'It was a freak accident': Hunter describes moment gator bit arm at Seminole County lake.

'It was a freak accident': Hunter describes moment gator bit arm at Seminole County lake.

Photo is from an 11'-0 gator he caught last week.

An unrelated article about Lake Jessup in Seminole County Florida.
tate biologist Arnold Brunell remembers the time he was approached for advice about opening a water-ski school on Lake Jesup.

His answer was simple: "Don't!"

Brunell can't imagine anyone water skiing on the Seminole County lake. "That would be like trolling," he said, laughing.

That's because Lake Jesup is home to one of the state's largest populations of alligators. It's also home to some of the state's largest gators.

Jack Campbell of Geneva knows that firsthand.

Last year, he hauled a 13-foot, 2-inch monster out of the lake during the state's annual gator-hunting season. It's the largest on record taken from Lake Jesup, surpassing the previous mark, taken in 1979, by 8 inches.

"They [gators] are abundant," said Campbell, 33.

But the big ones are hard to hunt, he said. They tend to swim toward the middle of the lake at night, making them a challenge to capture and kill, he said.

"You can catch the little ones all night long," Campbell said. Those 4- and 5-footers swim right toward a boat when a light is shined on them, he said. "The bigger ones are more coy."

With an estimated population of 12,925 gators, Jesup ranks second to mammoth Lake Okeechobee (28,106) for the number of alligators in a state lake.

But while Okeechobee has more than twice the number of gators as Jesup, it's also 28 times larger.


Jesup also is one of the most densely populated gator lakes, with an estimated 421 of the reptiles per mile of shoreline. Only Lake Trafford in Collier County, with 644, and Lake Hancock, with 611, have more gators per mile of shoreline, but both are much smaller than Jesup, Brunell said.

Some think Lake Jesup's gator population is so large because, years ago, wildlife officers would capture nuisance gators and release them in Jesup.

But Brunell, a biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, said gators thrive in Jesup because it is an ideal environment.

With little development along the shore, there is plenty of habitat for females to lay their eggs. And the lake is loaded with the perfect gator meal, such as mudfish, gars, shad and turtles.

Alligators would have thrived in the lake even if the nuisance gators weren't released there, he said.

And because there has been little development along the lake, the state receives few complaints, Brunell said.

Much of the land around Jesup is not developable, and large tracts have been purchased by the St. Johns River Water Management District in an effort to control runoff into the lake.

New homes are being built along the lake in Winter Springs, but for the most part, those living on the shores of Jesup have been there for years.

It wasn't long ago that the alligator was almost hunted into extinction.

In 1967, it was listed as an endangered species. Ten years later, it was downlisted to threatened, and in 1987, it was reclassified as "threatened due to similarity of appearance" in an effort to protect endangered crocodilians such as the American crocodile.

Statewide, it is estimated that there are more than 1 million gators in the wild.

Wildlife officers, equipped with high-powered lights, go out at night in the spring to count gators. The state's annual census of gators is broken down by size.

"Lake Jesup has always had a lot of very large alligators," Brunell said.

When it comes to the number of gators 9 feet or longer, Jesup's 194 is nowhere near the top of the list -- that's Lake Okeechobee with 1,760.

Yet of the 22 gators taken from Lake Jesup during the 2002 harvest, 15 were longer than 9 feet, and nine of those were longer than 10 feet. Including Campbell's catch, five were 12 feet or longer.

The state record for the longest alligator was set in 1997, when a state trapper killed a nuisance gator near the east end of Lake Monroe, a few miles down river from Jesup, that measured 14 feet, 5/8 of an inch.

Todd Braden of Sanford, who has spent most of his 46 years around the lake, gives airboat tours each Sunday out of Black Hammock Fish Camp on the south shore. He has seen gators in the lake that are "right at 14 feet," but he has never seen the 18-footer that local lore has living in Jesup.

"Everybody claims there's an 18-footer in there," Braden said.

He doesn't believe that for a minute, but he does think it's only a matter of time before a gator is taken from Jesup that breaks the state record.

"Jesup's going to break it one day," he said.

People come to Lake Jesup for the alligators, said Braden, who also has hunted gators. Many people who take his airboat tours are from England, but he gets business from "all over the world."

September is not a good time to see gators on Lake Jesup, Braden said. That's because they tend to hide during the annual harvest.

"They know it's hunting season. They'll be back in October."

Lake Jesup is a designated egg-collection area, where commercial alligator farmers pay the state to harvest eggs.

Wildlife agents survey the water by helicopter to count nests, and the commercial farmers can harvest from up to half of the nests, Brunell said.

They pay the state $5 apiece for the eggs, which average 35 per nest. Farmers typically keep about 25 eggs from each nest, he said.

"It's part of the alligator management people don't see," Brunell said.

Gators raised by commercial farmers, including those hatched from the purchased eggs, are not protected by the state's rules and can be killed for their meat and hides.

The largest alligator nest Brunell ever encountered in Lake Jesup held 93 eggs. It's possible that two alligators laid eggs in the same nest, but that would be highly unusual, he said.

On the south side of Lake Jesup, Black Hammock Restaurant has capitalized on the gators' presence.

Glenn Wilson, who opened the restaurant more than a decade ago, sold it four years ago and recently returned as general manager, said people come from far and wide because of the gators.

"You can't duplicate this in Ohio or Indiana or New York," he said.

There are alligator sandwiches and meals on the menu, live gators in an aquarium, and an assortment of souvenirs from gator heads to teeth and jewelry.

You even can have your photo taken with a small alligator or view them up close in cages.

The alligator meat, products and even the live gators found next to the restaurant come from commercial farmers, not from the lake.

And because of the proliferation of commercial farmers, there is no money to be made by hunters during the annual harvest, which runs from Sept. 1 through the first week of October, Campbell said.

Small alligators are ideal for their tender meat and hides that can be turned into leather products, but they offer no challenge, Campbell said. The 13-foot, 2-inch gator he killed was decades old, and the meat was inedible.

Killing that gator provided all of the challenge that Campbell could handle.

He set out on an airboat from Black Hammock Fish Camp one evening last October.

About 2 a.m., he encountered the giant reptile on the north end of the lake, near State Road 46. He was able to get the gator to swallow a wooden hook baited with meat. He then harpooned the gator and trailed it for about an hour, when he shot it with a second harpoon.

He finally killed the gator with a bang stick -- a pipe that fires a bullet at close range -- but "he was so big, we couldn't get him onto the airboat."

Instead, the gator was tied to the side of the boat. Campbell had to dock at a ramp on S.R. 46 because it was too far back to Black Hammock Fish Camp.

He is having the front half of the gator preserved by a taxidermist because he has no place to display the entire gator.


By: Justice_For_Zimmerman (1550.60)

Tags: Lake Jessup, Alligator attack, Arm is history

Location: florida