H2O Magazine

Alligator Gar Fishing

I started to plan my expedition in search of the alligator gar several years ago, when I first encountered a photograph of this North American giant.  It was love at first sight. 

Alligator Gar

Alligator Gar is a fish with a body of a gigantic cod, a head of a toothed lizard, and excellent air acrobatics skills to boot. From that time, I intensively sought out all sorts of materials, photographs, and contacts which would lead me to the catching of the “alligator fish”.  I must say that luck was again with me, and I got in touch with the greatest pro in the field, Kirk Kirkland.  Kirk is one of the most highly acclaimed fishermen in Texas.  He has been actively involved in alligator gar fishing since 1991.

He frequently works as a guide for American fishing TV shows and is a top figure of some important American companies.  For myself, I can say that I have met many guides all over the world, but only a few have such a feel and are as keen on fishing as Kirk. We corresponded by e-mail for nearly two years before my flight out.  In that time, we became friends in spite of the fact that we had never met in person.  In think that this is what makes the world of fishermen so beautiful.  Given that a film documentary was to be filmed on this expedition, we did not want to leave anything up to chance. The final date was set for late May.

Searching for Giant Alligator Gar in Texas

The weather has been a bit wild this year, and my friend Jirka and I are boarding the plane facing a very poor forecast.  According to the latest news, we are to be met by torrential rain, flooding, and tornados. North American Houston did welcome us with a black sky and clouds hanging nearly on the ground.  Our mood was in the dumps right away.  We were pulled away from looking at the clouds by the thundering of the engine of a giant truck, from which a giant guy climbed out after a moment, and ran towards us with a thundering voice.  For a moment, I through this must be a grizzly attack, but fortunately, it was our friend Kirk.

He is three times the size of a regular person, but a fun person with a heart of gold.  We  headed out towards Lake Livingston.  During the drive, we were informed about the situation, which did not look very good indeed.  It had been raining, and it was still supposed to rain, and lots!  Unfortunately, our entire plan is trashed and Trinity River as the main destination of this expedition, is not in the cards for the time being.  The river is an unbelievable eight meters above its normal level and Kirk simply does not know how fish may respond to this flood.  Our fishing success is in the clouds and we decide that in the next few days, we would try to fish at lakes Livingston and Sam Rayburn.

Alligator Gar Fishing

As we go, Kirk tells me everything about catching this fascinating fish.  Along the way, he warns us that we may see hundreds of fish immediately next to our boat, but not one may bit.  It does not take us long to see this for ourselves. When everything is ready, we sit quietly in our boat.  It does not take long for the surface to start nearly boiling.  Dozens, perhaps hundreds of alligator gar in various sizes come to the surface.  Some are nearly by our boat, and what is worst, also near our bait, but without a hint of interest.

We suffer for another four days without a single bite, and to tell the truth, something like this is too much for the psychology of a fisherman.

What I find very peculiar is how deserted we are.  In a whole day, we only see a few very fast-going bass boats, but not a single boat focused on alligator gar fishing in our whole time here.  Surprisingly, alligator gar is one of the most despised fish of the continent.  Only very few fishermen focus on it and much more popular is to hunt the fish with bow and arrows: the fish are shot from fast-going boats and then a troll is used to get them to the shore or on board the boat.  Alligator gar is a relatively easy pray.  All you need to do is wait for the fish to come to the surface and have your bow ready to shoot.  The heads of the fish which are murdered this way are then cut off as trophies and the rest of the body is thrown back in the river or on the shore.  Unfortunately, this “sport” is widespread in America and in certain areas, this species is critically endangered on free-flowing water.

We spent the rest of the day in vain fish-watching and careful listening to Kirk’s experience.  We learn that alligator gar is an extremely fast-growing fish, which can reach an unbelievable ten kilograms in its first year.  It lives up to 75 years and its maximum weight can be over 200 kilograms, with more than three metres in length.  Kirk himself caught a 365-pound monster in 1991!

Fishing on the Trinity River

For the rest of our stay, we give up on the lake battle, and set out to explore the flooded basin of the Trinity river. Having drifted along the river for several minutes, we finally get to the slight bend which we had observed from a distance, where one fish after another appear above the surface of the shallow spot.  Kirk explains quietly that this is precisely what a typical alligator gar station looks like in a river.  A shallow, elongated shore, best if sandy, with a slight current slowly moving towards the other, fast-flowing and deep side of the course.

Finally, we see that bad luck can turn into good luck within a second.  The rod next to the boat bent slightly, and a steady pull started to unwind the 70-kilogram line from the troll.  I go over the requisite theory in my head quickly, and Kirk, with his experience, is already after the fish.  It seems that it is not bothered by the motor at all even though at times, our boat is directly over it. After less than a kilometre, the carnivorous fish finally stops.  The float is moved back and forth by the current, but it is evidently not going anywhere.  Suddenly, it shoots out like an arrow, heading back to the place from which it set out twenty minutes ago.  The line immediately cuts through the water, the surface explodes, and the majestic body of the gigantic fish emerges.

Catching an Alligator Gar

At this point, I am not able to assess the size, but given Kirk’s excited response, this must certainly be a good one. Only now do I understand why this fish is called alligator.  Its huge mouth full of sharp canine teeth does evoke some respect! Its sharp teeth bite into the side of the boat, showing us clearly what would happen if our legs got too close to the fish’s jaws.  This fish does not go out of its way to attack people, but Kirk’s legs and arms full of long scars are not entirely convincing. In the next moment, Kirk puts a rope over the fish’s head like a Texas cowboy, which I understand.  We both pull on the rope and with all our strength pull the monster into the boat.  Immediately, I am glad to have my photo equipment in a case, as the fish rages and in a flash, it looks like a tornado has gone through the boat.  The ten-kilo case with cameras is swept off the boat by the tail, Kirk is hidden by the engine and Jirka and I are ready at the bow, ready to jump off board.  I must admit that no other creature has evoked so much respect in me as the alligator gar.

My first fish is 216 centimetres long and weighs 90 kilograms – a catch which even our guide only sees several times a year.  A great reward after several bad days. Each of the following days is successful, and we regularly get specimen weighing between 50 and 85 kilograms.  We are all unspeakably happy, because our expectations have been met and in spite of the poor conditions, we have had unparalleled experience and have caught many beautiful fish.

Small Alligator Gars

During our stay on the Trinity River, we had the occasion to observe something which according to Kirk has not happened since 1983.  Anywhere we stopped on the shore, there was an unbelievable number of small, one-inch, inconspicuous fish which looked very much like alligator gar.  Kirk caught one in his hand and I think that that was the most valuable catch of all for him.  There was extreme happiness in his face, because he could be sure that there will be new generations of this prehistoric fish.  During our last days, the water level began to drop.  It disappeared literally before our eyes, and we had a chance to see the river the way it should be.  No longer was it the large stream similar to the Italian river Po, but a narrow, calm river full of beautiful sandy benches and omnipresent alligator gar waiting for you, and only you…

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