Lance Burgos knew there was something on the end of the line.
He just didn’t know what, but he knew enough to tell his 11-year-old daughter, Evan, to get her hand inside the 13-foot Hobie kayak he was paddling around the waters of Lake Fausse Pointe State Park.
Seconds later, Evan Burgos was crying, and daddy Lance was paddling for all he was worth.
Today it’s estimated more than seven million folks have discovered why Lance Burgos swears his heart stopped beating for several seconds, then beats wildly in his furious escape.
Giant alligators will do that, especially to the unsuspecting.
“Every time I watch it, my heart still does the same thing,” the elder Burgos said Tuesday. “I was terrified. It was a real river monster. I saw the first 12 inches of that snout and it just kept getting wider and wider.”
He admitted his first reaction was to protect his daughter and to get her away from the beast as fast as his feet would peddle his Hobie.
It’s here where you need to go back to the beginning of the adventure. Burgos and Todd Politz work for LSU Sports Properties, and both have a love of the outdoors they try, amidst busy jobs, to share that love with their daughters — Politz brought along his 9-year-old daughter, Samantha.
So, after months of searching for a light sports weekend, they settled for last Friday through Sunday at Lake Fausse Pointe, the retreat on the west side of the Atchafalaya Basin just south of Henderson.
“Lance got one of his buddies to loan me a kayak for the weekend, and we set up camp Friday evening and Lance went out fishing that morning (Saturday),” Politz said. “Later, we went hiking maybe from 11 (a.m.) to 1 (p.m.), ate lunch, then settled in to listen to the LSU (baseball game against Vanderbilt). About 4 o’clock, we decided to go for a boat ride with the girls.”
Both Politz and Burgos said they’d seen small alligators near the campsite, but weren’t threatened by them, and had seen a couple of 6-footers on logs on the banks on their boat ride.
That’s when they spotted a “noodle,” one of the spongy tubes folks use to float on in swimming pools. Fishermen buy noodles, cut them to 8-12 foot lengths, tie one end of a 3-4 foot length of nylon string to them and put a baited hook on the other end and pitch them into the water. The main targets are catfish.
“We were about 200 yards from the campsite when we spotted the noodle, but we couldn’t tell if there was anything on it,” Politz said. “We asked some of the fishermen around us if they’d caught anything, and they said nothing was biting. The water was murky and low, and so Lance decided to check the noodle to see if there was anything on it. We just thought it would be nice to show the girls a fish.”
What happened in the next 15 or so seconds left a lifetime of memories, and maybe a couple of nightmares.
There was, in fact, two noodles on the rig, and what was on the other end was heavy enough to keep one of the noodles submerged.
Evan reached for the line her daddy was pulling from the water, but the audio on the video clearly indicates Lance Burgos told Evan to get her hands back in the kayak — “I knew it was heavy ... thought it was a big catfish, maybe an alligator gar, but it was big,” Burgos said.
The giant gator — Burgos estimated to be 13 feet long — surfaced with a mouth filled with teeth Burgos said were as long as his pinky finger. He threw the noodle away from the smallish watercraft and was 50 yards from the gator post haste.
“We paddled away from the gator, too,” Politz said. “I had to let the gator swim away a little, because I didn’t want to catch the line in the rudder of the kayak we were in. After we calmed down, I asked Lance if he had his video (camera) on, and when he said yes, well, we couldn’t wait to see it what he had.”
Like a lot of dyed-in-the-wool kayak fishermen, Burgos mounts a GoPro camera facing astern from the bow of his Hobie.
“We didn’t have a computer to download the video, so we had to wait until Sunday when we got back home (to Baton Rouge),” Politz said.
After unloading boat and gear, Burgos said he told his wife, Ashley, about the trip, but didn’t reveal details.
“Todd showed up about 15 minutes later and we popped the Go-Pro in and huddled around the screen,” Burgos said.
“It was crazy,” Politz said. “It scared the hell out of us, but we watched it over and over again, and I told Lance that it had to be put online.”
Burgos said he edited the video to show the action, “and I’ve just started to get into the licensing game with videos, and I posted it on YouTube.”
The term “going viral” doesn’t describe what happened next.
By Monday night, ABC’s “World News Tonight” ran the clip.
NBC’s “Today Show” picked it up Tuesday morning.
“We did an ‘Inside Edition’ interview (Tuesday) and there are more coming later in the week. It’s been fun, maybe more fun for my daughter,” Burgos said. “I told Evan that I wouldn’t do any interviews without her, and now she’s got a taste of Hollywood.
“I’m very surprised by all the attention. I thought a couple of writers would pick up on it, and I might get my fellow kayakers to see it and share it, but nothing like this, nothing like a world-wide deal with all the national and world-wide outlets picking it up.”
Burgos said he grew up in Morgan City and alligators were part of his youthful outdoors experiences.
“I’ll never forget that alligator,” he said. “And I’m sure my daughter won’t either. It was a giant ... the biggest gator I’ve ever seen.”
Politz said Burgos contacted state parks and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries about the incident, and they said this was not the first time an alligator had been hooked and standard operating procedure was to let hook rust out and the gator would be free to go on his way.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in the wild,” Politz said. “It was scary, and I’m just glad we can laugh about it now.”
As of Tuesday morning, Politz said there were 6.8 million “views” of Burgos’ video.
Lance Burgos said the video is posted on YouTube and can be found by typing his name in the “search” box.