Father, son pull fish to boat, break state record: AL photo

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Keith and Huntley Dees encountered the giant alligator gar while going bass fishing.

Screenshot of Outdoor Alabama on Facebook

A father and son have a long tradition of fishing on Thanksgiving — and it led to a state record in Alabama.

The record was recognized in January, more than a month after their routine holiday getaway took a surprising turn. Keith Dees said he was bass fishing with his son Huntley when he realized there was something on the other end of the line.

He suspected it was another redfish as the two had hooked several that morning and caught a 32lb in the past. But when the fish surfaced, he instead discovered it was a prehistoric-looking alligator gar, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“I knew it was big, but I didn’t even remotely know it was a state record,” Dees said in a Jan. 19 press release. “It never occurred to me. I love to cook so I thought I’d like to catch this joker so we can eat it.”

But catching the 162-pound creature would take time. The father and son, who fished in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, watched as the giant fish stayed in shallow water as they came up with a plan to capture it, officials said.

“I was scared he was planning to destroy my $500 rod, but I don’t think with the combination of the water temperature in the 50’s and being held on to him for two hours, he didn’t fight much,” Dees told wildlife officials.

At that moment, the adrenaline kicked in and allowed the father to pull the fish into the boat, an online photo shows.

“It was a great memory for my son,” Dees said in the press release. “Whether it’s the state record or not, it would be a story we would tell forever.”

Still, the pair were curious about the size of the fish, so they checked it out themselves. After discovering it likely exceeded the state record of 151 pounds, the pair waited for a certified scale to confirm the weight.

“Where do you keep a 7 foot long fish?” said Dees. “You can’t freeze the fish. My buddy had an old swimming pool so we put him in the pool at 3am. At 9 he was still alive.”

The record was later certified, a fitting achievement for Dees, a Fruitdale resident who said he was known as the “river rat”. Though he and his son hooked a huge fish, a 327-pound alligator gar caught in Mississippi in 2011 is believed to be one of the largest ever caught, Field & Stream reported in June.

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is located in the Mobile region of southwest Alabama. According to wildlife experts, alligators are found in the delta and other coastal waters.

The fish can grow nearly 10 feet long, and “adult gars always have two rows of teeth in the upper jaw, compared to one row in all other gar species,” the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said on its website.

This story was originally published Jan 24, 2023 7:12 am.

Simone Jasper is a reporter who covers breaking news for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.

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