THE GAR THAT WOULDN’T DIE
Catching a fish for art doesn’t go as planned BY MARK SPITZER
’ve caught gar all over the world, and I always release them when I can. Still, I have killed gar for food and in the name of science, usually for data-gathering purposes with state and federal agencies. But the time I killed a gar for art…well, I’m still trying to make sense of that. I’d met this professional print artist at a fisheries conference, and I was really impressed by his rockfish and amberjack prints. I asked him if he’d ever made a print of a gar. He said no, but that he’d always wanted to, so I told him I’d get him one. My trotline on Lake Conway became an obsession. Sunset after sunset I checked for gar, and after weeks had gone by the float was bouncing as we paddled up. My wife, Lea, was in the front of the canoe, and I was in back looking down on a beautiful spotted gar shimmering copper in the dusk. It was just over two feet long: the perfect size. “It’s such a pretty fish,” Lea advocated for the gar, “It wants to live.” “Nope,” I remained firm; “This is the one.” After I unhooked it, it seemed calm enough, just lying there. So as the sun sank behind the cypresses, we watched the yellowy orange of the horizon and enjoyed a couple of gin and tonics, until wham! The gar exploded, leaping three feet into the air and slapping all around. On its way up, it managed to chomp me a good one in the shin, and on the way down it whacked my drink out of my hand. I found myself wrestling it as it went berserk, 12 | FISH ARKANSAs
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knocking tackle all over the place and causing general chaos. By the time I finally pinned it down, I was bleeding from four spots on my leg and my palms were cut up from contact with the razor-sharp scales. “See?” Lea tried again, “it wants to live.” But that gar was destined to be art, so I did what I thought had to be done. Lea turned away, and there was a split second, with its eyes pleading up at me, that my gut questioned what the rest of my body was doing. The blade, however, found its mark, and the deed was done. “Can you pour me another gin and tonic?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. Then five minutes later, the same thing again: Eruption of gar! Tail smacking! Teeth flashing! Slime slinging! And again, my gin and tonic landed in the bottom of the boat. “Awww, man,” I said, and opened my knife again. I redid what I’d already done, not seeing how the second time was going to make it any different. Still, that’s what I did, and then we headed in. Now I had to wash the gar and wrap it up. Following the directions I’d been given, I used multiple layers of tinfoil and duct tape and at least three garbage bags. The artist had told me to protect the fins, so I’d even strapped it to a board. And, as I did all this, the gar would sometimes flex its length or spastically flap a pectoral fin, even though it was technically dead. Continued on page 14
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARK SPITZER
After being skunked earlier in the season, Mark was out to catch and release as many large gar as possible on his recent fishing trip to the Trinity River in Texas.