Sugar Land, Texas Ask YouTube fisherman Payton Moore what the biggest fish he’s ever caught, and he’ll tell you it was like walking on a Tyrannosaurus rex in the muddy waters of Bayou Texas.
According to Moore, the massive 8-foot-2-inch crocodile gown weighed approximately 300 pounds. He said it’s the largest fish ever filmed in North America, but that’s not an official record.
“When you see me next to that giant fish,” he said, “it makes it a little easier to believe it was that big.”
Fishing was something the 32-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston, would do from time to time. It became a passion when he started thinking of ways to expand his career as a conservation educator.
Admiring the work of Animal Planet extreme angler Jeremy Wade from the movie River Monsters, Moore began learning how to hunt more effectively, which is when he started his YouTube channel. He wanted to educate the public about as many freshwater ecosystems as possible within the Houston area. Four years ago, he evolved into his full-time job.
Moore set out on May 5 to photograph himself in search of an alligator laurel on one of the largest rivers that run through the greater Houston area. He refused to specify the exact location.
“I definitely went there with a big fish in mind, but I was very amazed at how big this fish was,” he said.
He said it wasn’t the first time he had visited that area either.
“On the last two trips I’ve taken there, I’ve followed the traditional methodology of nibbling an alligator during the hottest time of the day,” Moore said.
Traditionally, this has been proven to be true. The hotter it was outside, the more active the laurel, but in that particular area, Moore had no luck following this strategy. So, he ventured outside around 7am when the temperatures were cooler.
“I don’t know if that was part of the reason I finished fishing, but I cast the bait, and the bait took about five minutes later,” he said.
Moore also switched things up with the type of bait with a mullet head.
He said that the crocodile laurel in that river tends to feed on buffalo fish because of its large population, and mullet fish are rare.
He was using an 80-pound test line on a broomstick-like trolling reel. It is designed for large saltwater fish such as wahoo and small tuna. Also use a 100-pound wire at the end of his line to make sure the strong, heavy fish don’t nibble it in half.
Fought for 15 minutes on this line.
“The struggle with this fish was that not only was it stronger than anything it had caught at that point, but it was in an area completely filled with submerged trees and giant underwater rock piles,” Moore said.
He said the muscle fish would intentionally run around obstacles to break the line.
“They are very smart, and they have ways of off the hook,” Moore said. “So, the struggle was keeping it confined to fatigue it rather than letting it run back and forth, which, if it had been able to do that, might have lost the fish.”
Once on the bank, use the lariat behind the pectoral fins to land it.
“Once I started getting close enough to put the rope over his head, I realized he might be bigger than I thought. When I saw the size of his head, I realized he might be pushing 8 feet,” Moore said.
Inwardly, he began to fear excitement as he compared the size of the fish to his penis and reel.
When I did, Moore said, “I noticed that the 8-foot-long fishing rod wasn’t as tall as the fish, and immediately began to realize I had caught one of the biggest fish I had ever seen.”
Moore said there were a few other people caught and they were bigger. The biggest he knew was an 8-foot-5-inch Mississippi who got stuck in a net by accident.
Heavy Lifting: The Records of the Texas Gator Garrison
- Rod and reel: 279 pounds – Captured on January 1, 1951 by Bill Valverde in the Rio Grande.
- Bow Fishing: 290 pounds, 96 inches long – Harvested July 8, 2001, from the Trinity River by Marty McClellan.
- Caught by Any Means: 302 pounds, 90 inches long – Harvested January 1, 1953, from the Neusis River by TC Pierce, Jr. On the trot line.
- Captured and Released by Rod and Reel: (no weight available) 88 inches long, captured and released July 4, 2011, from the Trinity River by Joseph Williams.
- Current world record alligator gar: Captured in Mississippi in 2011 – it weighed 327 pounds and was 8 feet 5 inches long.
“I didn’t want to kill the fish while waiting to bring the state scale, so I didn’t weigh it,” Moore said. “So, there is no official record, but unofficially, I broke the state record.”
He was also on the verge of breaking the record for rod fishing and hunting in North America.
The fish is native to North America. Their range has expanded across the United States, but they were thought to be on the verge of extinction based on misinformation in the early 1900s. They are currently restricted to the southernmost United States, some Mexico, Central America, and Cuba.
The most important takeaway for Moore for anyone learning about one of these animals or seeing one of this size is to realize that they are a native species and beneficial to the environments in which they live.
“There is a lot of misinformation that fishermen are spreading about crocodile fish and it’s not true,” Moore said. “They do not wipe out populations of game fish. They are not dangerous. They will not attack people.”
For the Texan angler, this prehistoric fish is an excellent piece of natural history worth protecting.