By George Hollenbeck
Even Kirk Kirkland, the world-famous alligator gar fishing guide from Trinity didn’t expect a lifetime event when he hosted Art Weston of Kentucky for a day of gar fishing on Lake Sam Rayburn on Sept. 2. In fact, only chance took Kirkland to Sam Rayburn that day – his usual “river monster habitat” is the Trinity River above Lake Livingston. But the water in Lake Livingston was so low he couldn’t get his boat in, and his mother lived in Lufkin so he suggested they go to Sam Rayburn. “Not as many fish, but some big ones,” Kirkland told Weston.
That fateful choice earned Weston and Kirkland a catch for the record books – they landed an eight-foot, four-inch gar with a girth of 48 inches, or four feet, weighing 283 pounds. To make this record even more impressive, Weston was using a six-pound test line. Not only was the fish the world record on six-pound test line, but it is also the world record alligator gar ever caught on a rod and reel. It took them two hours and 45 minutes to land the fish.
To put that record in perspective, we consulted Dan Daugherty, Inland Fisheries Senior Research Scientist at the Heart of the Hills Fisheries Research Center in Mountain Home.
“Yep ... I heard all about the Rayburn gar ... fielded a few reporter’s questions about it. This goes without saying, but alligator gar over eight feet in length are exceedingly rare. Over the years, we have handled thousands of alligator gar – six-footers are pretty abundant, seven-footers aren’t unexpected, but we’ve only seen a few in the eight-foot class,” Daugherty said.
We asked Dan, ‘How old is that fish?’
“A reporter asked me that exact question a few days ago. We have very little data on the age of fish this size and the only way to tell exactly is to kill the fish … something nobody would do. With that said, the data we do have suggests this fish is likely 80-100 years old or more.” How long ago is that? One hundred years ago, Calvin Coolidge was elected president of the U.S.
Kirkland has been catching big gar for 40-plus years. He has been featured on the TV show River Monsters, and many of his clients come from around the world. Kirk specializes in big gar. He considers a 100-pounder a nuisance that takes up time and bait that could be spent on a big gar. He has caught six 200-pounders this year but nothing like this.
As Lake Livingstonians know, thanks to a great spawning year in 2015, the lake now harbors lots of gar in the 50-pound class, and some bigger. The good news is that although gar look like alligators, their diet is not game fish but mostly “trash” fish, and there is no known recorded incident of a gar attacking a human.
Look for lots of publicity and articles about Art and Kirk and this record fish. Congratulations to Art and Kirk! Kirk’s website is www.alligatorgarfishing.com.