CAPE GIRARDEAU – “I saw the gar and knew it was big, so I went ahead and shot. I thought it might be a record,” said Eric Whitehead of Puxico.
Whitehead was bowfishing with his wife, Sara, from a boat on Wappapello Lake in Wayne County on Oct. 8 when they sighted a large spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus). He aimed his bow, shot and hauled in the fish at 11 p.m.
Bowfishing is a method that combines the skill of archery with the tradition of fishing, where anglers use archery equipment combined with a reel and line.
Whitehead, 30, has been hunting and fishing since he was 5 years old. His bowfishing experience spans 4 ½ years. He said he especially loves being out on the water and the possibilities of seeing extremely large fish.
“What’s not to love about bowfishing?” he asked. “I love all of it.”
After catching the gar, Whitehead contacted Conservation Agent Mic Plunkett, who assisted in weighing it at Bill’s Market in Puxico. It was 38 inches long and weighed 9 pounds, 15.5 ounces.
Although spotted gar are not popular game fish, they are prized targets for bowfishers. Missouri's previous alternate-methods record spotted gar also was taken from Wappapello Lake by archery. It weighed 9 pounds, 2 ounces and was taken by Jason Rhodes of O’Fallon in May 2007.
Spotted gar are native to North America and range from Lake Erie and southern Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. They are most common in the Mississippi River Basin.
They get their name from dark spots on their bodies, heads and fins. Like other gar species, they have long bodies and elongated mouths full of teeth. Adult spotted gar typically grow to 20 to 30 inches long and weigh 4 to 6 pounds. They inhabit clear pools of shallow water in creeks, rivers and lakes. They can live to be 18 years old.
Whitehead said he intends to keep bowfishing and will continue the tradition with his wife and their two children, Austin, 1, and Hunter, 7. Hunter usually fishes with his parents but wasn’t along on Oct. 8. Sara, however, never misses a chance to bowfish with her husband.
“If my boat’s in the water, my wife’s in it with me,” Whitehead said.
More information about Missouri fishing records is available at mdc.mo.gov/fishing/reports/records.