From WUFT News: Florida residents embarked on gator hunts in record numbers in 2011
If you ask Alachua County gator hunter Johnny Bass how he got that
scar on his forehead, you won’t get a straight answer. But he will tell
you it involves gator hunting on Newnans Lake.
Florida’s 15-week gator hunting season lasts from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1.
And for each of the last 15 years, you’re sure to find Bass hunting
gators on Newnans Lake. Of course, Bass’s history with the lake is
rooted deep in his childhood.
“I learned to fish and waterski in this gator-infested lake. I’ve
waded the whole perimeter of this lake bass fishing,” said Bass, a
63-year-old Gainesville resident retired from fixing UPS trucks.
Bass calls himself the “Old Man of the Boat,” and he is joined by
some younger gator hunters from Gainesville — C.J. Masciale, John Kurtz
and Kurtz’ 18-year-old son David, who’s been helping the group hunt
gators since he was young. Masciale runs C.J.’s Concrete and Kurtz
operates Hog Town Auto in Gainesville.
Fishing and hunting, especially catching gators, has been their true
passion for the last 10 years—an exciting passion that sometimes takes
shape overnight, since the law in Alachua County is to hunt from 6 p.m.
to 10 a.m.
“We pulled an all-nighter gator hunt,” Kurtz said. “I saw a red eye
in the bushes, and I couldn’t hook him. Johnny set a big hook and threw
it and hooked the gator. Johnny almost fell into the water. It was an
11-foot, 11-inch gator.
“The tail slapped the boat 10 times. Dad had me around the waste thinking it was going to pull me over,” he said.
Last year, more than 8,100 gators were caught in Florida, the highest number in the past 10 years, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Bass says all their experience and camaraderie are what make their
hunts so successful. They have caught five gators this year. The biggest
was nine feet, seven inches.
That’s nothing in comparison to the 13-foot gator they caught two
years ago — a gator so old, Bass says, he only had two teeth left.
As the gator hunting season ends, Bass and his crew are zipping
around Newnans Lake looking to hook one more big gator. Between the four
of them, they have three permits, meaning they are allowed to catch a
total of six gators in Florida this year.
No matter the size of the catch, Bass and company say they’ve only
felt excited — never scared or endangered — as they hunt gators.
“The hunt is as dangerous as the people you’re hunting with,” said
Bass, who still won’t say how he got that scar on his forehead. “What
happens on the boat stays on the boat.”