Mackenthun: Texas Fishing Trip Includes Dinosaur Fish Hunting | Local sports
A random game of chance prompted last week’s first encounter with an alligator gar.
As I went out as much as possible, there was still a rut forming due to the familiarity of time spent at home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I started wanting to travel a few months ago and dared to dream of a fishing trip to my destination.
The gar alligator occurred to me, and I spent my free time searching for the giant fish on Google and following the Texas gar fishing guides on social media. Whether it was browser cookies or social media algorithms, I came across a lot of alligator gar content that made the angling juice flow.
One night I saw a message from one of the Texas gar guide that his outfit would raffle a guided fishing trip. Entrances were $ 10 with 20 seats available.
I thought the entrance fee was a dream ticket, just like a lot of people buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot is big. If I hadn’t won, and the odds were stacked against me, it hadn’t cost me much and it allowed me to imagine a getaway.
A week has passed and I forgot about the raffle. One night I took my brother-in-law fishing on the Mississippi River and was flipping through my phone when I came across the live raffle. I turned it on just in time to see my number and name being called. I had won the trip!
Carlos Guerrero from Trinity River Gar Fishing arranged to meet me in mid August and I booked my plane ticket. I managed to schedule other fishing and exploration activities in Dallas.
On the eve of the big trip, I waited for a torrential downpour inside the Texas Parks and Wildlife Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Guerrero told me the rain hit Dallas hard, ending in just under two inches. The Trinity River rose four or five feet.
As a river fisherman, I knew what that meant: the river was high and dirty, throwing the fish out and fishing until things calm down.
The day started with a 25% risk of thunderstorms and ended with a downpour. Had my luck changed? Would my trip be canceled or missed? Guerrero had an idea – there was a place he could take me, not in his boat but on foot, where we would have a chance to find a gar on a part of the river that could have missed much of the river. rain.
Not the type to be afraid of a short hike, I was willing to give it a try and at the very least swing.
Gar alligators have had a persecuted existence in the United States after colonization. Long misunderstood as a nuisance or garbage fish, they have been wiped out much of their original range by indiscriminate logging recommended by state or federal natural resource authorities, as well as by the loss of natural resources. ‘habitat.
In the early 20th century, fishermen would catch the alligator withers on hook and line while another in the boat shot the fish with a bow or rifle as it jumped.
Today, some of the angling public target the giant fish for release fishing, and management agencies have taken steps to protect and preserve the predator, recognizing it as a valued member. of the native ecosystem.
A number of states value the alligator gar for its potential role in controlling invasive carp. Gar alligators are euryhaline, which means they can adapt to different levels of salinity in marshes, swamps, brackish estuaries, and bays in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gar alligators have ganoid scales, a specialized scale that is nearly impenetrable and resilient like a blanket of hard armor. These gar are living dinosaurs, a deserved title since the fish is relatively unchanged in the fossil record dating back over 100 million years.
Like other primitive fish, they have retained many ancient characteristics, such as the ability to breathe atmospheric air through their swim bladder. The gar alligator is the largest species in the gar family, can grow to 10 feet long and live up to 100 years.
Guerrero arrived north of Dallas from Mexico at the age of 3. He has learned English, holds a work residence visa and intends to obtain full citizenship.
Fishing has always been in his blood. Once he fell in love with the alligator tourniquet, he didn’t want to fish for anything else.
Alligator fishermen park run in small circles, and he kept bumping into a friend who wanted to know more. Over time, he came to trust Walter Murga and together the couple guide anglers through Trinity River Gar Fishing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Murga arrived in Irving, Texas from El Salvador when he was 6 years old. Like Guerrero, he learned English as a second language and plans to convert his visa into citizenship.
The sun had just risen when Guerrero and Murga met me on some road beyond the southern suburbs of Dallas. It was hot and humid, a product of yesterday’s rain.
A half mile walk took us along a secluded stretch of the Trinity River. There was just enough light to make out dark shapes just below the lazy, drab surface of the river – the black outlines of schools of buffalo.
Rebar mounted rod holders were driven into the slimy Texas mud on the banks of the creek at openings in the treeline that gave us a good view upstream and down. Long, heavy action rods with a 100-pound braided line threw huge chunks of cut carp on small treble hooks on leaders, roughly equivalent to northerners using fast-hitting rigs for northern pike on spikes.
“Now we’re waiting,” Carlos said as the final rod is thrown.
Texas has no limits on the fishing rods used, but to keep things from tangling, we threw six baits into the river at regular intervals. Guerrero and Murga watched carefully for the tips of lines and rods, the hallmark of good fishermen with live and dead bait.
The baits have been struck frequently, but softshell turtles often play with them. Turtles have telltale behavioral signs, such as constantly pecking or swimming short distances with the bait.
After an hour and a half, we made our way to a clearing further downstream, hoping to get rid of the pesky turtles.
Throughout the morning, alligator tourniquets rise to the surface, roll or swallow air before descending into the darkness of the river. A large individual takes my breath away and Guerrero’s.
“It was a seven footer for sure,” said Carlos.
After seven years as a guide, he is still in awe of these fish. The river is full of gar, but we can’t convince anyone to bite the hook.
Another hour passed when suddenly one of the lines sprang up. We rushed over to the rod and reel shaft pull line, hoping the fish didn’t sense any resistance and dropped the bait.
The alligator gar must be allowed time to put the bait in its mouth. For four or five minutes, we stretched the fishing line as it started to cut upstream.
We were nearing the end of the reel, when Carlos announced that although the fish had not stopped running with the bait, we had no choice but to put on the hook.
I rolled up the slack, felt the weight, and then swung the tip of the rod back as I moved up to try and drive the hook into the fish’s bony mouth.
The line tightened and began to run out. I added a few harder pull-ups to ensure a fixed hook.
The fish continued to move up the river, relentlessly. Eventually I stopped the fish and started to gain line, but it came close to the shore bank.
I was worried he would find an invisible problem. I worked to guide the fish to deeper water and suddenly she jumped out of the water and gritted her teeth.
Fearing that she had cast the hook, I was relieved to find her still attached.
The fish pushed towards the main stream and the fight continued, Guerrero and Murga reminding me to keep the tip of the rod down so as not to encourage another jump.
Because the alligator gar has incredibly sharp teeth, the guides don’t wear landing nets because the fish would simply pierce them.
Instead, everyone leans on the most Texan thing you can think of – a rope is used to ‘lasso’ the fish around its hard, bony head and carry it to shore.
Guerrero put the rope around my fishing line as we returned to the gar.
The most tense moment of the whole battle was trying to tie the rope. Three times, as Guerrero slid the rope over the rostrum, the tired fish found the energy to return to the river, each time pulling the trail and making our hearts beat faster.
We spotted the treble hook in the bony corner of the mouth and worried it might come off. Finally, we disembarked the 5 1/2 foot gar and took some pictures.
Despite the appearance of a precarious hanging, we found the triple hook to sit well. Because the gar can breathe atmospheric air, the fish can stay out of the water much longer than other sport fish.
I took a few photos of the head and back of the amazing fish and then Guerrero picked up the fish to hand it to me.
As Guerrero picked up the fish, the boy opened his mouth and a fold of Guerrero’s T-shirt fell inside just as the fish closed its mouth. After waiting a second, the fish opened its mouth again and the shirt fell off with several fresh holes.
You wouldn’t want your hand in that girl’s mouth!
After a few quick photos, the fish was released to fight another day.
Eventually, the humidity collapsed along with the overcast skies, and the scorching Texas sun came out of its hiding place to warm and dry the muddy ground and usher in the end of the day.
Two more bait pickups took place, but each time the boy dropped the bait. Such is the life of gar alligator fishermen – you fight turtles, you hope the gar keeps the bait long enough to hang on, and you get snubbed by lots of fish.
All for the chance to catch an incredible fish in an incredible place.
Scott Mackenthun is an outdoor enthusiast who has written about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and can be contacted at [email protected]