Texans are known to brag a little about how things are bigger and better in the Lone Star State.
The thing is, sometimes it’s true, and is often the case when it comes to alligator gar, including one enormous fish that fell to a bow fisherman’s well-placed arrow on Father’s Day 2020.
In a region known for producing world-class white-tailed deer in the fabled Brush Country of South Texas between San Antonio and the Rio Grande River, fishing guide Scott Meshell (936-676-7883) says the area is spectacular for alligator gar bowfishing too.
For proof, the South Texas Bowfishing company guide and owner points to the June 21 trip he took with bow fisherman Hunter Blasingame.
It may have lasted only minutes, but it produced the fish of a lifetime!
“We got out there (in the) morning, maybe sometime around 8 a.m.,” said Meshell, 47, about the trip to an unnamed water body. In the chase for world-class alligator gar, the Hondo, Texas, guide is hanging onto a few trade secrets.
“Believe it or not, it all happened in the first 10 minutes of the trip,” he continued. “That big fish floats up next to the boat and Hunter shot it.”
Using a PSE Discovery bowfishing bow, an AMS bowfishing reel, 200-pound braided line spooled onto the reel, a fiberglass arrow, and an Innerloc Grapple point, the shot resulted in pure pandemonium as water splashed and the gar took off.
“You don’t know how big those fish really are when you first see them (hovering) in the water,” said Meshell, who guides for South Texas white-tailed deer and exotics in the fall and winter months, and big alligator gar the rest of the year.
“He (Hunter) shot it and I told him ‘I think you just shot a 7-foot fish,” said the guide, who has been bowfishing in parts of Texas since he was 15. “I knew it was a good one, but at that point, I had no clue how really big of a fish this was.”
The fight lasted several minutes, thanks to the gargantuan gar.
“With a fish that big, you can’t really hold them, they just do what they want to do,” said Meshell.
Several minutes later—and after a second arrow was administered—the monster gar was along the side of Meshell’s 18-foot bowfishing boat, where a snare was used to secure the fish.
And that’s when it began to sink in just how big this alligator gar really was. In fact, it would measure 7 feet, 5 inches long, sport a girth of 47 inches, and weigh a staggering 240 pounds! After that, it was time for some photos, some backslapping, and a trip to the taxidermist shop.
While some are critical of bowfishing for these big predatory sportfish—which can live for decades in Texas’ various river systems and reservoirs between the Red River and the Rio Grande—Meshell points out that the alligator gar fishery in Texas is carefully monitored and regulated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“It’s 100-percent legal and we go by the book set forth by Texas Parks and Wildlife’s fishing laws,” said Meshell, who guides bow fishermen three to four times a week on 8-hour long trips.
Statewide, Texas’ bow fisherman and conventional tackle anglers can harvest one alligator gar per day and must report it to TPWD within 24 hours. Such harvest reports, which are monitored to make sure that the giant fish with sharp teeth aren’t overharvested, can be made via the agency’s mobile app or online.
Exceptions on fishing activities and harvest do exist for the primitive-looking species with TPWD’s executive director Carter Smith allowed to temporarily close alligator gar fishing opportunities in certain areas for up to 30 days when biologists deem conditions are conducive for spawning.
Another exception is for alligator gar harvest along portions of the Trinity River between Dallas and Chambers County, where only one such fish over 48 inches can be harvested by anglers and bow fishermen in possession of a drawn TPWD tag.
Finally, on Falcon International Reservoir, one of the state’s premiere big bass fisheries, where anglers have long believed alligator gar are a detriment to double-digit largemouth bass, the big fish are plentiful enough that up to five alligator gar can be harvested per day.
While alligator gar aren’t always regarded as the most beautiful piscatorial critter out there, they are prized in Texas, where they reach enormous world-class sizes. According to TPWD, the state record for rod-and-reel fishing is Bill Valverde’s Jan. 1, 1951, Rio Grande specimen that weighed 279 pounds. That fish is also the all-tackle world record according to the International Game Fish Association’s online database.
Believe it or not, there are even larger alligator gar specimens from Texas.
On July 8, 2001, Marty McClellan set the state’s bow-fishing record for alligator gar when he secured a 290-pounder from the Trinity River.On Jan. 1, 1953, T.C. Pierce, Jr. used a trotline caught monster in the Nueces River that weighed 302 pounds to set the state’s all-tackle record.
For what it’s worth, that’s not apparently as big as the species can get either. Proof of that is found in a long ago TPWD news release that notes fishing guide Kirk Kirkland’s reported 9–foot-6, 365-pounder in the Trinity River in 1991.
And believe it or not, the species is even sought in Texas by a few enterprising fly anglers. On the men’s side of the IGFA record book, Richard Hart has the fly fishing world record with an 83-pound, 3-ounce alligator gar pulled from the Trinity River in May 2016. On the women’s side of the record book, Meredith McCord has the world benchmark with a 28-pound, 9-ounce alligator gar caught in February 2019.
Who needs a 200-pound tarpon when a big armor plated prehistoric looking fish with rows of sharp teeth is willing to hit a fly?
When such a big fish gets harvested, Meshell says some of his anglers and bow fishermen turn the fish into a meal.
“When we shoot these fish, we always clean them,” said the guide. “Either the customer takes the meat, or we give it away or the fish goes to the taxidermist like this one did.
“On these alligator gar, you can split them down the back and they have two big giant backstraps,” he added. “We cut them out and some people make little chunks and fry them up, some people make gar balls that are mixed with different seasonings, and some smoke the meat on a barbecue pit.
“It’s pretty white meat and is certainly edible, but it’s not my favorite fish to eat.”
In this case, Meshell said that this big alligator gar went to a local taxidermist, where a full body mount is being prepared, one that will run north of $1,000.
While the guide is looking forward to fall and winter hunts with Action Outdoor Adventures, in the meantime, he’s more than content to continue focusing on alligator gar.
In fact, it’s a family affair since this past Saturday, Meshell’s wife, Jaclynn, arrowed another giant alligator gar, one of several that she has taken over the years.
“It was the day before Hunter got his,” said Meshell. “Jaclynn’s big gar measured 7-3. Two years ago, she shot one that was basically a carbon copy of the one that Hunter shot—it had a 47 ½ inch girth, was 7 ½ feet in length, and weighed 243 pounds. And around three years ago, she got an 8-footer that weighed 222 pounds.”
The couple’s young son is excited by it all, eagerly telling his daddy that he wants to get his own big alligator gar someday.And in a land known for such big critters, it’s certainly possible according to Meshell. In fact, it’s the pursuit of legendary-sized creatures that keeps him going in the summertime despite the withering South Texas heat.
“Alligator gar are definitely stable down here, there’s no shortage of opportunity,” said Meshell. “Do they get even bigger? Oh yeah. There’s unknown fish down here that who knows how big they are.
“We’ve had fish come up to the boat that were absolute giants. They fight a little bit and the line breaks, or the arrow breaks and you never know exactly what it was,” he added.
“I’m pretty sure that somewhere down here in South Texas, there’s a 300-pounder lurking in the water somewhere. That’s the one we’re hunting for every day.”