DEATH BY GAR By Chester Moore

Back around 1997, I was running a trotline in a deep hole in the Sabine River. My cousin Frank Moore and I had trotlines about 200 yards apart and we had been catching a few blue catfish.

This was in the middle of winter, and we were targeting huge blue catfish. In previous days I had several large hooks straightened and had visions of 75-pound blues in my mind.

Africanized “killer” bees have been traumatizing Texans since invading from South America in the 1980s.

As I went to check my line, I noticed most it was not parallel to the shore but drifting out across the deep, instead of on the edge. The line had been cut (or so I thought).

Immediately, not so kind words flowed through my mouth to whoever cut the line, but then as I started to pull it in something happened.

The line moved.

I pulled in a little more and felt great weight at the end of the line and soon realized I had a seven-foot-long alligator garfish on my line. In the Moore family, gar trumps blue cats any day of the week so I was excited.—even more so when I saw the huge gar barely moving.

Gar will often drown on trotlines (seriously), and this one looked a little worse for the wear, so I though it would be easy pickings.

I pulled the line up to the beast, hooked my gaff under the only soft spot on the fish, which is directly below the jaw. I jammed it in there good to make sure it would hold and to see how lively the fish was.

It literally did not budge. The fish was alive, but did not seem lively.

I then took a deep breath, mustered up all the strength I had since this was a 200-pound class fish and heaved the gar into the boat. That’s when the big fish woke up.

It pulled back with full force, and all of a sudden I found myself headed down into 30 feet of water with the gar. In an instant I realized one of the other hooks on the trotline had caught in my shoe. I was now attached to 200 pounds of toothy fury.

I had just enough time to take a breath and went under.

All I could focus on was getting back to the surface and toward the light. I am not sure how deep I went, but according to my cousin who was just down the shore from me, I did not stay under very long. A 200-pound gar and a 200-pound young man snapped the lead on the line. However, the hook amazingly remained in my shoe as a reminder I was very near death. Make sure not to run trotlines alone. That was my first mistake.

Also be careful to run the line along the side of your boat and not allow the hooks to fall in the boat. That was where I messed up. Catching fish on trotlines is loads of fun, but it can be dangerous. Make sure your desire to catch fish does not override safety as it did for me in the heat of the moment. In case you did not notice, this was the story from my introduction. 

It was my closest call with death in the great outdoors and looking back it is evident God was not through with me.

Just as frightening and unexpected was an encounter with Africanized bees.

Nothing frightens me more in the wilds of Texas than bees, particularly the deadly Africanized “killer” bees. These bees are spreading and have firmly established populations in the Brush Country and part of the Trans-Pecos and Hill Country. 

The sting of one bee might only cause some pain (unless you’re allergic), but the wrath of a swarm could spell death. 

In the spring of 2003, I had a truly frightening bee experience. While using a box call to lure in a lonely gobbler, I heard what I literally thought was a low-flying plane in the distance. All of a sudden, a shadow passed overhead and I looked up to see a massive swarm of bees less than 30 feet up. I remained calm, said a little prayer, and watched the huge swarm pass by. 

After talking with ranch officials, I learned the Africanized kind is present in the area, and thanked God the swarm did not sense how frightened I was. In fact, I was filming a segment for Keith Warren’s television program. Once the bees moved a great distance, I told the cameraman to hit record.

“They say bees can smell fear,” I said.

“That’s not true! I was just more frightened than I have ever been and about 10,000 bees flew over our heads.”

A few years before, I guided my father on a hunt for red deer out in Kerr County. After bagging a big eight-pointer, we hoisted it into a strong oak and began to skin it. Suddenly, thousands of bees moved in, started buzzing all around us, and began to cover the animal. Dad backed his truck up under the deer, I cut the hoist down, and we moved more than a mile away.

Not all outdoor dangers come from wild sources. Some are domestic.

In 2006, a snarling, enraged pit bull busted forth from the brush and headed right at me. A guttural growl and intense, focused eyes told me this dog was out for blood, in particular mine. I was at my deer lease before the season to repair a stand with no rifle in tow. For a second panic set in, until I realized I had the .45 that my concealed handgun permit allowed me to carry.

I quickly drew it, clicked off the safety, aimed at the dog and fired. It stopped, spun around and walked back into the brush. I pondered following it to put an end to the threat once and for all but decided to enter the lease from another location and avoid trouble until I was better armed.

Looking back, I have no doubt I would have ended up another statistic had I not possessed that gun.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year, 20 percent of which require medical attention. In 2006 alone, more than 31,000 underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of dog bites.

Feral dogs are common in Texas and any large breed can pose a potential danger, especially if in a pack.

That encounter and these others showed me that in Texas you need to be prepared for any kind of outdoor danger whether manmade (trotline), human-bred (dog) or engineered in a lab (Africanized bees).

Let’s do our best to stay alert and safe out there.


—story by Chester Moore


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