Illinois gators!

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Gunnar
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Illinois gators!
<p>In 1966, at the very southern tip of Illinois, a 7 foot, 150 pound alligator gar was caught on hook and line. There are no records of any being caught (by any method) in the state after that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1966. Three&nbsp; years before I was born. No one had been to&nbsp; the moon yet. Computers that couldn&#39;t even send offers of cheap Canadian pharmaceuticals or display low-resolution pornography were the size of Econoline vans and required teams of engineers in lab coats. Hardly anyone had heard of Jimi Hendrix. Even in such remote times, however, we can recognize the familiar smell of human progress, because we had managed to eliminate yet another species, an apex predator, from big chunks of its historical range.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alligator gar remained on Illinois&#39; endangered species list until 1994, presumably because in the mid-1970s 20 of them were found trapped against the water intake screeens of a power plant on the Ohio River in Kentucky (where the Ohio is the border between Illinois and Kentucky).&nbsp; In 1994, the species was declared extirpated from Illinois.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Efforts to reintroduce the spcies in Illinois began in 2010 with stocking of gators brought from hatcheries in the south (Mississippi, maybe?). Early indications are that the fish are growing as quickly as they would in those southern states where they have managed to hang on (though numbers are declining) in spite of the human propensity to misunderstand, ignore and&nbsp; exterminate the oddballs and misfits of the animal&nbsp; kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a 95 degree day at the end of August, 300 miles north of the location of the 1966 catch, BenC, Garman&nbsp; and I set out to reintroduce gator gar to fishermen. We knew it was a needle vs. haystack situation and that needles in haystacks often remain lost, but we also knew that finding one would be an important personal (and historical) milestone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three hours into the expedition, Garman had landed a silver carp snagged on a crankbait, Ben had caught a shortnose gar,&nbsp; and we had all cursed a few missed hooksets on spinners, cut shad and bluegills. It was hot, there was no shade, and the lack of gators was starting to make the reality of the expedition&#39;s odds sink in. Ben headed to an adjacent lake to take a shot at&nbsp; spotted gar (which he quickly succeeded in catching), and Garman followed shortly thereafter. I elected to keep trying for the gators. I had a whole bluegill (alive when I first chucked it out, but deceased the first time I checked it) with treble hooks embedded in it, no float or weight, 100 feet from shore. As Garman drove off, promising to come get me&nbsp; later, I decided to check the bait again. I reeled up a pile of slack line and felt solid, unmoving resistance. A snag. I pulled and felt it dislodge. Then it pulled back!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fight was not particularly epic, but there was a fair amount of buzzing drag as the fish took line and I resisted the urge to tighten up and crank it in. Given the stakes, I&nbsp; was nervous as hell. If I had a gator on the end of my&nbsp; line this was no time to rush. If I somehow lost it, it might be months before I could stop beating myself up. Still, I assumed I had a catfish or shortnose gar on until I got it to the shore and saw the wide, short snout. Adrenaline kicked in. Heart rate doubled. With Ben and Garman absent, no net, and a sudden rush of memories of fish I&#39;d lost at the last moment, I was well&nbsp; aware of how quickly things could go wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not a large fish. It did not freak out, run or jump when it bumped against the rocks at the shore. I was able to grab it without any particular difficulty. Holding it tightly, I took it far from the water, snapped a few emergency pictures in case it somehow&nbsp; got back into the water before I could call for assistance, then tried to work my phone one-handed without coating it in gar slime and without being able to see the screen in the bright sun. Garman and Ben returned, took some photos of my fish and quickly resumed fishing with patience and optimism fortified. I mostly wandered around mumbling and smiling, casting a spinner and trying not to start singing or dancing. For weeks I had been working to keep my expectations low, and against all presumed odds I had managed to make a little history. Plus, I&#39;d beat Garman to it and he&#39;s called <em>Gar</em>man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I didn&#39;t know it at the time, but the northernmost record of an alligator gar in Illinois is one that was caught (sometime before 1923, method unknown) in the Illinois River, 50-100 miles south of our spot. Garman suggested that my fish might be the northernmost catch in history, then promptly set up his rods 25 yards further north. He landed a slightly larger gator an hour or so later, breaking my record. He mostly refrained from gloating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After that, we landed a few channel cats, a few shortnose gar, and all had many strong runs that ended with nothing. Ben, unfortunately, did not connect with a gator that day, but since he lives not far from the spot I have no doubt he&#39;ll fix that very soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had hoped to follow the gator with a spotted gar (which&nbsp; would also have been a lifer), and then get a shortnose and a longnose to complete the Illinois gar grand slam. I managed the shortnose, but the spotteds eluded me and by the time we left I was too tired and sun-baked to go in search of a longnose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to Ben for providing the bluegill and location, to Garman for rigging suggestions, to Garman&#39;s boat for not almost sinking until after I hopped out, and to two young alligator gar for cooperating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-1.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-1.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 417px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-2.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-2.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 171px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-3.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-3.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 797px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-4.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-4.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 405px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-5.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-5.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 543px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-6.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-6.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 800px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-7.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-7.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 248px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-8.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/alligator-gar_Illinois_8-31-2013-8.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 758px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strike>I&#39;ll let Garman add photos of his gar.</strike></p> <p>Here are a few shots of Garman&#39;s norhernmost gator gar ever caught:</p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-1.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-1.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 402px;" /></a></p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-5.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-5.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 359px;" /></a></p> <p><a href="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-6.jpg"><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/garman_gator_8-31-2013-6.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 402px;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Information on the history of alligator gar in Illinois from &quot;Distribution of the Alligator Gar, Atractosteus spatula (Lac&eacute;p&egrave;de, 1803), in Illinois&quot; by William J. Poly, publishing in Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Sciences, vol. 94, no. 3 (2001), pp. 185-190.)<br /> &nbsp;</p>
krazyk
krazyk's picture
Did you manage to unhook that

Did you manage to unhook that second gar and set it free?

Looks like a total mess to unhook!

Chain Pickerel: All the bad assery of a Northern Pike wrapped up in a smaller, prettier package.

Hengelaar
Hengelaar's picture
Baddass!!

Wow, man. That's awesome.

Even though they be younguns, they are totally unmistakable.

 

It's a pleasant and comforting thought, that they're there. Growing...

Fishn sure is neat

Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
Go for it, Ben! (Because no m

Go for it, Ben! (Because no matter how far north you go, and no matter how many you catch or how big they are, none of them will be the first.) I fully expect you to rack up a few of them this fall and have them mostly figured out by next summer.

And yes, Krazyk, all the fish we caught were released unharmed.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Wow, thats freaking nuts!  Hu

Wow, thats freaking nuts!  Huge congrats on the Gators guys.

Deftik
Deftik's picture
Awesome guys that is so cool

Awesome guys that is so cool to see native fish making a comeback

andy
andy's picture
super cool!
Nice catch man
Cast_and_Blast
Cast_and_Blast's picture
Nice catch.

Nice catch.

Corey
Corey's picture
Gator Gar Range

Great work, gentlemen!

Is your catch going to make me update my alligator gar range map?

TonyS
TonyS's picture
Awesome stuff and a huge cong

Awesome stuff and a huge congrats!

perkinsdonald
perkinsdonald's picture
nice!!!
Glad to see that its back!!!! Very impressed! Very happy one does not need to go to Texas to get one!congrats!!!!

 

 

The gods do not subtract the alotted span in men's lives the hours spent in fishing.

Eli
Eli's picture
Wow! Yankee alligator gar...d

Wow! Yankee alligator gar...did not think they existed!

Eli

 

 

Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
Corey, you may have to update

Corey, you may have to update it if they survive and thrive, and certainly if they manage to eventually start reproducing. So far they've lasted a couple years since being stocked and are growing fast in some of their new homes. I know there are also stocking efforts in other states in the northern reaches of their potential range, such as Missouri (but not sure where or how extensive).

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

GatorGrip
GatorGrip's picture
Congrats and I am Surprised?

Here in Florida we have some Alligator Gar in a few rivers in the panhandle of our state but they were taken off the legal fishing list in 2006 by our wildlife commission due to their dwindling numbers. I am surprised that your state has not band the catching of them either since they are so scarce. Congrats on an awesome catch of a very rare species in your neck of the woods.

Mike B
Mike B's picture
Unexpected catches are very c

Unexpected catches are very cool. I wonder what the chances of gator gar turning up in the Mackenzie River are?

mike b

DavidG
DavidG's picture
This is so awesome guys!  Spo

This is so awesome guys!  Spotted it on Facebook yesterday, its a great thing to see this magnificant species starting to get the respect and protection it needs.   I wish they would do similar programs in other areas they once thrived. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DavidG Blog:  http://www.fishing-headquarters.com/boundlesspursuit/

Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
GatorGrip: I don't think they

GatorGrip: I don't think they've been here long enough for anyone to get around to making rules yet. They're probably still listed as extinct in the state (I haven't checked), and a fish that doesn't exist doesn't need protection. I hope they will make sound policies to keep the population from being destroyed, but to allow fishing for them.

DavidG: I think more and more states will start thinking about this species in a sensible way. As an older generation of fisheries officials and scientists give way to younger ones with a broader understanding of how ecosystems should function for more than just sport fishing, I believe more states will show respect and devote effort and funds to the rougher end of the fish spectrum. At least I hope so.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

Jason E.
Jason E.'s picture
Good to see the comeback gett

Good to see the comeback getting started.

Eric Kol
Eric Kol's picture
well done fellas! a bright ra

well done fellas! a bright ray of sun in an often cloud-darkened area of poor species management and blatant disrespect of "ulgy" fishes.

I like the Illinois gar slam possibility

Carpy Diem!

J Dunfee
J Dunfee's picture
Finally read the whole thing.
Finally read the whole thing. Pretty damn epic, what a great n successful trip.. congrats y'alls!
Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
Gator gar in the Chicago Sun-Times today

Gator gar, BenC, Garman and I made the paper today in Chicago: http://www.suntimes.com/sports/outdoors/22773269-452/brookfield-man-lands-first-alligator-gar-in-illinois-since-1966.html

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Thats one of the best most po

Thats one of the best most positive articles ive seen in a while done by a big publication.  Great job again finding and catching those gators.  Really cool stuff...

Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
Yeah, you're right. Bowman is

Yeah, you're right. Bowman is a right-thinking guy. He's had multiple episodes of his radio show about gar, redhorse, etc., and has more in the works. He also covers more "normal" fish, as well as hunting, hiking, birding,other outdoor pursuits, and science, and he does all the things he talks about. He's even fished for shortnoses with Garman, so you know he must be OK.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5

Gunnar
Gunnar's picture
And now we get alligator gar on the radio/downloadable

In other news, this: http://moxostoma.com/gar-suckers-radio/ is a mighty strange turn of events. Half hour of me talking about gar, suckers, roughfish.com, fishing, etc.

I'm hoping it will get gar and roughfish into the brains of a few people who would otherwise have remained stable and productive members of society, or bring a few kooks out of the shadows to join the rest of us.

 

Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com


2020: 10 days fishing 11 species 0 lifers. 2019: 34/45/13 2018: 39/40/5