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River Robber

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

When bow fisherman David Smith was trying to land Missouri's first state record alligator gar last year, he probably felt like he was fighting an alligator. Like members of the crocodile family, the long, "slinky" fish was covered with an armor of thick, hard scales, and a meshwork of sharp teeth protruded from its broad snout.

Smith and Eric Abbott were bow fishing on the Headwater Diversion Channel in Cape Girardeau County when they spied the big gar basking near the surface. Smith loosed an arrow that pierced the fish's bony hide. Then he and Abbott enjoyed the Show-Me State equivalent of a Nantucket sleigh ride. For 20 minutes, the gar towed Smith's 16-foot aluminum bass boat like a harpooned whale dragging a dinghy.

Wrestling the 6-foot, 4-inch gar into the boat wasn't easy, but Abbott finally lassoed it with a wire noose he used to land the smaller longnose gar the pair usually encountered. "I finally got it in, and I've got the scars to prove it," said Abbott. "He was still snapping."

The gar weighed 115 pounds, 2 ounces. That's a huge fish even for many saltwater anglers, let alone for the Missouri Bootheel!

Gator Gar Facts

Alligator gar are larger than all North American fishes except for white sturgeon. Old reports of 12- to 20-foot-long specimens were probably exaggerated, but the fish's true size is amazing enough. One of the heaviest alligator gars on record measured 8-feet, 5-inches. It weighed 356 pounds and was caught in Arkansas' Horseshoe Lake in 1931. A specimen from Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, was documented at 9 feet, 8.5 inches and 302 pounds. The world rod-and-reel record weighed 279 pounds. It was caught in Texas' Rio Grande River in 1951.

The largest gator gar mount in Missouri may be the 8-foot, 3-inch 228-pound monster on display at the Hornersville Duck Club. The wall of Schindler's Tavern in New Hamburg sports a mounted alligator gar said to be 9 feet long. When caught in 1916, it weighed 180 pounds.

The alligator gar's historical range included the Mississippi River and its tributaries from the lower reaches of the Ohio and Missouri rivers southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the fish are primarily restricted to coastal rivers, with inland populations persisting in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and, as evidenced by Smith's record catch, Missouri.

Apparently, alligator gar were never common in Missouri. They once inhabited the

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