How To Catch Monster Gar In A Kayak | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
A man fighting a huge gar fish in his kayak Photo by Harley Canty

Hook into North America's largest freshwater fish.

What would inspire a kayak angler to leave his home and travel thousands of miles to fish chocolate-colored water under East Texas sun? How about North America’s largest freshwater fish?

Alligator gar can grow over eight feet long and weigh more than a linebacker. The fish is named after its reptilian doppelgänger, with pea green armored plates and a long, flat mouth full of needle sharp teeth. The International Game Fish Association World Record is 279 pounds caught in Rio Grande, Texas by Bill Valverde in 1951.

As a die-hard trophy hunter, I targeted smaller longnose gar in my home waters of central Virginia. After playing chess with these amazing holdovers from the Cretaceous period, I decided to travel to Texas to target the giant alligator gar. 

My first trip was in 2011. After a week on the chocolatey river, slogging cut bait and swatting flies, we finally caught a six-foot beast. With the lessons from that trip tucked under my belt, I returned last summer for another dip into the well. 

In late August, my girlfriend Harley Canty and I travelled to Trinity River in East Texas, fabled home of the biggest gar. The river proved as big of an opponent as the giant fish. The deep, muddy water runs beneath 50-foot cliffs. The river bank consists of waist-deep mud or soft sand infested with angry fire ants. Thick, twisted bushes grow straight up the cliffs, offering no shade. Access is sparse. We would float miles between landings with few options for camping.

Fishing from kayaks allowed us to drift down the river until we spotted gar breaking the water to gulp air. Then we would find the closest bank and set up a half dozen rods spaced a few feet apart.

I rig up with a 1/0 to 2/0 brass treble hook crimped to threefeet of 90-pound-test, 7 Strand wire. The other end of the leader is crimped to a 250-pound test ball bearing swivel. Slide a 12- inch cigar float over the 80-pound braided mainline then attach the line to the swivel.

Gar are big fish, but they don’t require super-heavy tackle. A seven-foot, medium-heavy rod and reel combo with reliable drag will efficiently wear out these big fish.

Despite their ferocious toothy appearance, gar are finicky feeders with a bony mouth. For bait, we caught carp and smallmouth buffalo with a bottomrig and worms or castnet. Then I use a sharp, serrated knife to chunk the now baitfish into softball-sized steaks.

Bait up, cast out, and wait. When we were lucky, we would find a lone tree or overhang to hide beneath from the sun. Then, watch the bobbers for hours. The days and miles make the bite even more exciting. First, the bobber starts to slowly move down river. I jump into the kayak and grab the rod. Let the fish eat. If it feels the slightest disturbance, a gar will spit the hook.

When the fish turns and starts to swim upstream, that’s a good sign it has the hook. Set up on the rod hard and hold on for the ride. At first, the giant fish doesn’t realize it’s hooked. But when it figures out the ruse, the show has begun. Human-sized gar will jump out of the water, roll, shake and slap. Reeling hard to keep the kayak overtop of the fish in hopes that it doesn’t disappear into deadfalls and snags that litter the bottom of the river.

When the giant has tired, which could take more than an hour, I slide a looped line over the rod, down the line and over the gar’s massive head and tighten the loop behind the fish’s pectoral fins. Then I paddle to the nearest river bank, take a couple pictures, revive the fish and let it swim away.

These gentle giants are the biggest fish species that swim North America’s rivers and lakes, but stories of man-eaters and deadly attacks are tall tales. The alligator gar is currently fighting a battle against fear and ignorance as trophy hunters mistake the measure of a fish’s size with the measure of the angler’s manhood. It takes a bigger man to let one of these trophies go.



7-foot medium - heavy conventional


Abu Garcia 6500


80-pound braid


90-pound 7-Strand wire


1/0 to 2/0 brass treble hook


12-inch cigar-style


Cut up carp or smallmouth buffalo


Jackson Cuda HD


Bending Branches Angler

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