Missouri alligator gar record established.

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Missouri alligator gar record established.

Though not classified as endangered, the toothy leviathan is a rarity here.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Part of the appeal of fishing is never knowing exactly what's going to wind up on the end of your line. That was especially true for bow fisherman David Smith, who recently landed a 115-pound, 2-ounce alligator gar. The fish is the first of its species ever documented in Missouri's state fishing records program.

Smith was bow fishing with friend and Perry County Conservation Agent Eric Abbott on the Headwater Diversion Channel in Cape Girardeau County when he spied the big fish basking in the sun just beneath the water's surface. He checked his fishing tackle, a 56-pound recurve bow fitted with a special fishing reel. He was ready . . . but not for what happened next.

Smith and Abbott were expecting to find more common and smaller fish than alligator gar. They were hoping for a long-nosed gar big enough to break the state record of 34 pounds, 7 ounces.

"I thought it was two or three long-nosed gar laying side by side," said Smith. "I still thought so when I hit it. I yelled for Eric to get everything ready, I had the new state-record on." He was right, but not the way he figured.

The bony, torpedo-shaped fish made several strong runs, pulling Smith's 16-foot aluminum bass boat around like a cork. The reel on his bow screamed as the big fish ripped 200-pound-test line off the spool.

Abbott said he realized it had to be an alligator gar when the fish made a porpoise-like jump. It's enormous size became apparent when Smith got the 76-inch fish alongside the boat 15 or 20 minutes later. "It was practically half as long as the boat," he recalls with wonder.

Then came the hard part hoisting 115 pounds of slippery, toothy, steel-muscled fish into a bass boat. Abbott had a wire noose that he used to boat smaller fish, but he had difficulty getting the noose to stay on the huge alligator gar's bony snout. Twice the fish slipped the noose by thrashing and snapping its wicked jaws. On the fourth try, Abbott got the noose behind the monster fish's gill plates.

"I finally got it in, and I've got the scars to prove it," said Abbott. "He was still snapping." Long after it was subdued, the fish continued to make growling noises. Once the fish was in the boat, its wide, toothy snout also made it obvious they had an alligator gar. Missouri's other gar species have narrow snouts.

The alligator gar is one of four species of gar found in Missouri. Although they once ranged upstream into the Missouri and Osage Rivers, alligator gar were never as common here as they were in the heart of their range in the Mississippi River and its tributaries from Arkansas south to the Gulf of Mexico. For this reason, it isn't formally classified as rare or endangered in Missouri, though it is extremely uncommon here.

Abbott speculates that extended high water on the Mississippi River this year might have encouraged the big alligator gar to migrate so far upstream. "I hate to see the biggest of its species dead," said Abbott. "But at least we know they're up here."

Alligator gar measuring more than 10 feet long and weighing more than 300 pounds have been reported in other states.

- Jim Low -
 


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