On April 15 at 0600 I hit the road from Corpus Christi up to the Red River which borders Oklahoma and Texas… I packed almost more gear than I could carry, stuff we could spend two nights on the river with. It is my primary goal in the next year or two to land a truly massive Alligator Gar.. I dont just mean a 130-150 lb fish.. I mean the gator gar closer to 200 pounds.
The drive to this particular body of water is interesting, unmapped ranch roads that sometimes require you to straddle muddy ruts and cross cow pastures. I essentially followed a path I found on Google Earth and we were lucky enough that nothing is technically “off limits”. Anyway, we got to the river in mid-late afternoon Monday and set the gear in the canoe. Because we had so much stuff, we transferred our gear in two trips to a rocky flat that was about 400 yards down river from our put in point.
Travis and I hit the bank and jumped right into action setting up the base site and rigging up rods. I ran into trouble last week when I went to a stretch of the Trinity River I had intended to catch bait (buffalo and common carp) from due to the waters being directly below a big dam. They were releasing water from all flood gates and the area below the dam was flooded out and all but impossible to keep baits in… so, Travis and I basically showed up at the Red River this week hoping we could catch bait when we got there!
After the base camp was established I walked a ways downstream to a little eddie pool where I had seen several buffalo surfacing. The entire river was alive with action, but the bulk of the surfaces I observed were longnose gar.. with the occasional 100+lb alligator gar.
I set up 4 bank sticks and Carolina rigged each medium weight rod with small J hooks and creep feed pellets (horse food) which I secure to the hook with colored rubber bands. I have this idea that because buffalo have such large eyes and nostrils, but no barbels.. they feed more heavily by site than a common carp might… just an idea, but the colorful rubber bands would ideally catch their eyes.
I was getting nibbled on pretty instantly, and I was relieved that we were able to bring in buffalo and common carp with relative ease.
After we put a few fish in the bait cooler, Travis started dicing up a nice buffalo (they were all full of spawn) and we got baits in the water.
As the sun went down one of the bite alarms was triggered pretty quickly after we got 4 baits into the water with our heavy combos. I happened to be closer to the rod and we engaged the fish after about 10 minutes letting it run. Unfortunately, when I loaded up and set the hook on the fish, the rod cracked.. and I knew we were in trouble. My brother Travis started wrapping the base of the rod where a large fracture was growing with electrical tape, but the rod eventually snapped under the pressure of the weighty fish and the hook pulled with it… we lost what was certainly a fish bigger than me!
The river is insane, it makes no sense… EVERY Alligator Gar at this remote location is over 100lb, not most of them, not some of them… they are ALL trophy sized fish and I would not reveal the location to a stranger over my dead body unless they swore to take it to the grave with them.
The rest of the night was slow, with only a few carries and drops. We played around catching a few more night time buffalo (no night buff pics ) and then called it a night.
The next morning started early. I was literally awaken by the smell of bacon my brother was cooking right outside the tent… and I was HUNGRY! I unzipped the tent and was welcomed with a gorgeous view of a mist sheened river, it was just too good.
We hit the river early after fueling up… the fish were relatively active, but not like last year. Last year the river level was considerably lower, and the fish were more concentrated in the deeper pools because of it. This year the river was much higher, and the fish seemed spread out. Also, the nights have been in the low 50′s while the afternoon stays hot… the water temperature was nice and cool and I think the alligator gar were either sparse, or simply did not have to come up for breaths as often. In any case, the bites were not coming… at all… all day.
We continued to catch buffalo and carp to pass the time, but the alligator gar just weren’t feeding.
Near sundown the fish seemed to become more active. I was seeing some of the biggest longnose gar ive ever seen in my life surfacing… and I began using small strips of carp hide under a float to try to catch them. The current was too strong though, and I could never keep a bait suspended and stationary. I took one of the buffalo rods and simple changed out the small J hook for a bigger one and put a few small chunks of carp on the bottom.
Travis managed to catch a small Blue Catfish this way, and near sundown I got a run as well. After the standard 5-10 minute wait, I engaged the fish… and to my surprise I thought I MUST have an alligator gar, because this thing feels like the bottom of the river.
It was the longest most tedious fight I have EVER had with a longnose and I was certain it was an 80 pound alligator gar or so… until the fish surfaced and I saw its beak. I was in total disbelief at the size of the fish and I knew my eyes had to be deceiving me… it was a longnose gar, and the first thing I thought was (I just hooked the world record longnose gar!)
We got the fish inshore, and I went ahead and landed her myself… Complete and utter shock. I made double, triple, quadruple sure to check that the fish was not a hybrid longnose/alligator gar, but the snout is pure longnose.
The fish measured at 61 inches in length, and according to the girth to length formula set by the TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Division) should have been 49.6 pounds… the world record is just over 50lb caught by legendary gar angler Townsend Miller in the 1950′s. I set long and hard and contemplated the options of REALLY checking into a possible record, I KNOW my fish was bigger than the Oklahoma state record, and Oklahoma was on the other side of the river… but I ultimately decided against cutting such a good thing short, especially if it was at the expense of a fish that looked like it had several more good years to live…
Interestingly… one of the other rods had gotten picked up during the chaos with my big longnose, and I went ahead and engaged that fish as well in hopes of getting a massive double.
The hook settled and held.. and the fish was another quality fish, though I knew immediately it was not of the same caliber. I landed a second longnose, and this fish measured in at 50 inches even! For any longnose gar fisherman, the 50 inch mark is the trophy standard.. but it was shocking at how the truly massive fish simple dwarfed it to the point of making the 50 inch trophy look like a juvenile.
After a good photo session we released both fish to live another day, and began tending to our alligator gar lines once more.
It was almost immediately after we got things settled that a bite alarm started chirping. This time Travis was on it… We let the fish run, and the rod was strong. Travis hit the fish hard and everything seemed to settle in nicely. Travis played the fish well and after about 15 minutes we got the gar bankside where I had a homemade snare pole waiting. I managed to slip the noose down Travis’s line and over the fishes head… you always make extra sure to bring the loop of the lasso OVER and past the pectoral fins so that the noose rests just under the pits of the fins and does not slide up into the gills. The fish didnt like it either way.
We got the fish subdued, but the area of land we were on was too muddy and too steep to work with as far as photos go… so I lifted the 100+ pound fish and placed it into the canoe to paddle over to a more convenient location.
I snapped nearly one hundred photos of Travis and I both holding his fish! as we were releasing the 6’2 100-110 lb specimen, a distant alarm could be heard.
We gathered up the landing gear and headed back downstream… by this point night had fallen, and the only way to even locate the rod was by a teeny green light bulb on the bite alarm which was illuminated.
I hopped out of the canoe, and the fish had already been running for about 5 minutes by the time we got there… these reels only carry so much line! When I finally got up to where the fish was, it had come to a rest along the same shore we were on… just 10 or so feet off the shore from where I stood, and I knew it was settling in and swallowing the chunk of bait.
My fish eventually surfaced by the shore, and Travis was able to secure the noose around its head.
We did not put the fish in the canoe like the first one… because the first fish started kicking while we were paddling and with a 100 pound weight shift, we came VERY VERY close to tipping…, rather, I walked the fish basically like a dog down the shoreline with the noose until we came back to the basically the exact same spot we had Travis’s fish.
My fish measured in at 6’5 and probably around 130lb. We snapped several photos and continued fishing, but the bites never came.
This morning at 0600 I left my tent and soaked our last few buffalo chunks hoping that illusive TRUE monster would come, but it never happened… Ultimately though, this was an unforgettable trip. We caught plenty of nice buffalo, carp, a blue catfish, a 50 inch longnose, a 61 inch monstrous longnose, and two solid alligator gar all in some 24 hours of fishing. I am SO thankful to be living in Texas now, and we have already planned to return the first week in June. Until then, I am going to start getting the shark gear together!