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In this episode of Breaking Trail, get ready for the FEATURE LENGTH version of Gar Wars and witness the epic battle save this GIANT fish!
A RIVER MONSTER sized thank you goes out to the Gar Guys – Hayden Roberts, Florian Kappen, Maximiliaan “Max” Claus and Josh Perkin for their leadership in the field, expertise in ichthyology and driving fight to help preserve the future of these living relics.
Special thanks to Texas A & M University for allowing the Brave Wilderness team to document their continued research on this subject matter.
Special thanks to Steve Goodman for allowing us to explore and film his beautiful stretch of private river.
Additional thanks to Solomon David, Matthew Miller and Bubba Bedre for their guidance and expertise on the history of gar and the future of conservation for this species.
Archival photo and video credits: Solomon David, Bubba Bedre, Florian Kappen and Max Claus.
“GAR WARS – A conservation fish force!” title and phrasing credit: Matthew Miller/Cool Green Science
To join the fight and battle on the front lines of the GAR WARS click on this link: http://bit.ly/JOINFISHFORCE
Thank you to Meredith Joyce-Houghton for creating the incredible artwork in this episode!
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The Brave Wilderness hosts and crew are professionally trained but receive assistance from animal experts and safety personnel when in potentially life-threatening situations. Permissions were obtained by the crew to film in all locations associated with this series. No animals were injured, killed, or removed from their natural habitat in the filming of this program and instances where animals are brought to the scene are clearly acknowledged in the video. Professional advice should always be sought before entering any dangerous environment, or before encountering any species of animal. Every precaution is taken to handle animals with care and in the least stressful way possible; expert opinions are often solicited when handling animals that may potentially inflict harm to any cast and crew.
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- [Host] 150 million years ago, a torpedo-shaped, armor-covered, predatory fish, swam virtually unchallenged in the presence of dinosaurs. Fast forward to the present day, and relatives of this beast still swim, nearly unchanged in design, reigning as fresh water megafauna. Gar are masters of evolution. They have survived beyond the dinosaurs, and everything that came after, until their existence ran up, against an inescapable fate: Humans. I'm about to rock the boat, and this episode is about to make some waves. So if you're ready to join the fight, together we stand the chance of saving these fish. Welcome to the Gar Wars.
A conservation fish force has awoken. (dramatic music) I caught a big fish once. Perhaps you remember my encounter with the blue catfish. - How 'bout that, boy? - Holy cow. - [Host] Well, if you thought that, was an impressive freshwater river monster, you aren't going to believe your eyes, when you see where this episode is headed. But before we get to catching, first we gotta go fishing. On this wild fish chase, I will be working alongside the Gar Guys, Hayden, Max and Florian.
Hayden is a graduate student from Texas A&M, who is researching the alligator Gar, for his Master's project, while Max and Florian, two wild Dutchmen, and experienced Gar Wranglers from the Netherlands, are working in tandem with Hayden's research, as part of their graduation internship, and the completion of their Master's degree. These guys love fish, more than you can possibly comprehend. So for me and Mario it's an honor to document their process, and share in their fight, for the conservation of this species. So, right now, what we're doing is using a scanner, the Hummingbird System to determine, if there are fish in this area. And we're seeing little marks show up on the scanner, that definitely look as if they could be very large fish, which is a good sign. Max, do you like this spot?
- We definitely like the spot. It has some slack water and that's basically what we need, to catch these fish because they really like to be, out of the current, and we can actually efficiently set our nets. Otherwise the current would take them, and the fish won't swim in, or they would just bounce off.
So this seems to be a really good spot to catch them. - Okay, so this sounds like this may be a spot, for us to cast the next gillnet. Let's see if this is the lucky location, to catch a monster Gar. This simple-looking yet high-tech device, reveals many of the water's secrets, including hidden obstacles like trees, water depth, and if we're lucky, the distinct body signatures of fish. Rod and reel is a very sporty way to fish for Gar but setting a hook in their bony mouths, can be nearly impossible, and places an incredible amount of stress on the fish. So to lessen the impact, we will fish with gill nets, 200 feet wide by 10 feet tall. We carefully stretch the supersized net across the river, one upstream and another downstream. Bright yellow buoys helped to keep the net afloat, while also working as a signal to the team. If a fish swims into and becomes entangled in the net, these bright indicators will bob up and down, alerting that a fish has been caught.
- Okay, we officially have the first two nets, set in the water. The next part of looking for Gar is called waiting. We're gonna spend about an hour just watching the nets, hoping that eventually the buoys go beneath the surface.
Now, if one goes all the way down, Florian and Max said that that pretty much means, you've got a monster fish. So we're gonna keep our fingers crossed. We like the spots where the nets are set. - Now we sit and wait and see what happens. The term, River Monster, is an all too familiar description, of a seemingly malicious animal, that lurks beneath the surface, of our planet's flowing freshwater systems. In fairness, it's also the title, of my all-time favorite television series. However, it's important to redefine what the Gar truly is, because the term monster, carries with it an unfairly assigned, notorious reputation. Worldwide, there are seven species of these toothy fish, three of which we may encounter in this area. The Spotted Gar, which is beautifully speckled, in an uncoordinated array of spots, the Long Nose Gar, named for its definitively slender, and noticeably elongated snout, and the Alligator Gar, which hails as the largest, and seemingly most menacing of the Gar gang.
(dramatic music) Yes, they are big, fast, armor-scaled, and equipped with rows of needle-like teeth, but don't let their appearance snap, your initial assumptions into false accusations. Gar do not attack humans. And honestly, the only well-documented bites, derive from anglers that are accidentally bitten, while trying to remove fishing hooks.
Yet it was uneducated fear mongering, dating back nearly 100 years that put the Alligator Gar, on a hit list of North America's dangerous animals. Sadly, populations have been extirpated, in many areas of their natural range. And if things couldn't get worse, now these fish face a new threat: bow hunting. But before we kick the door open on that sensitive topic, first, we better check the nets. Okay, right now we're motoring up river, on our way to check one of the nets, that's been sitting for about 40 minutes. (Hayden speaks indistinctly) - What? We got some movement in a buoy. There may be a fish up in this net. (dramatic music) - Okay, we might have something.
All right, let's do it! (boat motors buzzing) - It better be there. - Right now, we're just keeping eyes on those bois.
If there's a fish in there, we don't want to startle it, because while they may get tangled up in the net, it's also rather easy for them to get out, unless we get the net actually curled around the fish. So fingers crossed. We really liked the way that we have this set originally. (dramatic music) (boat creaking) - Oh, we got a fish, fish. - Oh, for real? Oh, Lord no. That's cool. - Look at this Gar. (dramatic music) - Oh, nice.
- Wow! Yes! Look at that!
Oh-ho, wow. - Is that good? - Yep. - Yes please. Okay, so right now, what Max is doing, is gently getting the net out of the Gar's teeth. very dangerous little procedure here. Got these, what are called net hooks. This is so that he does not lose a finger in the process. - [Florian] Take all the time.
- [Host] This is my first encounter ever, with a Longnose Gar. I've never seen one of these before. It's beautiful, look how blueish in coloration.
- That's a decent sized Longnose too. - [Host] There it is! - There it is. - Amazing. Look at that. That is a Longnose Gar. Now, long nose guard gets its name, because of that elongated snout. If you take a good look there, that mouth is filled, full of needle-sharp teeth, and they specialized in eating fish. And you can see that if you were a fish, and you got stuck in those jaws, it would be a very bad day.
And look at the blue iridescence in coloration. This is an absolutely beautiful fish. And just like the Alligator Gar, they are covered in these armored scales.
Big eyes, bulbous, right on the side of the head. They have incredible vision. And that streamlined body basically makes them, a long muscular missile. Underwater, these fish have incredible speed. Now these fish can stay out of water, for a significant amount of time. And right now the fish is secreting, this very thick, slippery mucus from its scales. That's helping to keep it hydrated. We don't want to keep it out of the water for too long. What a beautiful fish.
I just can't get over how incredible, and how prehistoric-looking these animals are. Now, I would say this is about average size, for a Longnose Gar. They get quite a bit bigger than this in some instances, but for seeing a Longnose Gar for the first time, I don't think it can get much better than this.
And the river always makes you work for it. You're not gonna get the Alligator Gar in the first catch, but seeing the species is definitely something, that we hoped would happen, while out here working with the Gar Guys. Let's see here. All right. Here we go. Any second. Alright, let's keep checking the net. This is a good spot! - Think we can leave now.
- Oh yeah. (dramatic music) - [Max] Right there. - [Host] Oh, that's a huge, that's a big fin, man.
- It's up to your left, hand. - [Max] Oh boy. - [Fisherman] Ooh-hoo-hoo. - Look at that. Our first Alligator Gar. Wow. Whoo! - All right. - Definitely have to watch out for that snout, and that skull full of needle-sharp teeth.
So what we're doing right now is safely getting the Gar, out of the net. The calmer we can keep the fish, the less stress we put on it, the better for its health and safety. That is a very good-size Alligator Gar.
- [Hayden] And right now can you slide it down a little bit. - [Host] Okay. - [Hayden] You can see it's just caught with its teeth. - Yep. - And this is what usually happens with, the really big fish. They get caught only with their teeth. Small tooth. - [Host] Okay. This is free.
Wow. It's a big, Slimier this one. Look at my hands just covered.
- [Hayden] Do you smell It? - In Gar slime. Yeah. The smell. - [Hayden] that was cold. - [Host] Yeah. Very distinct smell, as compared to other fish. I'll just cover it with a towel. - [Hayden] The experience is less stress.
- [Host] Yeah just like alligators. Okay. I'll keep a towel over it.
Okay, cool. Let's get into the shade and collect some biometrics. Alligator Gar. There it is. The Gar guys collect meaningful biometrics, on any alligator Gar they catch, including the fish's head length. 22 and a half, It's full body Length. - [Hayden] 146 centimeters. - Wow. And The girth circumference.
- [Hayden] 58. - [Host] The base of its dorsal fin, is tagged with unique identification flag. And a Micro PIT tag is quickly inserted, so that if the fish is caught in the future, they can quickly scan and ID it.
Are you guys ready for this? Meet the Alligator Gar. Look at the size of that fish, a true river monster. And one of the most ancient fish species. That's still swims on this planet. Remember the relatives of this fish, date back a hundred million years, which means that this fish' cousins, were swimming amongst the dinosaurs. Obviously the head is incredibly interesting. And when I turn it like this right toward you and you look, down on top of the snout, they get the name alligator Gar, from that wide broad snout, it looks just like the snout, of an alligator. And one other cool aspect about the skull, is the fact that these bones are interlocking with this, Fleshy cartilage that allows the skull to expand.
So if this fish catches a prey item, larger than it can fit in its mouth, its skull actually stretches almost like a snake, and that's able to position its prey and swallow it down hole. I mean, you look down the length of this fish's body. It is incredibly streamlined.
Let me lift it up just a little bit, like a large muscular missile. Oh, come here, buddy. When you get down to the tail, the dorsal fin is way down, near the causal Finn. And that tail works like a rudder to help propel this fish, forward through its water environment. This fish is about as slippery as it gets in this direction, but if, you run your hand backwards. It almost feels like sandpaper. When you see the fish coming up to the surface like that, and biting, it's not because it's aggressive, it's actually taking a breath of air. Remember this species is very unique and, that it has bi-modal respiration. It is able to breathe either at the surface, or through its gills.
And it can take 30 to 40 years for fish to reach, just this size. So getting protections in place to make sure that, the future of this species is preserved, is incredibly important. And the work that the Gar guys are doing in our ability to, feature this fish species will hopefully help, to get protections in place, so that these fish are on the planet, for a hundred million more years.
What an incredible giant. there's no question about it, that was a big fish, but in the Gar universe, our first catch, we simply a phonic candidate in training. Now, before we got all excited about checking the nets, I started to mention bow fishing, and how this lawless sport is taking a noticeable toll, on the future of these living relics. Remember when I warned you about rocking the boat, it's time to put on your life jacket because the tidal wave, of conservation is building on the horizon. We need your support, but before you can help, it's important to witness what we are fighting for. (dramatic music) Alligator Gar are one of the most long lived fish, in the Western hemisphere. And it can take more than a decade, for them to reach maturity. Once reproductive age has been achieved, males and females migrate, from the protection of deep waterways, and into shallow flood Plains where breeding takes place. Sadly, it's this intimate setting, where the largest number of mature adults, are being killed by Bow Fishermen.
(dramatic music) Bow Fishing is a brutal sport that is simply defined, as shooting fish with a bow and arrow. Now before we rush to judgment, it's important to recognize, that not all bow fishermen and their practices are bad. Technically, this hunting style is not illegal.
In some instances, it can be beneficial to the ecosystem. One example is the harvesting of invasive Asian carp. The problem exists when their arrows are intentionally shot, toward apex predators like alligator Gar. Gar considered rough or trash fish. And while some people do consume their catch, the majority dumped lifeless carcasses, along the river embankments. Over time, the trophy hunting destruction, of these long lived fish will prove detrimental, to the necessary balance of our river ecosystems. And without restrictions, you can understand why, these living dinosaurs find themselves, at risk of going extinct. Right now, we are coming up on a buoy, which is very low in the water. This could be a fish.
Check this out, way sunk down as compared to the other ones. This could be a fish. Alright.
So what do we want to do guys? - [Hayden] We want to grab the foot line, - Okay - [Hayden] see where the fish exactly is at. - okay - [Hayden] And then we see from which way it's swimming, and get it on board so we can tag it. Gently. Once it notices the boat's over it, gently lift it up. We're seeing a lot of bubbles right here. - [Host] There is a huge fish in this net. It may be without question. The biggest fish you guys are ever going to see.
We gently started to pull up the net. I saw it snout its head, maybe two feet in length alone. So we're waiting for Mario to catch up.
We were checking a different net. Cameras are running. This is going to be our river monster guys. Now it's just a matter of getting it on the boat. - [Man] I'm estimating that this one is two meter. - It Could be, it could be a 250 pound fish. - [Distant Man] Giant! - Huge. Huge.
Get your camera rowdy. (group chattering) (dramatic music) - Oh my God. - [Hayden] That is a giant.
- [Host] It's okay. Don't worry about it. - [Max] We need to figure out a way, to get the lid line around it, and I need your help too. and I need your help too. can I come over here? - [Host] Yeah, let me get out of your way. I'm gonna weight the boat from the side. - It's good. Oh my God.
This is a big fish. - [Hayden] This is a huge one. - [Host] I got your leg.
I got your leg. - Oh my God. This might be the biggest fish ever. - [Host] Wow. It's a huge fish guys. (group cheering) We gotta get it up into the boat. (group chattering) Where do you want me? - Right in the middle next to us. - [Host] It's an absolute river monster.
(dramatic music) (group chattering) - You ready? One, two, three. - Yes!
(group cheering) - Holy cow. That is a river monster. It is absolutely massive. I'd slide back. Okay. Yes! Fish is secure. Oh, my, gosh! It's massive.
Absolutely massive. So right now we're getting the net off of the fish. We're going to get in your shaded areas.
Start collecting the biometrics. And we're definitely going to take a good look. This is, what river monster legends are made of. This alligator Gar, is this the biggest fish I've ever seen. No questions asked. So their namesake where it comes from that reptile you can see how closely this fish resembles a reptile of that magnitude. I'm just I'm I'm beside myself right now. This is crazy. This fish is huge.
There you go. Fish is free. Okay.
We got to get the net onto the boat here. Guys, this is, - Incredible. - And this is your last day in the field? - Our very last day. - And it may be your biggest fish. - And maybe our biggest fish. I mean to share this moment with you guys, it's. - Ha-ha-ha-ha! Wow.
I mean, This is where the legends come from. Fish of this size is what they write stories about. I can't, I never imagined we would catch one this big.
As is the case with all alligator Gar, we were quickly to collect biometric data, length, girth, identification flag, and insertion of a Micro Pit Tag. Which stands for passive integrated transponder. For clarification. This is not a tracking chip. It's an identification tag that can quickly be scanned, to ID this fish. If it is caught again in the future. Prepare to have, your mind absolutely boggled, because this is the biggest alligator Gar, we could have possibly come across. this fish measures almost eight feet in length, and is close to 220 pounds. If that doesn't define a river monster, I don't know what does.
I Can barely fit my arms all the way around it. It feels like I'm holding on to a dolphin, or probably more accurately to say, holding onto something that is a dinosaur. Remember these creatures have been on the planet, for over a hundred million years.
Look at the size of this fish's head. His jaws are massive. It's eyeballs, enormous and its skull, absolutely dwarfs my hand. When I place it up on top. The armored plating that runs down the length of this fish, is so thick, You can easily see why native Americans, turned these ganoid scales into arrowheads. In fact, you can turn this entire fishes back, into an armored breast plate if you needed to. Of course that's certainly not something, we would ever need to do. And it's probably taking this fish close to 50, if not more years, to grow to this proportion. Let me see if I can lift it up just a little bit.
under water, it is a little more buoyant. So it's a little easier. Look at the size of it.
Absolutely massive. That's taking all my strength just to get it. And when I turn it like this and look at the length of the body, look at the dorsal fin, the caudal fin, absolutely gigantic. I have never seen a creature of this magnitude. My entire life. I have, been fascinated by the alligator Gar, similar to the snapping turtle. This is a creature that was just considered a nuisance, a trash fish technically, and at one point, in time, they tried to eradicate this species, off the face of the planet. Because they had this menacing looking snout, and those big teeth, people were afraid, that a fish of this size would grab onto their legs, pull them down into the murky depths and eat them. But you can see how docile this animal truly is.
In fact, it's so docile, I'm comfortable getting, just within inches of those teeth. This is not a bloodthirsty ravenous killer. This is a gentle sentient being feasting on other fish, and doing its best to stay out of the sight of humans.
Now the biggest threat, an animal of this proportion, faces truly is man, can you fathom coming out, into the environment and shooting an animal like this, with a bow and arrow? It absolutely breaks my heart to think that these fish, are hunted for sport. Now, if we could get the Alligator Gar listed, as a game fish that would limit the number, of fish that were killed for sport, something of this magnitude is an important part, of the breeding population. This is without question a female, the females, dwarf the males in size and her genetics, that will carry on the future. Woo-hoo-hoo! Got splashed in the face there by that gulf of air. It's her genetic store carry on the future, of these fish and in a protected stretch of river like this. That is how a creature of this proportion managed, to grow this big. This is something that deserves to be living here, on our planet.
They're doing an incredibly positive thing, for the environment by balancing the ecosystem. This is considered megafauna. This is the apex predator within this river ecosystem.
And without these fish swimming freely, the river will not be in proper balance. I just Truly can't get over the size of this fish. There are virtually no words that can describe, the experience of being in the water, with an animal like this. And over the past 24 hours, we have spent a considerable amount of time, learning from the Gar guys. Here we are on our last day checking our final nets, and we managed to land a truly epic river monster. An Ancient Relic, a living dinosaur. We've collected the biometrics. And now it's time for this fish to carry on its genetic traits into the future. This has been an experience, unlike anything I have ever been a part of before.
Finally getting to see a truly monstrous size alligator Gar, in its natural habitat. I'm Katie Peterson be brave. Stay wild.
We'll see you on the next adventure, (laughing) this was something else. (upbeat music) - [woman] The current Texas state record, caught on rod and reel. Weighed 279 pounds. While the all-time world record, tips the scales at 327 pounds. Our fish measured seven feet, five inches in length, estimated weight of 220 pounds. So while we won't be awarded any Guinness accolades, I think we can all agree that this is one very big fish. - [Host] What's it like, just swimming alongside one of these giants? - Yeah it's like swimming with a dinosaur swimming with the most awesome animal on the planet. - [Host] I mean, this is a great example to show how, non-aggressive these fish are.
I mean, literally kisses this guy, this girl on the nose right now. - Nose bump. - [Host] For anybody who was afraid of, Alligator Gars, this proves right here, Max is inches away from those teeth.
No signs of aggression whatsoever. Incredible. What a sentient peaceful being unbelievable. All right, you guys ready to release the beast? - Yeah ready. Alright, here she goes, see you later big fish. - [Woman] We will never be able to convince, all archers to put down their bows, but we can lessen the number of fish they kill. To do that we need fish in wildlife management, not only in Texas, but all States to list the alligator Gar, as a game fish. What this will do is limit the number of fish, that can be harvested on a daily, and ultimately yearly basis.
It also puts restrictions, in place that will prevent the needless slaughter, of these animals during breeding season. When they're most susceptible to the atrocities of archers. I know that the fight for these regulations will anger.
Those who enjoy bow fishing, but it's important for the future of these fish, that we preserve the largest breeding individuals, as it's their genetics that will ensure this species, isn't trivet to extinction. If you want to join the fight and battle on the frontline, to the Gar Wars, I encourage you to take a stand, speak out, sign the petition that will give Alligator Gar, a game fish status, and use your internet voice to share this link, with as many people as possible. I believe that a conservation fish force has awoken, and we will make the difference that these fish, cannot (indistinct) for themselves. Together We will create a new hope for the future of these living dinosaurs. (Wolf howling)