Gar ... gantuan!
Missouri buddies use bow and arrow to land astonishing 244 1/2-pound 'alligator fish' at Sam Rayburn Lake
07:34 PM CDT on Saturday, September 3, 2005
By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News
Using archery tackle that would suit Luke Skywalker, two Missouri archers won a tag-team version of gar wars at Sam Rayburn Lake, bagging a gigantic alligator gar that weighed 244 ½ pounds. It is the pending Bowfishing Association of America world record. The giant fish is not, however, the largest of its species taken with bow and arrow in Texas.
A 2001 Trinity River gar arrowed by Marty McClellan weighed 290 pounds. The rod-and-reel world record alligator gar was caught from the Rio Grande in 1951. It weighed 279 pounds.
The biggest gator gar ever reported in Texas was caught on a trotline in the Nueces River in 1953 and weighed 302 pounds. Named for the fearsome head and a snout that resembles its namesake reptile, alligator gar are classed as rough fish and are not protected by Texas law.
Unchanged since the days of dinosaurs, alligator gar are the biggest freshwater fish in Texas. Individuals weighing more than 100 pounds are common. Because of their impressive size and fearsome appearance, alligator gar are considered a bowfishing prize. Most bowfishing is done at night from boats that use specialized lights.
During hot summer months, however, gar roll on the surface and gulp air presenting daytime targets for fast-draw archers. Gar are one of the few fish species that have primitive lungs in addition to gills. That unusual adaptation is one reason gar have survived for millions of years. Scientists say the huge gar taken at Rayburn may have been 50 years old.
Robin Parks and Keith Riehn of Hillsboro, Mo., make an annual bowfishing pilgrimage to Texas, usually in late July or early August.
"Spring is a good season for big gar at Rayburn, but it can get pretty windy in the spring," said Parks, an environmental engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The weather is very consistent during the summer period."
Riehn is a public school teacher. The men are partners in a video company called Aim Low Productions. They have produced one bowfishing video and expect to incorporate footage of the Rayburn monster in a second due out this winter.
On Aug. 4, they were hunting gar at one of their favorite spots, not far from the Highway 147 bridge near Broaddus. Though impressive in size and appearance, alligator gar are not considered a threat to humans. A Texas Parks and Wildlife gar food study done on Sam Rayburn indicated the fish mostly feed on other rough fish species. Parks and Reihn have found rough fish weighing as much as 20 pounds in the stomach of a big gar.
"We'd been seeing some pretty good alligator gar in the area, but we decided to move to a different spot and try for long-nosed gar," Parks said. "As we were getting ready to leave, a big fish rolled behind the boat, and we decided to make one more pass."
The archers had traded the retriever reels and heavy line they prefer for big fish for spincast reels used to pursue smaller gar species. Bowhunting for fish requires specialized tackle.
Riehn and Parks used an electric motor to ease their boat through the area where gar were surfacing. Right in front of the boat, a huge fish rose from the murky depths like a breaching submarine. Both archers saw the gar at the same time. They shot simultaneously, and both arrows struck the fish right behind its gills.
Parks said he was worried about being able to land the huge fish on spincast reels. His biggest fish before the Rayburn gar weighed about 175 pounds, and he knew the Rayburn fish was much larger.
"The arrow placement was perfect," Parks said. "That really takes the fight out of a big fish. I still followed the fish with my electric motor for three different runs. It came to the surface, and Keith grabbed a third bow that we had rigged with a retriever reel and put another arrow in the fish."
It was 15 more minutes before they gaffed the gar, which measured 8 feet, 2 inches by 44 ¾ inches in girth. Getting it into the boat was no easy chore.
Parks has been bowfishing for 17 years. He got Riehn involved in the sport three years ago.
They're doing the paperwork to have the fish certified as a Sam Rayburn Lake record and a BAA world record. Only one may claim the record, so since it was Parks that got Riehn involved, Parks is the angler of record. Riehn gets possession of the mounted alligator gar, which should take up most of a wall in his house.
More photos are available at www.aimlowproductions.com