October Monsters -
Resilience is a fine word. It's the ability to resist and weather the changing world about us. All living things exhibit this trait but maybe none so well as North America's largest freshwater fish, the Alligator Gar. They have remained virtually unchanged since prehistoric times. The fish was once slated for extermination by state and federal agencies who built gar boats - large electrofishing vessels - that combed waterways destroying gar by the thousands. Times have changed though and now, wildlife agencies are rearing them in hatchery runs and releasing them in their historic waters in Missouri and Tennessee in hopes to control invasive Asian carp species. Times may have changed, but the gar hasn't.
They often grow to 7 feet or longer and weigh more than 200 pounds. With skin that is protected by an interlocked network of diamond shaped scales that Native Americans once used as armor for it's strength and durability, it's as strong as a steel can. The body of the gar, as formidable as it is, isn't the business end of this fish either. Up front, they are armed with a heavy, hard head filled with double rows of large canine teeth that fit suspiciously into holes in either jaw very much like it's namesake alligator. They look like alligator and behave like them. It's uncanny.
With the red tide around and our saltwater fishery limping along, I started trying to catch one of these giant fish this past week. They have exceptionally bony mouths, but after a few tries I got the hook set well into one. I fought the fish from my Ocean Kayak. It was an intense fight mainly due to the nature of the beast. Alligator gar have little fear as they have few if any natural predators. The gar was content to bump into the kayak, thrash about violently, and keep itself as dangerous as possible while never really attempting to flee. I wore the gar down and was able to land the fish, but not without a long effort.
Catching and eating gar is a long standing tradition for many in the Rio Grande Valley. The gar meat is plentiful and once again, is similar to it's namesake reptilian. It's creamy white and a little chewy with an almost nutty aroma. It tastes suspiciously of crab leading one to suspect blue crab is on their menu. Gar is often cubed and fried into chicharonnes where they are the center piece of large family fish fries. Old black and white photos of exceptionally large cattan, as they are known in Spanish, can be seen in local valley museums. Interestingly enough, large gar are still common today, especially along the Rio Grande river where fish of seven feet and larger are seen and sometimes caught. It's an appropriate beast to highlight for October and a true survivor. It's likely they will be around for unimaginable numbers of years to come.
-As published by the San Benito Press