Mackenthun: Fishing trip to Texas includes chasing dinosaur fish Local sports

A game of chance sparked last week’s first encounter with a crocodile gar.

Although I go out as much as possible, there was still a routine going on through the familiarity of the time I spent at home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A couple of months ago I started to have the itch to travel and I dared to dream of a fishing trip to the destination.

A crocodile came to my mind and I spent idle time looking for giant fish and following Texas gar fishing guides on social media. Whether it was browser cookies or social media algorithms, I came across a lot of alligator content that made fishing juices fall off.

One night, I saw a message from one of the Texas guides stating that their team would be raffling off a guided fishing trip. Registrations were $ 10 with 20 seats available.

I thought the ticket was a ticket to daydreaming, just like a lot of people buy a Powerball ticket when the prize is big. If I didn’t win and the odds were the opposite, it wouldn’t have cost me much and allowed me to imagine a getaway trip.

A week passed and I forgot about the raffle. One night, I caught my brother-in-law fishing in the Mississippi River and flipping through the phone when I came across the raffle that was taking place live. I turned it on just in time to see what my number and name are called. I had won the trip!

Carlos Guerrero of Trinity River Gar Fishing put me on schedule for an appointment in mid-August and I booked my airfare. I managed to schedule another fishing trip and explore while in Dallas.

On the eve of the big trip, I waited for a torrential downpour inside the Texas Parks and Wildlife Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Guerrero sent me a message that the rain had hit Dallas hard, finishing just under two inches. The Trinity River rose to four or five feet.

Because he was a river fisherman, he knew what he meant: the river ran high and dirty, he threw the fish and fished until things were over.

The day started with a 25% chance of storms and ended in a deluge. Had my luck turned? Would my trip be canceled or would it be a mistake? Guerrero had an idea: there was a place that could take me, not on his boat, but entering, where we would have the possibility of some gar in a part of the river that may have lost much of the rain.

He was not afraid to take a short walk, he was willing to try it and at least go down swinging.

Alligator gar has had a persecuted existence in the post-settlement United States. For a long time misunderstood as nuisance or garbage from fish, they were cleaned of much of their native area by indiscriminate killings recommended by state or federal natural resource authorities, as well as by the loss of fish. habitat.

In the early 20th century, fishermen fished crocodile scribbles with hook and line while another from the boat shot the fish with a bow or rifle when jumping.

Today, a segment of the angling community targets giant fish for catch and release fishing, and management agencies have taken steps to protect and preserve the predator, recognizing it as a valuable member. of the native ecosystem.

Several states value the crocodile for its potential role in helping to control invasive tents. Crocodiles are eurihalines, meaning they can adapt to various levels of salinity in swamps, swamps, brackish estuaries, and bays in the Gulf of Mexico.

Crocodiles have ganoid scales, a specialized scale almost impenetrable and resilient as a hard armor cover. These gar are living dinosaurs, a title earned, as the fossil record does relatively unchanged dating back more than 100 million years.

As with other primitive fish, they have retained many ancient features, such as the ability to breathe atmospheric air through the swim bladder. Alligator gar is the largest species in the gar family, can grow up to 10 feet long and is estimated to live up to 100 years.

Guerrero arrived in northern Dallas from Mexico at age 3. He learned English, has a work visa to reside and has plans to achieve full citizenship.

Fishing was always in the blood. Once he fell in love with a crocodile, he didn’t want to fish anything else.

Alligator fishermen run in small circles and kept bumping into a friend who wanted more information. Over time, he came to trust Walter Murga and, together, the couple guided the fishermen through Trinity River Gar Fishing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Murga came to Irving, Texas, from El Salvador at the age of six. Like Guerrero, he learned English as a second language and plans to turn his visa into citizenship.

The sun had just risen when Guerrero and Murga met me on an undescribed road beyond the suburbs of Dallas. It was hot and hot, the product of the rain of the previous evening.

A half-mile walk took us along an isolated stretch of the Trinity River. There was enough light to distinguish dark shapes just below the fluid, lazy surface of the river, the black outlines of the buffalo shoals of fish.

The armor-mounted rod holders were pushed into the slimy Texas mud by the creek at the tree line openings that gave us a good view up and down the river. Heavy, long action bars with a 100-pound braided line throw huge chunks of carp cut into small sharp hooks at the wire leaders, almost the equivalent of Americans using quick-strike platforms for northern light on slopes.

“Now let’s wait,” Carlos said as the last cane was thrown.

Texas has no limits on the fishing rods used, but to keep things from getting tangled up, we threw six baits into the river at equally spaced intervals. Guerrero and Murga looked closely at the tips of the line and the rod, the mark of good live and dead bait fishermen.

The baits were hit frequently, but they are often played by soft turtles. Turtles have revealing behavioral signs, such as constantly pecking or swimming short distances with their bait.

After an hour and a half, we moved to a clearing below, hoping to get rid of the annoying turtles.

Throughout the morning, alligators rise to the surface, rolling or swallowing air before descending into the turbidity of the river. A large individual takes my breath away from Guerrero and mine.

“It sure was a little footy,” Carlos said.

After seven years of guidance, he is still afraid of these fish. The river is full of gar, but it seems we can’t convince anyone to take our bait.

Another hour passed when one of the lines suddenly jumped. We approached the rod and pulled on the line of the waiting roller tree, hoping the fish would detect no resistance and drop the bait.

The alligator should be given time to bring the bait into the mouth. For four or five minutes, we gave the fish line as it was starting to cut upstream.

We were nearing the end of the reel, when Carlos announced that even though the fish had not stopped running with the bait, we had no choice but to put the hook on.

I dragged the game, felt the weight, and then turned the tip of the rod back as I swayed in an attempt to drive the hook into the bony mouth of the fish.

The line tightened and began to run out. I added a couple of stronger pulls to secure a fixed hook.

The fish kept moving upstream non-stop. Eventually, I stopped the fish and started gaining line, but it approached the nearby bank.

I was worried he would find some invisible problem. I worked to guide the fish into deeper waters and suddenly he jumped out of the water and gritted his teeth.

For fear that I would throw the hook, I was relieved to find her still hooked.

The fish came out into the main stream and the fight continued, with Guerrero and Murga reminding me that I had to hold the tip of the rod so as not to encourage another jump.

Because crocodiles have incredibly sharp teeth, the guides do not carry landing nets, as the fish would simply tear them holes.

Instead, everyone is confident in what can most happen to you in Texas: a rope is used to “tie” the fish around its hard, bony head and take it to shore.

Guerrero worked the rope around my fishing line while we carried the gar.

The most tense moments of the whole battle tried to fix the rope. On three occasions, as Guerrero slid the rope over the grandstand, the tired fish found the energy to throw themselves back into the river, dragging each time and making our hearts run.

We saw the sharp hook in the bony corner of his mouth and were afraid he would come out. Finally, we removed the 5 1/2 foot floor and took a few photos.

Despite the appearance of hanging precariously, we found that the treble hook was well seated. Because the gar can breathe atmospheric air, fish can stay out of the water much longer than other sport fish.

I took a few pictures of the amazing fish’s head and back, and then Guerrero grabbed the fish to give it to me.

As Guerrero picked up the fish, the gar opened its mouth and a fold of Guerrero’s T-shirt fell inside just as the fish closed its mouth. After waiting a second, the fish reopened its mouth and the shirt fell with several cool holes.

You wouldn’t want your hand in that girl’s mouth!

After a couple of quick photos, the fish was released to fight another day.

Eventually, the humidity broke, as did the overcast sky, and the hot Texas sun came out of hiding to heat and dry the muddy ground and kick off the conclusion of the day’s journey.

Two more bait catches passed, but each time, the gar dropped the bait. Such is life for alligator fishermen: your battle turtles, wait for the garage to hold the bait long enough to catch you and for many fish to catch you.

All to have the opportunity to shoot at an amazing fish in an amazing place.

Scott Mackenthun is an outdoor enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and can be contacted at