In this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, waterfowl hunting hunting legend, Warren Coco, and Ramsey continue visiting at the confluence of the Red and Black rivers in central Louisiana, but their conversation turns from feathered fowl to the big lizards for which is state is famous. Coco describes hunting alligators and collecting their eggs in great detail, and then talks about traditional gar fishing. The episode ends dramatically with the tale of 14-feet worth of mad, muddy gator being hand-grabbed in the good ol’ days of Maurepas Swamp! How do they catch alligators and what do they do with them? How do they collect alligator eggs in south Louisiana? What do those momma gators think about the practice? How are garfish caught and what the heck are “garfish balls”? What became of that massive gator they hand-grabbed?! This fun episode rips through a slice of colorful Louisiana culture like a Go Devil motor through the swamp and like only Warren Coco can tell it!
Finding Alligator Nests in Louisiana
“On my property in Hackberry, we’ve got like 13 tags. We also pick up eggs. Alligator, in the state of Louisiana, is owned by the landowner.”
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today’s special guest, and I’ve been to hear from y’all about the past episodes, is Mr. Warren Coco. I’m going to tell you, it’s been a good little series listening to Mr. Warren’s stories and digging through his photo albums. I think if you put all the photo albums in a pile it would stand five feet tall. Mr. Warren, how are you this morning?
Warren Coco: I’m doing great, man.
Ramsey Russell: The past few episodes, we jumped all over the state of Louisiana to some of the old haunts and some of the lands and some of the places you hunt or have hunted back in the past. But we’ve had some really good visits about a lot of interesting subjects [that] I think some folks would love to hear your thoughts on and your stories on. This morning, because we’re here with Mr. Dale Borland, y’all were talking alligators. What do you know about an alligator in this part of the world?
Warren Coco: I’ve been around quite a while. We get tags. On my property in Hackberry, we’ve got like 13 tags. We also pick up eggs. Alligator, in the state of Louisiana, is owned by the landowner. It’s not like a deer or duck that flies by or walks across. It’s all regulated by the state, but it’s all permitted by the state to get tags. They evaluate your property and they launch you so many tags. They evaluate your property and watch you pick up so many eggs depending on the terrain and the habitat. On my piece of private property in Hackberry they allowed us 500 eggs. I’m very familiar with that. I’ve got a neighbor by my shop that had an alligator farm. I would go with them every year to pick up alligator eggs, go with my airboat, and we’d pick up eggs down at Avoca Island, which is a tract of land below the coast of Morgan City, Louisiana. Their allotment was 2000 eggs. We’d go down there. Starting out, we had a hard time finding them. We had a helicopter looking for nests and we found a few. A lot of them nest in what I’d call a jungle where there are all these floating marshes, all floating on and had wax myrtle trees growing out of it. The alligator likes to nest with partial shade over the nest part of the day. The reason for that is the hotter the nest is, the more males you’re going to generate, and the cooler the nest, the more females are going to generate, so that many times, alligators, many times, will nest with just part, not 100%, shade. Now, in the open marsh, like my property at Hackberry, they have no choice. There’s no shade, there’s no trees to get under it. But if they can get on a levee with a tree growing, that’s where they’re going to build on this.
The Nest Habits of Mama Gators
“But another thing there in the nest that people don’t realize is that she opens that nest and she will sometimes crack those eggs to open them because that nest is packed.”
Ramsey Russell: What does an alligator nest look like?
Warren Coco: It looks like a muskrat hill. Gators, after they breed, are going to build in a secluded spot because they want to protect the little ones. They’ll scratch up material and pile up a nest. In the sun, it’s decaying and it’s forming heat and that’s what incubates the eggs. The sun helps incubate, but the decayed vegetation also incubates. She’ll lay those eggs, the eggs are generally all down by the 3rd week of June, and they will hatch out right before the 1st of September because that’s when alligator season starts because wildlife and Fishing wants all the eggs. All the alligators hatch before hunting season opens. The female doesn’t get killed because the female guards the nest. They’ll get on the side of the waterway where a boat can get too sometimes, but generally in a marsh they’re going to go out in the middle of the marsh, very secluded. Generally they’re going to have a little pothole or something because when that little gator hatches, he’s got to feed himself, she can’t feed him. She’ll move them. I’ve seen where they’ll have gators hatch out and then she’ll pick them up and carry them in her mouth.
Ramsey Russell: One at a time?
Warren Coco: No, she’ll put them in her mouth and she’ll carry them and bring them to another location. I’ve seen that happen here. You’ll have a nest of gators and the next time you come, they’re all gone. Unless something came and ate them. But another thing there in the nest that people don’t realize is that she opens that nest and she will sometimes crack those eggs to open them because that nest is packed. By the time those alligators are ready to hatch, that nest is packed so tight nothing can hardly get in it. And she’ll hear the first one bust out. The little gator’s got a little hook on the end of his nose and he’ll bust out that egg. When that nest is packed so tight he can’t get out and she’ll open that nest and they’ll break out or she’ll break the eggs, they’ll get out and they have to go to water to be safe from a coon. A lot of times there’s ant nests, the ants will get on them. They’ll get in that water and they feed on minnows and little crawfish or whatever they can find to eat. Alligators don’t have to eat every day. It’s a reptile. If it eats once a week it’s got enough food to survive. I’ve learned all this through these friends of mine who had an alligator farm and they raise these gators. A gator in the wild grows about a foot a year. They were growing them in what I call a hothouse. They’re running water, they’ve got a tube running through the slab under the houses that they run them in. It’s a concrete slab, they’ll have a house over it, and they run hot water through that slab to keep it warm. So they are feeding that gator year around. When in a hothouse, a gator will grow four feet a year, where it will only grow one foot a year in the wild. They raise them four feet. The way the program works, Wildlife and Fisheries will allow you so many eggs to pick up. You pick up the eggs. Our allotment here is 500 eggs. You can look at the egg and tell whether it’s fertile. It’s got a white mend around it the embryo attaches to the side of the eggs. It’s a white ring around it. That’s a good egg, it’s fertile. If it doesn’t have that white ring, it’s not fertile. My guy pays us on the eggs he picks up and then there’s a sliding table. You raise alligators up to 4ft, you used to have to return I think 17%, then went to 14%, and I think that now it’s like 11%. They put it back less because we’ve got so many gators in the wild now from this program. They’ll hatch them. There’s a sliding scale: at four feet return this many, at five ft. you return this many, it’s less as the gate gets bigger, you return less. The reason for that, once the gator gets four feet long, the only predator it has is a bull gator trying to eat him or a man because nothing else is going to mess with him. He can fend for himself. And since this program started, I’m trying to think, back in the early 80s, late 70s, early 80s, we’ve got more alligators in the state than we’ve ever had through this program at the Wildlife and Fisheries. It’s been a great resource for the state. I don’t know the numbers on the eggs they pick up, but it is several 100,000 eggs that are picked up and hatched. You’ve got a couple of farmers or ranchers, you make a deal with a guy who wants to buy your eggs, it’s all permitted, Wildlife and Fisheries signs off on it, you sign the documents. So my guy picks up the eggs and then he mails me a check on the eggs he picks up. The highest that ever was $30, which is an outrageous price. I knew that couldn’t last. This year it’s one of the lower prices, down to $10 an egg.
Ramsey Russell: How many eggs are in an alligator nest?
Warren Coco: They average about 30 – 35.
Getting Into an Alligator Nest & Gator Reactions
“That’s the meanest one I’ve ever seen and probably the smallest one I’ve ever seen.”
Ramsey Russell: I’m just imagining a muskrat-looking hood of grass with 35 eggs. Do you go in with a potato rake?
Warren Coco: No, you can open it up by hand with a little hand rake. A little gardening tool is what works best. If there’s ants on it that keeps you from getting ants on your hand. But you pull up to that nest. We started picking them up at Avoca for about five or six years. You never saw a female. After that, then you started seeing them, because when they heard the airboat coming, they knew somebody was going to get them eggs.
Ramsey Russell: They know something’s going on.
Warren Coco: They know something’s going on. We picked up eggs one at a time. I was with a friend of mine, over by Ruddock, Louisiana, that’s on the southeast side. At Maurepas there’s a big marsh area in the swamp and they had the permit to pick up eggs there and I went there to help them. I’m on an airboat with one guy and my friend, Chris Wall, was flying with Johnny Blunt in the helicopter and marking the nests. They did that flying and dropped a pole with a flag on the nest. He was stabbing him at that time. We pull up to one nest and it’s probably the smallest female I’ve ever seen. She wasn’t but five feet long. We pulled up on an airboat, she charges and grabs the edge of the boat, biting and pulling on it. She was trying to eat us. So what you do when you got one like that, you’ve got a plastic pipe that your flagpoles pull up and you hit them in the head with it, driving them away while the other man robs the nest. It took me about five minutes to get her far enough away where we could rob the nest. When we met up with the helicopter, he landed to fuel up. We’re fueling up. I asked Chris, I said, “Did you see that little five foot reptile there on that nest?” He says, “She tried to eat the boats?” “Yeah, she was biting at the pole when I was stabbing the nest.” That’s the meanest one I’ve ever seen and probably the smallest one I’ve ever seen.
“We’ve got more alligators in this state now than we’ve ever had because of this program.”
Ramsey Russell: Dynamite comes in a small package. You know a thing about this program that strikes me: I learned the definition of conservation way back in the day in college. Conservation is wise use, and this is one of the smartest programs I’ve ever heard of because there’s value, I guess, in alligator hides and meat that they are farming, but I didn’t realize they were restocking them and putting them back in the wild. That’s just brilliant.
Warren Coco: In the wild only about 2% survive and in this way you’re returning anywhere from 10-14% and the survival rate of those is going to be 90-95%. They come back and release them after a certain period of time. It’s all monitored by the Wildlife and Fisheries and they document how many they put out and they go back out and let them go. We’ve got more alligators in this state now than we’ve ever had because of this program. This is something that was developed out of Rockefeller Refuge that the state owns and that’s where this program started. When they started with the farmers, these guys didn’t have any eggs. Rockefeller was picking up eggs and giving these guys to get started with to get them off the ground. As they got leases from landowners and they made agreements to buy the eggs, I remember when my friends first started out, they were paying like $7 an egg on Avoca. Then they hatched them and what they raised they had to return 14% at that time. So instead of 2% surviving in the wild, you are getting 14% coming back and a minimum of 10% surviving, if not more than that. That’s why the alligators’ numbers have increased throughout the state. In some places, the tag numbers have elevated. They’ve raised the tags. My property, with the work I’ve done on it when we first started, we never picked up our quota of 500 eggs. After I did my restoration project, we got to the 500 quota with no problem. I mean that’s a given. We’re going to pick up 500 eggs. That’s not a problem.
The Economics of the Gator Industry in Louisiana
“At that point a lot of them aren’t trapping, they’re not hunting alligators because they’re not worth fooling with.”
Ramsey Russell: That’s crazy. Now let’s talk about catching them down there at their place. Dale talked a little bit about it. But I want to hear more about how you all go about catching them. How many tags do you get a year to catch them?
Warren Coco: We only get 13 because we don’t have that much property, but I know guys that get 100-200 tags. Everybody wants to do that and thinks it’s a lot of fun. It is fun the first time after that it’s nothing but work. Because September is hot. I mean this is a hot time. Back in the early days, I helped. When I started hunting at Hackberry, I was helping my friends. They used to get 176 tags and I went there. I was an unpaid helper. We shot them, we caught them on lines, we caught them every kind of way you could catch them. They were a lot of work. But back then, you had to skin them. Now, they have buyers buying them whole because they want the meat. We had to skin every one of them. I didn’t do a whole lot of skinning. That’s what most of the women did. That’s what all the wives and sisters and everything did. We come in with the alligators and they’re sitting there on the table and skinning all day up into the night. It was an operation to do that. The way they sold them, you had to salt all your hides, you’d roll them up, and you store them, and then they had a sale and buyers would come there and bid on them. The fur business is nothing but a skin game. The trap is going to get skin. It has always been that way. I think all the buyers were in cahoots together and they’d all bid that and low-buy them. Where my people were hunting on Amoco, Amaco was leasing out to another guy, Isaac White, they got 45% off the top. My people weren’t getting but 55% of what the alligator was selling for. Back then, I’ve seen alligator sell for $7-8 a foot. Now, if they’re selling $7-8 a foot we won’t hunt them, and we’re getting 100% of the money because we own the land but it’s just not justifiable. Yeah, you take a 10 foot alligator, get $80 for him. That animal is worth way more money than that. I’m not going to kill it just for $80. We’re just going to let them grow.
Ramsey Russell: What do they go for now?
Warren Coco: Last year I think eight-foot and above went for like $10, which is ridiculous. But I’ve seen, many years ago, I can’t remember back when, at least 25 years ago, alligators got up to $65. It was unbelievable and I said, “That’s too high. The industry can’t withstand that.” And man, everybody was fat and happy, all these trappers. Most of the land on the coast is owned by large landowners and they designate those tags out to the trappers and they’ll get a percentage of the etake on it, generally that is 25-30%. These guys trapping in there are getting $65 a foot giving 30-35% to the landowner and their fat and happy making all kinds of money. The next year that dropped $35. All the trappers started screaming and hollering, “They’re beating us.” I said, “No, they are not, you beat them last year and you’re still beating them at $35, you better shut your mouth and be happy with what you got.” Because we were down to $7, $8, and $10. At that point a lot of them aren’t trapping, they’re not hunting alligators because they’re not worth fooling with. Swamp People has got everybody fired up, everybody wants to hunt alligators. Well, the only reason they’re still doing it is for the TV show because they can’t be making any money for the price of alligators because they’re paying a percentage and with the cost of fuel and the time and effort, it’s just not worth it. It’s just not worth hunting for that. Like I said, we’re getting 100% of the money on the few we get, and this will be the third year we’re not hunting them, because it’s just not worth the effort. You don’t catch many females on the line. You catch very few.
Ramsey Russell: Why is that?
Warren Coco: They just don’t bite, they’re not in the areas where you’re fishing. If they are in the middle of the marsh on a pothole and that nest just hatched, they’re not where you’re generally going to be fishing. Generally, they run lines and canals, bayous, deeper water, they’re a little bit easier to access, but that’s where the bigger alligators are going to be, also.
Biggest Alligators Caught in Louisiana
“Everybody tries to catch bigger, better alligators, but the big alligators have been caught.”
Ramsey Russell: With your 13 permits or these guys that are out there with 100 permits or more, are they targeting bigger better?
Warren Coco: They try to if they spot one. Yeah, they’ll ride around at night, looking. If they see good alligators, they’re going to set lines in that location. Everybody tries to catch bigger, better alligators, but the big alligators have been caught. When they started hunting alligators again in the 1970s, the biggest one I heard of was caught around Slidell, Louisiana somewhere and it was right at 16 feet, 15 feet, something. In the picture I saw of it, it was winched up on the back of a Lafitte skiff shrimp boat with a wrench rigging and they had it lifted up. It was a dinosaur. It was so big.
Ramsey Russell: That thing’s ancient. Is the meat valuable also?
Warren Coco: Meat is a big industry now. To me, it’s more of a novelty. If you’ve ever skinned them, very few people I know that that skinned them and went through the process will eat alligator. Somebody said, “Man, I don’t eat lizards.” What I remember the most about hunting alligators is that alligators have musk glands on their jaws. The closest thing I can compare it to is a skunk scent, a skunk scent, one out of ten, ten being the worst, that’s a skunk. Well, an alligator’s not going to be but about two or three, but it’s still got that foul smell. You hunt them and that smell gets under your fingernails and it’s on you. There’s a little oil that lets off when you shoot them and it gets in the boat. You can smell that funky smell and it stays with you. I think you can smell under your fingernails a week later. You can still smell that smell. It’s just so foul.
Ramsey Russell: Does it smell like a cottonmouth?
Eatin’ Louisiana Gator
“Well people in Louisiana know how to cook and know how to make things taste good.”
Warren Coco: Kind of like a cottonmouth. It’s got a foul odor to it. But the alligator meat industry is a big deal. These farmers raise alligators to harvest the hides but the meat is a big part of their production and restaurants buy it and serve it. A lot of people come from out of state and say, “Oh, we’re going to Louisiana. They’ve got alligator, let’s eat some alligator.” Well, if you put enough butter and stuff on something, you can make it edible. Like crab meat, it’s going to taste good. But I just never developed a taste for it. I never would eat it and finally I tasted it one time and it tasted about like what I expected. It’s like eating a black drum that’s about four feet long.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve eaten it. There’s so many better things in the world to eat than an alligator.
Warren Coco: Well people in Louisiana know how to cook and know how to make things taste good. People here can make it edible and make it to where it does taste good.
Where’d All the Gar Fish Go?
“My interpretation of gar fish, all people from Avoyelles Parish are crazy for gar fish. They’d rather have gar fish than a ribeye.”
Ramsey Russell: Well, case in point, I heard you and Dale this morning talking about gar fish. I’m born and raised in the South and I’ve shot them and seen them but I’ve never eaten a gar fish. That must be a big thing down here. Dale was swearing that you know how to cook a gar fish.
Warren Coco: Oh, I can cook them.
Ramsey Russell: I guess we’re talking about alligator gar.
Warren Coco: Gar fish is a funny deal. A friend of mine, I used to go stay at his camp in Pascagoula, he fished gar fish for a living. He caught him in webbing and caught a lot of gar fish and he cleaned and would sell them. I think they were getting about a dollar a pound for them after they were clean. Funny story, I met Dale, and talking about gar fish, he says, “Man, I want to come here and go gar fishing at your place.” So he came down and we went fishing. My interpretation of gar fish, all people from Avoyelles Parish are crazy for gar fish. They’d rather have gar fish than a ribeye. One time, we’re hunting, deer hunting, and I brought Jimmy, my friend, to another friend of mine’s place, Jimmy Newton’s place, to deer hunt. He loved to deer hunt and he brought his dad and came up there and they were deer hunting. Then another friend that Jimmy knew by the name of Harvey Gaspar, Harvey actually grew up right down the road from this place here, Black River Point. His daddy was a commercial fisherman and knew all about fishing. They fished catfish hoop nets and all that. While we’re over in Norwood, Louisiana, we were deer hunting and Harvey came over to visit and he found out Jimmy was a commercial fisherman. My friend Jimmy, he fished crabs, catfish, and gar fish. He said, “Man, how come I don’t see many gar fish anymore like we used to see?” I’ll never forget his daddy’s response, his daddy had a real dry sense of humor. He says, “All the Frenchmen from Avoyelles Parish ate them all.”
Ramsey Russell: Maybe some truth to that.
Warren Coco: That really hit home. But I can remember my dad telling me stories about guys who used to use a gig to gig them.
Gar Fish Tales: Fishing, Cleaning, and Cooking
“Then you get them in the boat. Then the next step, you got this thing with armor plate on it that you got to clean.”
Ramsey Russell: Ease along at night, light ‘em up, and boom.
Warren Coco: No, it’d be daytime and they’d just sit there and wait and they’d go on the surface with a special gig. Dale got one and gave it to me. An old guy had several of them. Dale got one and gave it to me. It’s a special design gig. It’s a little cone, it fits on the end of the pole, it’s got a special knot that’s got a line tied on it. It’s got about a quarter-inch nylon rope, and the rope twists around the pole and it’s tied on the other end. They throw that gig,a special made gig out of metal, and it slips on the end of the pole. When you gig the fish, the gig comes off at the end of the poll but it was attached with that line. It unwinds and the pole is a floater. They can follow the fish, the pole itself is floating and the gig is stuck in a gar fish and that’s how they can track the fish, because it doesn’t kill him right away. Then they can get him up and they’ll kill him with a hatchet or bat or whatever after that. That’s how the old timers fish. They would do that and then they would fish them with floaters that take willow limbs and skin them and dry them and use that for a float. The way that works is you have a line on your pole and you’re wrapping around the pole and at the end of another line you have a steel leader with a hook, you make a needle out of it like a welding rod and you bend it 180 on one end point to the other end. You take a mullet and you take that needle and slide it through that mullet’s mouth and come out his tail and you got that steel leader coming out, you tie your line on that, you wrap that line around that pole and what I’ll do is I’ll flip that last loop so you throw the floater out the pole, we use plastic pipe now with a cap on each end and we’ll paint half of it fluorescent orange. You can see it for a half mile. You throw it out there and it floats, and that mullet is hanging about 12 inches below the water, just the length of the leader and it floats. The gar fish comes up and grabs that mullet and he pulls it and that line unwinds slowly off that pole because if you’ve got it on a jug, he feels it. We figured out that doesn’t work. He feels that jug, you let it go. That gar fish holds that mullet in his mouth and he scales that fish in his mouth with his teeth. Then he’ll swallow it. Because in rod and reel fishing or bass fishing, you hardly ever hook one because the mouth is nothing but bones. Every once in a while you’ll accidentally hook one. But which way you’re catching him is like an alligator. He swallows it and hooks him in the gut. You got him then. You pull him up, hit him with a bat. Dale uses the gig to kill him. That takes about 90% of the fight out of them when he hits them with that gig. I’ll hit him in the head. If I’m not on the refuge, we can’t have a gun, if I’m on my property I’ll take 22 rifle and shoot him in the head and we’re done. Then you get them in the boat. Then the next step, you got this thing with armor plate on it that you got to clean.
Ramsey Russell: Well that’s what I was going to say. You know, to me, a gar, for anybody that may not be from the Deep South and doesn’t know what we’re talking about. Just imagine an eel, a submarine sized eel that’s got armor plating and a head that looks a lot like an alligator and is slap full of teeth like a pickle. That’s what we’re looking at here. Just a big old armor plated submarine type fish.
Warren Coco: That’s it. With the way you clean it, you have to have your board set up to clean him on. I made one out of aluminum, it’s like a long tray. It’s got a cross piece on the end. We slide his head into that and I’ll take a big nail. We got two holes in the tray and the bar across the top. I drive that nail through his head and that holds you from sliding. Then you take a hatchet, and grab the end of his tail, and you start chopping, you chop a strip out of his back and open him up. You chop that hide off of it and then after you get that off, then take a knife and cut down each side to separate the hide from the caucus. After you get that separated, you come in with a sharp knife right down the center of the back and cut that whole fillet out of there.
Ramsey Russell: Do they have floating bones?
Warren Coco: No, the bone doesn’t [float], it’s not like a buffalo or a pike or anything like that. When you fillet that you’ve got a solid piece of meat. Then the gar fish does have chords through the meat in different ways. It’s like white strings through the meat. There’s several ways of cooking and eating. Everybody talked about gar fish balls and I’ll talk about that in a second. But some of the best gar fish I’ve ever eaten was cut into strips and fried, just fried, just like you fry bass or any other kind of fillet. It was absolutely great. A lot of people always always ate gar fish balls, patties or whatever. I’ve got a little recipe I cook. I put what I know about cooking together. You take that fillet, a lot of times there will be quite a bit of red on the sides up against the hide. I’ll take a sharp knife and trim that off. It’s just real thin, just get all that off of there. If you don’t have a grinder, you have to take a knife and you scrape that meat off the tendons. What works best is if somebody’s got a good meat grinder, with good sharp blades, you can run it through there and it grinds the whole thing up. Now you’ve got this meat, it’s almost like ground meat. My favorite way to do it is I’ll take crawfish tails and I’ll chop up crawfish tails. Last time I cooked, I had four pounds of gar fish ground, then I took two pounds of crawfish tails. Another little trick I learned about crawfish tails, when they peel crawfish and you buy them the fat is in there with it. If they have any age on that, I’ll wash that fat off because that’s the first thing that goes bad on crawfish, fat. It can mess up with your cooking. But I’ll wash the fat off and I’ll take the crawfish tails, chop them up as fine as I can chop them,and throw that in the bowl with the gar fish. That’s six pounds of meat, so in that big quantity I’ll put three sticks of butter, a big head of chopped green onions, chop the roots off, I chop the white and the green, everything up on the green onions, throw that in there. vVery essential, the green onions. Then I’ll add about five eggs in there with it to make it stick together. Then I’ll add Italian breadcrumbs and just keep adding breadcrumbs at the right consistency. Also, I’ll add my Cajun season and there with that. Then I’ll mix all that up with my hands, squirting it through my fingers, and I get it all good mixed. Then I’ll make patties just like hamburgers and I’ll set them on a pan and I’m ready to go. Then I got a skillet ready, a Teflon skillet with some olive oil in it. I’ll take those patties and I’ll flour them in some flour and I’ll pan fry them until they turn brown. Then I’ve got them all set aside, just looks like a bunch of hamburger patties, all gar fish patties. Then I’ll make my gravy. Then I’ll take onions, bell peppers, celery, and I’ll smother all that down until it’s transparent. I’ll add minced garlic. I generally use a powder. I buy Tony Shastri’s gravy mix. Rule is all it is, just powdered rule. Easy. You can make your own rule. Some people like making their own, I’ve done that. Anyway, I’ll put the vegetables, onions, bell peppers, celery, the minced garlic, in there and I’ll add mushrooms. I prefer fresh mushrooms. You can use canned sliced mushrooms, put that in, add some seasoning, put water in it and get it all simmered down and let it cook for a little while. Taste it, check your seasoning and taste your gravy and then you’ve got it all ready. I’ll throw the gar fish patties in there and let them set in that gravy. Let them soak up some of that gravy for about 20 minutes and it’s ready to serve. Get your rice going, put the rice down, serve that gravy over that rice with that gar fish patty, that’s absolutely fabulous. You don’t have to use crab. I have used crab meat and you can make the gar fish without adding anything to it. Crawfish and all the crab meat kind of enhances it. The last time I cooked it, I did shrimp with crawfish and I found it was better without the shrimp. It did better with just the crawfish instead of shrimp. I’ve tried different ways. It’s really good when it’s cooked that way.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to have to put you and Mr. Dale on the spot to get down here one day and eat some of this gar fish. It sounds good. I’ve eaten a lot of stuff around the world but I ain’t never eaten the gar fish right in my backyard.
Warren Coco: It’s good. We’ve got plenty of them.
Catching a 14-Foot Gator
“How did you get a stick in a 14-foot alligator’s mouth without losing an arm or finger?”
Ramsey Russell: One more story, getting back to them alligators. We were going through your photo albums last night. There was a picture of an alligator. It was as long as this room is wide and his head was as big as that coffee table and it had a stick in his mouth and his mouth was roped shut. We talked about eggs and we talked about catching them and fishing. But tell me how you all ended up with a 14-foot alligator just to take a picture of it, because that’s out there now!
Warren Coco: Oh yeah. The land I was hunting in Mississippi by the Blue Camp where we filmed the Duck Men. We were down there. The guy who had the trapping rights on land had an airboat and was having some problems with it. He asked me to look at it to see if I could figure out what was wrong with it. So we were running the boat and we turned off the Mississippi Bayou and got a branch off the main spur off the main line where they ran the dummies back at the turn of the century hauling logs off. We ran a way through the woods. Timber was pretty thin right there where we’re running and the water was real low. The tide had went out. It was April or May. It was hot, it was in the spring and it hadn’t been raining much. All the water was out and there was duckweed on top of the mud. We ran along there and we stopped, he was driving the boat and he stopped. I said, “What did you stop for?” He looked up ahead and you can see here the boat down that main line, there’s a track where that alligator passes about four-feet wide. He said, “I want to see that alligator.” I said, “Well, he’s big, that’s for sure,” because I can see where that alligator passed, that’s the only thing that could have done that. We’re looking around, we don’t see anything.
Ramsey Russell: Describe that alligator pass. It must have been big.
Warren Coco: It was deep running and pushed the duckweed out and there was just brown mud, there was no water. All of a sudden he was under the mud, right to the left of the boat and all of a sudden he took off under the mud, under the slush, and he took off. The best way I can describe it, I know everybody’s seen that movie, Tremors with Reba McIntyre, when those worm looking creatures were running under the ground, and rocks and debris and everything was flying: that’s the best way I can describe that alligator. He probably went about 50-60 feet and then stopped. We pulled up over there in the boat and the guy’s name was Dick Wall. He’s passed away now. This was probably 30 years ago. He broke off a limb of a wax model and I had brought a pair of hip boots in case we got stuck and he took my hip boots and put them on. He’s there poking and poking and trying to find that alligator and right behind, another friend of mine was behind, he pulls up in his airboat. He said, “What are y’all doing? I said, “Man, there’s a big alligator down here. Dick is trying to get him up. He wants to see how big he is.” He had the trapping rights on the property. He’s just curious. He’s poking and poking, stepped on him, he thought it was a log, and got up on a little hill. We had what we call a tusset with the cypress knees growing out and right next to a cypress tree. He got up there and there was a [?] growing out of that tusset. He poked and poked and finally that alligator came up hissing. He says “Come on, give me a hand.” I got over there with him, got the stick in his mouth, got him tied up with some ropes.
Ramsey Russell: How? Wait a minute. That’s where I get stuck in the story. How did you get a stick in a 14-foot alligator’s mouth without losing an arm or finger?
Warren Coco: Well, you got to realize an alligator’s as fast as a racehorse for about 50 feet and then he’s done, he’s burned out. When they moved him at the farm, when they moved big ones like that, when they lasso it and they go in that death roll spin, they are done. Then they could pick them up and put them in the trailer.They still tied the mouth but that alligator uses all his energy to go under that mud and he stopped. He’s burned out. He came up and got his head out and there ain’t nothing but a big ball of mud and we got the stick crossways in his mouth and got his mouth tied shut. Then Al pulled up there with his boat and had an electric winch on it so we’re in a cable over the limb on that tree and picked his head up. We got him up to his front shoulder out of the water, out of the mud, actually. Then behind the tusset that we’re sitting on there was an alligator hole so we had to holde of water and I’ll never forget, we had a 16 ounce Styrofoam cup that was in the boat. We took that and dipped water with that, that’s all we had to pick up water, and washed him off, and that’s when we took the picture. That was the biggest alligator. I’ve never caught one that big and I’ve never seen one that big except for the picture of the one that they caught over there by slide out.
Ramsey Russell: Was it a male or female?
Warren Coco: Oh, it’s a male. Females don’t get that big. We cut him loose and left and went deeper into the swamp. We came back 30 minutes later, he was still there, never moved.
Ramsey Russell: Tired?
Warren Coco: He’s burnt out. That trip under that mud wore him out and that gator was never caught. Nobody ever caught him. What generally happens with them is that they hibernate early, they go down early and they’re hard to catch. A big alligator is old, like a big buck, they’re hard to kill. The older they get the smarter they get.
Ramsey Russell: They just get smart. They can hear and see and they know what is dangerous.
Warren Coco: The big ones like that start losing their eyesight. Their eyesight is not that good when they get big. We noticed that in the alligator farm when they got big their eyesight was real poor but they’ve got a sense of smell. This thing was massive. I mean it was a big alligator.
Ramsey Russell: Fantastic. One of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard about alligators back home: Mr. Josh Webb, buddy of mine, they’re out there duck hunting around a beaver pond and there’s a split off and they left to go throw decoys every morning. Somebody kept tripping on a stump or something underwater. Finally, they said, “Let’s move it, let’s just get that thing out a way before somebody gets hurt or tired of getting wet,” and they all got out there and started bumping that log. A piece of wood will sink and when it floated up it was about an 8 to 10 foot alligator. I guess when you grow up around them, it’s different. Warren, I appreciate these stories and we’re going to get back on here next week. Folks, y’all have been listening to Warren Coco of Go Devil Motors and now y’all know what the real swamp people do just for fun. They go hand grab 14 foot gators just to take a picture on a hot spring day. Come back next week for more stories and thank y’all for listening. It is Duck Season Somewhere.