DID YOU KNOW that garfish were once considered “more dangerous to humans than sharks”?
An article written by garfish expert Keith Sutton notes that the May 7, 1884 edition of the “Arkansas Gazette,” states, “While a boy named Perry was fishing in Shoal Creek, Logan County, a gar fish caught his right leg, which was hanging over the side of the boat in the water, and pulled him overboard. His companions rescued him, but not before the leg was terribly lacerated.”
A few years ago, I found a reference to a 1922 article in the New Orleans Times Picayune that said garfish are, “more dangerous to humans than sharks”.
During that period, it was common to throw table scraps out around boat docks. Gar became conditioned to this So, any “attacks” were probably related to someone soaking their feet among the food scraps and not the result of human bloodlust on the gar’s part.
In fact, no verified human attacks by garfish have occurred in recent times. So, in my opinion, the garfish’s reputation as a killer is totally unfounded.
The reputation of gar as a game fish population destroyer is almost as unfounded as rumors of human attacks. In 1987, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Paul Seidensticker conducted a study called Food Selection of Alligator Gar and Longnose Gar in a Texas Reservoir on Sam Rayburn.
By using jug lines and gillnets he and his team captured 209 alligator gar from September through October weighing from 18 to 156 pounds. Most of their stomachs were empty.
Of those that did have food in their bellies, gizzard shad made up 26.4 percent of their diet, channel catfish, 14.9, freshwater drum, 12.6, bluegill 7.9, spotted sucker, 6.8, white bass, 4.5, largemouth bass, 3.4, spotted gar, 3.4, crappie, 2.2, lake chubsucker, 2.2 and carp, 1.1. Other items include two coots, 11 fishhooks, an artificial lure and a plastic bag.
“Gar really are outcasts that are misunderstood. They have unlimited potential as sportfish but have unfortunately suffered in the court of public opinion,” said Craig Springer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Prime examples are the past gar tournaments that were held on lakes to help rid the waterways of them, to “save” game fish populations from their predatory wrath and sell them on the market. Author Smokey Crabtree used to win many of these tournaments by fishing in the Sulphur River bottoms in Arkansas.
“We would catch them six and seven feet long and have them all stacked like cordwood. It was a sight to behold,” he said.
Crabtree would use jug lines baited with live carp in the two- to five-pound range to catch gar sometimes in excess of 200 pounds.
Whether they’re killers or not, encountering one while wading into a river might be a bit scary. I, however, would be totally pumped, but I’m a little strange like that.
As a tie-in to this episode of RIVER MONSTERS on the Discovery Channel a few years ago, TF&G ran a cover story featuring an interview with the star of the show, Jeremy Wade, by Chester Moore.
—story by CHESTER MOORE