A monster-size prehistoric fish provided big things over the weekend for a Durant archer, his grandfather and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Running into the Lake Texoma alligator gar likely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for 21-year-old Zachary Sutterfield. It also provided an unforgettable first-time outing for his grandfather and a score for the Wildlife Department.
Sutterfield was hunting through shallow coves on Lake Texoma at mid-day Saturday when he spotted a fish clearly larger than the carp and buffalo fish typical of the areas he has frequented during the past five years.
“I’ve heard of them coming out of the lake that were pretty big, but I never actually laid eyes on one,” he said. “When I called the game warden to turn it in for research, he said it was not common for them to be right there in that part of the lake.”
Officially the fish is 7 feet, 1 inch long, 34.6 inches in girth and 148.4 pounds. The female gar is far from the largest ever to come out of the lake, but it was a gift for the Wildlife Department — literally.
People are also reading…
Fisheries biologist Richard Snow said the fish will be used to gain knowledge about size structure of the population, difference in sizes between males and females, the fish’s stomach contents and its age — something that can be determined through the otolith, a bony disc in the ear.
The “age of the fish allows us to identify the year-class a fish came from and could give us an understanding of possible environmental drivers that lead to spawning and a year-class to form. This information is collected from all alligator gar that are donated for research purposes. Anglers have been very responsive to working with (the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation) for the purpose of allowing us to gain information about Oklahoma’s most unique prehistoric fish,” Snow noted via text message.
Alligator gar are one of four gar species in Oklahoma. The others are the spotted, longnose and shortnose gars, and all are native to the area. Sometimes called “living fossils,” they are species said to be unchanged for 100 million years.
Alligator gar are limited in number and mostly found in the Red River and its tributaries in Oklahoma. The species has suffered from dam construction and channelization of waters nationwide. It is listed as a “species of concern” in Oklahoma.
Snow said the department is working to estimate the population size through ongoing mark-and-recapture efforts. Angling and bowfishing continue with strict regulations. Fishing for gar is closed during the month of May while the fish are spawning, he said.
The carcass will be returned to Sutterfield, who indicated that he plans to take it to a taxidermist, he said.
While the state record gar, also taken from Lake Texoma, is much larger at 254.8 pounds and 8 feet long, Saturday was one for the books for Sutterfield.
He actually fought the gar twice. The first encounter involved a fierce fight, but the big fish pulled off the arrow. Later in the afternoon he had his brother, Nick, 16, and their grandfather, Billy, 65. The purpose was simply to take their grandfather bowfishing for the first time.
“He (went bowfishing) a long time ago when he was young, but it was his first time ever going with us,” Sutterfield said.
“He’s still a pretty good shot,” Sutterfield said of his grandfather. “He was my good luck charm that day, so I hope I can return the favor to him.”
They encountered the big gar in a different cove, and it was much shallower. “That time I made sure with the shot,” he said. “I think it hit his spine, because as soon as it hit, he wasn’t going nowhere.”
The real fight then was getting that 7-foot-long fish into an 18-foot boat. The unexpected hardest part was getting a rope around the toothy fish’s big head.
“We had a rope that floated, so that made it pretty tricky to get it down around its head,” he said. “Once we had the rope around its head, we could all lean one way and pull it in the boat.”
Sutterfield said talking to the game warden and biologist was interesting and that he was happy to donate the fish for conservation research.
“It was all a pretty cool experience,” he said.