Alligator Rodeo

Alligator Gar

August 2013  .  USA  .  Texas  .  Trinity River

Martin Sack

After my first trips in pursuit of the freshwater giants beyond Europe led me to the sturgeons of Canada and nileperches of Uganda, now a further species was on focus, which was certainly not familiar to every European. There had been some fishing reports and tv-shows in the past about alligator gars, but I wanted to find it out: What has the south of Texas to offer, if you spend two weeks fishing for this prehistoric fishes? Fortunately I found in Tom another crazy angler who was interested to fight with these long teeth predatory fishes. So I started my first journey to the USA into a muddy, lonesome swamp to my total satisfaction.

The Trinity River is with 1140km length the longest river flowing completely through Texas. We wanted to fish at many and diversified stretches of the lower half of the river downstream from Dallas to the estuary into the ocean. Despite of the length the river is quite small, particularly in summer, at the lowest level. At Livingston the Trinity River is divided by one dam and the Trinity Lake, the other stretch was mostly pristine and not reachable from the bank. The shores were lined with thick woods and the rinsed trees blocked the river in some parts completely. The moderate current alternated with shallow rapids. Who wanted to venture to the remote river bends needed for sure a skillful guide. The boat-drive through the jungle to the fishing spots on its own was the journey worth, and we thought many times about how many ship propellers we would have destroyed with our usual speed at dawn! The reward of our adventures: We saw in ten days no other fishing boat and had the entire river for us alone!

The float begun unhurried to bounce in the current and showed us, that the fish at the other end of the line must had the bait still between its jaws. Tom stood at the nose of the boat and kept the line to the float short, without taking contact. At the middle of the small river and away from the cooler shadows of the trees hanging over we were just under the hot sun. But also here the brown water was armed with an underwater wood of dead trees. The float began to move upstream. We started our motor and followed. In front of us were more trunks coming out of the water, but if we would have set the hook to early the hook would probably not grasp. The tension rose, we tried to get an estimation of the snag under the water. But we had luck and the line was not pulled under a trunk. The fish crossed the following pool, and then there was the right time: Tom tied the line and set keenly the hook. His combatant stayed at the beginning at the bottom and turned our boat. Suddenly the short, but heavy escapes begun and we knew this fish had more power than the ones before. Then an alligator gar jumped just next to the boat outside of the water shaking its open jaws! Awesome, this one must be longer than 2m! After some more runs it was ready to be landed. We put the lasso from behind over the rod, downstairs the line, across the big head and behind the pectoral fins. If it was pulled tight around his scale armor the water foamed again. We hauled the animal inside the boat and made efforts not to get in the range of its long teeth and the angry, hard mouth. We had experienced some crazy adventures in the past, but had clearly respect for these fishes.

The fishing method was just as well adventuresome as these predators. At a heavy boat rod with a baitrunner reel and 150lb braided line was mounted a float, a swivel, a 150lb steel leader and a 3/0 treble hook. We adjusted the float stopper at ca. double of the water depth, baited the hook with a big chunk of fish and let it sink at the fishing spot to the bottom. Then we drove with opened reel to the bank, put the rod on a stick with a funk alarm at the shore, opened the free running system and positioned three traps more at the same way.

Now we could look for a nice place in the shade and relax, drifting and fishing with lures or try to catch some baitfish. But often we didn’t have to wait very long. The most bites begun quite inertly. We started to move, picked up the rod and the chase could start. If an alligator gar was swum under a snag we cut the line above the stopper knot. As soon as the float appeared behind the timber we knotted the end of the lines together. When a fish was still pinned into the tree, we tried to grab the line at the other side with the help of another rod mounted with a lead and treble hook. This was not in every case successful, but surprisingly well when the fish was still on line.

If an alligator gar had moved for ca. ten minutes, it had turned the prey and had it deep enough in the mouth that a hook could grasp. Sadly often the fish swallowed the treble hook to the stomach, we could only cut the leader. Therefor we used special, thin hooks made of bronze. With these hooks was made a study with ten caught fishes. One animal died at the transport, the other ones survived and were killed gradually. It was analyzed that this type of hook was totally decomposed and disappeared after three month. Furthermore me made successful experiments with removed barbs and hoped that the hook will get earlier out of the stomach, when the fish will swallow the next prey. In the future we will also try to fish with hook systems which allow setting the hook immediately, which led in our first short attempt to no bite.

At the moment it is allowed to kill at the Trinity River only one alligator gar per day and angler. Unfortunately this cared not most of the bow hunters, which shoot their prey only to throw it back dead into the water. And there were rarely no controls. Thankfully we meet only two of these boats, and the prospects in the muddy water are not every time perfect. But you can only imagine what damage can be done when in the high season, in spring, the big spawning fishes were killed in the shallow water. Sadly the hunt with the bow is getting more popular in the USA than fishing and protecting these animals. The alligator gars are living in this river systems for around 100 million years, we can and want not understand killing only for fun.

However, during our trip the Trinity River was full of alligator gars. Anywhere there was life, oodles of smaller fishes were the basis for a lot of big predators. Next to the alligator gars existed in the turbid waters also some real, huge alligators, which were a little bit camera-shy. We caught 36 fishes, underneath four between 1,98-2,16m, and had many missed bites more. But the norm were specimen of 1,30-1,80m, an alligator gar more than 2,30m is a real challenge. The biggest, ever confirmed catches from the time of commercial fisheries were around 2,70m long, everything beyond that can surely be denoted as a myth.

Even if some fishes still had been caught with flies and artificial lures, we could not provoke one attack to our rubber baits and spoons. We often saw big gars gulping for air at the surface – which ignored our lures, but took the natural baits at the bottom. Even if the behavior of these predators is in many belongings similar to our northern pikes, the sense of smell seems to have much more importance in these dark, warm waters less of oxygen. But we will try it again, for sure!

We are looking back to an exciting, amusing and diversified tour. With very fascinating predatory fishes, which have really earned this attribute. Here the fishing was far away from mainstream and total commercialization. Whoever fished the Trinity River surely wants to come back!

Many thanks also to our captain, an absolute professional fishing and much fun on board!



Angler: Tom , Martin

Alligator Gars more than 1m: 36

Alligator Gars more than 2m: 3


1.Day:3                                                                             1.67 – 1.51 – 1.40

2.Day:1                                                                           1.48                                                                               

3.Day:4                                                                   1.47 – 1.29 – 1.24 – 118

4.Day:6                                                                          1.66 – 1.46 – 1.45 – 1.30 – 1.24 – 1.08

5.Day:4                                                                         2.01 – 1.85 – 1.79 – 1.35

6.Day:2                                                                        1.90 – 1.74

7.Day:3                                                                       2.00 – 1.63 – 1.62

8.Day:4                                                                       1.62 – 1.42 – 1.28 – 1.26

9.Day:4                                                                      1.64 – 1.58 – 1.55 – 1.38

10.Day:5                                                                    2.16 – 1.98 – 1.76 – 1.58 – 1.27

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