back in the water to grow even larger and to fight another day.

We also caught some nice bass and stripers and even netted a huge catfish that tried to swallow too large a striper that was stuck in its throat with half the tail hanging out of its mouth. Flopping on the surface it seemed to have been there a while and was dying. I guess its eyes were bigger than its stomach. Sound familiar?

Lake Oconee, Georgia is an interesting place to fish, as are lakes Juliette and Jackson, which I also enjoyed fishing.

Woody has gained his reputation by catching really big fish, and lots of them, so I admit to having been a bit excited and my expectations were high. As we all know both of these are conditions which often spell disaster.

My artist friend, Andrew Sabori, the muralist, arranged for Woody to take me on some of the local waters in search of big catfish, large mouth and striped bass.

We first got together at Frank’s Roadhouse, a local Covington watering hole and restaurant. As Woody’s guests we dined on a full sample of southern specialties like ribs, chicken, shrimp and catfish as well as okra, cracklings, boiled peanuts and cornmeal hushpuppies. We then planned the next day’s trip while sipping on a southern beverage.

By this time I had the “y’all” thing down pretty good and I had no trouble fitting into the southern lifestyle. We started fishing Juliette Lake around 10 a.m., which I’ve always considered a civilized time.

That was, however, the end of casual. We were on the water, in one of Woody’s pontoon boats for less than 15 minutes when the first striper hit and headed for the other side of Georgia like a freight train. I just held on and soon he was coming back and we managed to net him before he rammed and sank the boat.

Next it was a large mouth bass that hit the live “black back herring.” Yep, they use live bait in some of those southern lakes, it works too. This was not to be confused with another striper, as he dove deep then came completely out of the water. It was the biggest bass I’d ever seen, I guess it must have weighed 10 pounds, but after several more jumps and runs it came aboard and Woody claimed it was only about 7-8 pounds and not really a “big ‘un, just good eating size.” We didn’t have a scale along so I still claim it was a 10-pounder – at least.

Georgia is a sportsman’s paradise, but that is not all I fell in love with. The people are some of the most gracious and are proud of their community. Woody, Andrew and the folks in Covington, Georgia showed me that famous southern hospitality.

The town was founded in 1822 and much of the central area was spared during the American Civil War. The history is still there, but today it seems to be right out of the 50s and has been the location for many movies and TV shows like In the Heat of the Night, Remember the Titans, the Dukes of Hazzard and is currently where the Vampire Diaries is being filmed.

One of the most significant structures remaining is White Hall Manor, which served as the model for the mansion in Gone With the Wind, and is currently on the market in these tough economic times. I was able to spend considerable time going through White Hall and still dream of it as the ultimate fishing and hunting lodge, with Woody as my head guide. Who knows, it could be his dream too. We’ll see what happens; dreams are good things, and a writer’s currency. As for the charming belles, they’re certainly there, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

What is certain is I’ll be returning often to test these big fish and include some hunting for the abundant deer, boar and wild turkey, and just to visit new friends.

Woody’s parting words were, “Y’all come back now.” I will.

(This story is an excerpt from “Sportsman’s Quest-the Book.” It’s available at the Pahrump Valley Times, or give Dan a call at 775-727-9777.)

For more information on All Seasons Guide Services call Woody at 478-994-8895

Please e-mail me at sportmansquestnews@gmail.com if you have any thoughts or want to share pictures, or a story, of your hunting and fishing adventures.

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