DUDE, HERE'S MY GAR
Area man takes a bow (and arrow) to catch huge alligator gar
By Bob Hood
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
One day last month, Tommy Frank found himself just where he likes to be -- about to do battle with a seven-foot alligator gar weighing more than 200 pounds, which he held, literally, on the end of a string.
The scene was a familiar one for the Arlington resident, a dedicated bow fisherman who stalks monster alligator gar with as much stealth and fortitude as most hunters use for less dangerous trophies such as white-tailed deer and elk. And the setting was one of Frank's favorites -- the Trinity River south of Dallas, where monster gar prowl the often muddy waters day and night.
The 7-footer was one of five big gar Frank and his longtime buddy Johnny Pantoja shot with their bows and arrows during a midday "hunt" in a section of the Trinity where Frank has taken numerous monster gar in the past. The other gar they shot that day measured 6-3, 6-1, 5-9 and 5-8.
"The water was cloudy, probably one- to two-foot visibility, and I saw the fish coming up headfirst, probably 15 yards away at the most," Frank said. "When he got to the surface, I knew he was a large fish, and I hit him almost in the head. He took off pretty quick and ran about 10 yards and then just stopped. You don't horse a fish that size around. We have learned to finesse it and start feeding the line out. That way we can move left or right or around the boat. You even can let him tow the boat some, so you just pull the line in and out, and every now and then he will jerk the boat. We finally got him to the top and then towed him to the bank."
Frank has been hunting alligator gar this way for about 26 years. The Trinity is one of his favorite places, but he also has had exceptional success on the Colorado River, especially where it empties into the coast at Matagorda. Although many bow fishing enthusiasts shoot carp and gar of any size, Frank said he only goes after the big ones, estimating he has taken more than 100 gar measuring six feet and longer over the years.
"To me, you are just slaughtering them if you shoot the small ones," Frank said. "We see a lot of gar that we don't shoot because they aren't big enough. If it is not 7-up, I don't want it. Sure, we'll make some mistakes [and shoot gar less than seven feet long], but I have learned to judge their length pretty well."
Frank uses basic bow fishing gear -- a Jennings compound bow he has owned for 23 years and a standard bow reel spooled with 200-pound test line and bolted to the bow. His boat is a 14-foot Alumicraft. He does most of his hunting during the day but has a special spotlight rig for occasional night bow fishing.
Frank said his goal is to get an alligator gar that weighs at least 300 pounds.
"If I can get one that big, I figure I will have taken one that is within a few pounds of the world record alligator gar taken on a trotline, which is about 302 pounds," he said.
Although alligator gar grow much larger than needle-nosed gar, Frank said he has shot numerous exceptionally large needlenoses, including a possible world record.
"I shot one 6-foot-6 needlenose that weighed around 100 pounds," he said. "I just turned it back, and, later, when I looked at the records book, I realized it is very likely I had the world record and just didn't know it."
One of Frank's most memorable experiences took place on the Trinity River below the Lake Livingston dam, where he shot an alligator gar then turned the boat sideways because the water was deep and he knew that any gar shot in deep water tend to make a very quick and deep retreat.
"After I turned the boat sideways, the reel became unscrewed from my bow and was jerked [by the fish] into the water," Frank said. "Fortunately, the reel landed like a cup and stayed on top. I dived in and grabbed the reel and then swam back to the boat. I was underwater for only about 10 seconds, and when I got through [pulling in the gar,] I had never hyperventilated so much in my life. I was really sucking in the air. The gar was only a 6 1/2-footer, but it was a fast 6 1/2-footer and gave me one of my most memorable experiences."
Looking back over the many years he has hunted other game with a bow, nothing matches bow fishing, Frank said.
"I have hunted deer and lots of other animals with my bow, but I have never found anything that equals bow fishing for big gar," he said.
For pic: www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/sports/9466479.htm
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