September 26, 2023
Call it the new “Shark Week,” if you will, the building fascination that Americans have for big old alligators. One Florida alligator guide named Kevin Brotz, who has hundreds of tagged gators to his credit, certainly understands that fascination, living recently in the eye of a news media and social media hurricane after tagging one of history’s biggest swamp lizards on a backwater lake near Orlando.
For Brotz, a central Florida fishing and hunting guide who loves to cook up wild protein and spend time on the saltwater chasing tarpon, on freshwater chasing bass, or in the woods working a box call as an Osceola turkey sounds off, Florida’s gator hunting opportunities are a match made in heaven.
Brotz, a 38-year-old husband and father of three who runs the Git Bit Outdoors guide service, has enjoyed the state’s hidden haunts and gator-hunting possibilities since he was a teen. Even so, he still found himself in a bit of a backwater predicament recently on a fun hunt where the end results went viral with news headlines and TV news show appearances locally and beyond.
With two decades of gator-hunting experience, Brotz was on the water with two friends and church buddies, Carson Gore and Darren Field, on a hunt that was topped off by a giant alligator that measured 13 feet, 3 ¼ inches long and weighed a stunning 900 pounds.
By those Jurassic Park-like numbers, it’s among the largest gators ever taken in state history. While a few Florida gators have measured longer, according to FWC data only one other swamp lizard has ever topped the weight of Brotz’s gator, a 1,043-pound gator harvested at Orange Lake in April 1989. The enormous size of Brotz’s gator is a story in and of itself, but so too is the crazy ordeal that it took to hook it, get it in and dispatch it with a bang stick.
"We actually spotted the gator about two hours into the hunt that morning, but he disappeared on us," said Brotz, who is normally guiding clients to their own gator dreams. "While we were working our way back, we really hadn’t seen anything too exciting before we found him again. At first, I thought he was a 10- or 11-foot gator, not too big or anything."
While the gator he was looking at on Aug. 25, 2023 might not have seemed as big as it eventually turned out to be, it was big enough to wear an unpunched tag. And that’s where the long ordeal began.
"When we first got a hook in him, typically they’ll take off," said Brotz. "But the tell-tale sign of a big gator is that they’ll stick around after getting hooked, and not take off or really fight. When that happened, I thought that maybe this gator was bigger than we (first) thought."
Over the minutes that followed, the gator was eventually hooked with three rods bowed over and the swamp lizard not giving an inch. "That's when I knew it was a giant," Brotz said.
Occupying a medium-sized johnboat used for the hunt, the three friends worked steadily to get the gator in. As all of their hunting tools were put to use, they slowly got the gator's head lifted up and got a good look at him, realizing that they were up against a reptile of a different kind. But the giant gator still didn't freak out and simply sank out of sight.
And that's when things went a little sideways as the hooked gator, which was only about 10 to 15 feet away from the boat, slowly approached. "All of a sudden, there was a log jam and he went into it only about 15 feet away," Brotz said. "That took a long time of untangling and working through that mess to get him back to the top."
When the gator eventually came up and gulped air, he went back down and rested on a submerged tree. From that point, landing the gator was "touch and go for nearly 2 1/2 hours."
Eventually, the four-hour-long battle was won as the hunters threw all they had at the gator and got him landed. But as the end of the fight neared, the gator was up near the boat, only a foot or two away, and popping its powerful jaws and ferocious teeth before the bang stick put an end to the fight.
"He had so much power, it kind of felt like lightning had struck when he came up and popped his jaws," said Brotz. "We then got him to the bank and we had to get out of the boat to get him loaded into the boat. Water was coming into the boat, our coolers were floating, our water bottles were floating, but we finally got him in there and took a sleigh ride for the hour ride back. Then we took him to the processor and got a bunch of pictures."
If reality TV shows sometimes oversell such a moment, Brotz said things were a little more reserved at the end of his surreal hunt.
"He was an impressive, ancient animal," he said, then added, "We were relieved at that point, to be honest. Yeah, we were excited, but there really wasn't any crazy hooting and hollering since we were kind of relieved that it was over. I was also humbled and thankful that we didn't lose the battle. It was more of a sigh of relief than a crazy moment high."
While the initial weight was 920 pounds, by the time the official weight was recorded the next day, the scale registered at 900, and that's the weight that Brotz said went on the ticket. All told, the tagged swamp lizard produced a lot of alligator leather and 130 pounds of lean meat.
Did Brotz and his pals ever think that they had bitten off more than they could chew?
"I don't think so, but we knew we were in it and never once thought of backing out," he said from one of his kid's Little League baseball games as this interview took place. "I will admit that about an hour in, when we saw how big he really was, we knew we could be in a bit of trouble if he ever did something crazy."
For some, the idea of alligator hunting is what's crazy, from the danger and adrenaline rush of the hunt to those who argue that something like that shouldn't be hunted at all. Brotz, a strict conservationist who uses every bit of an alligator that he can, doesn't agree.
"Yeah, I expected some negative comments and people not seeing it for what it is," he said. "But I see it as an opportunity to educate people since a lot of people aren’t hunters, don’t have family and friends who hunt, and don’t have the perspective we do. I'm glad to be able to use this as a platform to help others see this is about education on wildlife conservation. We're using this animal to its fullest, it helps the state of Florida with its population management and we're even helping to reduce negative human/gator interactions.”
Brotz is a hardworking small businessman and a dedicated Christian family man who spends all of his non-guiding moments with his wife and children. And in the future, those are the things he looks forward to the most.
“I’ve literally been fishing since I was two years old and I’ve never stopped," he said. "The Lord made me and put it on my heart to enjoy the outdoors and to share that with others, it’s the best part of what I do. When I started this new business years ago, there was lots of prayer and I saw it ultimately as a business that is a platform for me to share my love of the outdoors and my faith in Jesus.”
“And now, going forward, to me, the excitement is just beginning as my wife and I will be watching our kids get into the outdoors too,” he added. “A good friend said to me the other day, ‘This gator may be the pinnacle of your outdoors career.’ And I replied that for me personally, it might be, but it will ultimately pale in comparison to the memories we’ll make with our kids.”
And as dads like Kevin Brotz know, those family moments will be as grand as any old swamp lizard weighing nearly 1,000-pounds could ever be. Especially in the days ahead as laughter and giggles surround the mounted gator and the smell of delicious wild protein cooking up drifts in from the kitchen.