By David Graham - July 30, 2012
It ends up I am going to be moving BACK to South Carolina, and leaving the midwest behind. Just enough time to squeeze in a few more hours chasing the mightiest freshwater fish in North America. My brother and I packed up for a two-day trip to the Red River, hoping to finally get that alligator gar exceeding 7 feet and 150 pounds. To be able to haul all gear we had to rig the top of my jeep with home-made extended cross bars for my roof rack... 2 x 4's secured with bungee cords and string... boom.
We strapped my brothers Old Town Canoe and my NuCanoe Frontier 12 to the roof and ample water and food. Weather reports called for temperatures in excess of 100 degrees... but temperatures in the river gorge should easily radiate at 110 degrees+ with the stagnant air, hot rocks, and relentless sunlight.
The water level has dropped dramatically in the red river, exposing a sandy riverbed... this allowed for SOME driving along the riverbed, however, unseen pockets of air below the sediment could, and HAD claimed other victims...
We loaded up all gear for a mile and a half paddle down river that often required us to get out and drag our gear over shallow sections of drying riverbed. Because the NuCanoe is lighter weight and sits higher in the water... I was able to make it down river much faster than my brother who was in the Old Town. Well, I also had a trolling motor for the scattered pools that were deep enough to use it! So, I glided along and got some things set up while Travis continued down river.
First things first, we needed bait... so I began setting up a station where we could catch buffalo or common carp. We also had several older buffalo from days past on ice as reserves. When Travis arrived the heat of the day was in full force... we opted to put our camping gear into the shade and set it up in the evening. We got lines in the water, some tight lining, some with sliding floats. All of my bite alarms were broken on a fishing trip several months back, so we just needed to keep within close enough proximity to the rods to know if a fish was on. We also passed the time toying with longnose gar, which have never been too difficult to capture here.
We both kept as hydrated as possible, I even wore a Camelback for several hours until I realized the pack water turned hot really quickly... The first take of day 1 came later in the day, but for whatever reason the sturdy rod I was using snapped in half upon hookset. I don't think the fish was THAT big, as it fought for a moment after the rod broke before shaking free, the rod must have simply had stress fractures in it that I wasn't aware of. Nevertheless, another one of my baits got a run shortly after, and we managed to land that fish. It was a considerably sized fish, probably in the 80-90lb range.
There was no more action for the rest of the day, and we moved back to the campsite to set up for the night. As darkness fell, the shoreline around our campsite had a lot of activity from longnose gar which cruised up and down the shoreline picking off unsuspecting minnows of all sorts. I watched one gar in particular simply sit and wait in mere inches of water as unsuspecting baitfish moved dangerously close before the lightning fast jaws of the gar snapped shut on them. I chose not to take advantage of what would have been a very easy opportunity to catch these gar though. We didn't do any night fishing; a full night's rest was in order after the fatigue of the hottest day I have EVER fished... We had hotdogs, chicken breast, and the classic Hot Pockets for dinner... all heated over a grill, delicious!
Travis and I both woke up before the sun peeked over the treetops... Travis was cooking up a nice breakfast, bacon and shrimp! After eating and hydrating, I went back to catching baits. I managed a very nice common carp that would provide enough bait for the rest of the trip. We diced the carp up and got baits in the water. This time we placed two on our side of the river (Texas) and two on the Oklahoma side. After an hour or so of waiting Travis let out a whistle from where he was stationed 150 or so yards away letting me know he had a take.
Travis was hooked up by the time I had gathered all gear necessary to land the fish, but it was no MONSTER unfortunately. Nevertheless, it gave us good momentum and a boost of morale to carry us on.
Shortly after releasing his fish, we gazed across the river to check the other rods, and I noticed one of the rods had a strong take. Travis and I hopped into the NuCanoe and headed across the river to retrieve the rod. We followed the fish for nearly 15 minutes before heading back to solid ground for a hookset. Upon hookset the fish was moving towards me quickly... and I had a hard time gauging where the fish was, how big it was... or if was really even ON the line. I was very concerned the fish would pull free without a proper hookset, but she turned, and she turned with authority.
We battled it out with the trophy sized gar for about 15 minutes before she succumb to exhaustion and Travis was able to get the snare pole over her head. The fish measured just over 7 feet and should have been in the range of 170lb! This was my largest Alligator Gar to date.