Paul Woods - The Gar Story

Oct 05, 2014

Richard Woods, one Inman Brother, the gar with Charlie Woods (dad) hand on the gar, Columbus Clark in the background, and the other Inman brother. My dad was six feet tall. The scales on the gar were larger than a half-dollar.

The famous alligator gar story all started one afternoon after my dad got home from work. There were several boys swimming in the “ole swimming hole” across the river from our house on North Riverview on the East Side of Poplar Bluff. All at once some cussing broke out loud enough for dad to hear.

He hollered across the river for them not to use that kind of language and was promptly informed by a young voice, “If you could see what we see, you’d cuss too.” The voice came from the big birch tree that hung out over the water that was used as a diving board.

Shortly after that, dad could hear the fish coming to the top and rolling, making quite a bit of racket. He made up his mind to do something about that creature.

That weekend he borrowed a high-powered rifle (I think it was a 44-40) and got what shells that Lee Trout had. It was during WWII and ammunition was all kinds of scarce. Two shells was all that Trout could find and dad took them, figuring to do the best he could with what he had.

We had a small cypress boat that dad used to cross the river and climbed up the diving tree. Meanwhile, my brother Richard and I took off up the river as I paddled him fly fishing.

We got up to White Row when we heard the first rifle shot. We turned our boat around and headed back downriver. Then we heard the second shot and hurried down to where dad was waiting. He had hit the gar and it left a trail of air bubbles wherever it went. It finally stopped in an underwater log pile and dad instructed Richard to go to the house and get his gig.

We headed back to where dad had put a shot into the big gar and it could be followed as it swam up and down the river leaving a trail of bubbles. Dad had put one of the two shots into the fish’s floater and one of us went up to our house to get our gig.  Our house sat on the river side of the street which made it handy for anyone in the family to fish.  I usually tell people that we lived close enough to throw a rock into the river from our front porch, and with a good arm you could.

The gar was coming to the top of the water and rolling and then it would go downstream again.  After dad got the gig, he got close to the fish and planted the gig as hard as he could.  It was a three pronged gig and that is when the action got good.

There was a heavy trotline cord tied onto the gig handle and it ran from the prongs to the end of the handle.  Dad held onto the gig and in the fish’s haste to get away, snapped the head off of the gig.  Dad swapped ends and wound up with a big fish on a line with the gig handle acting as the fishing pole.  Up and down the river it pulled the light cypress boat like a motorboat and dad knew he needed something else to subdue the monster.

He called for me to get his shotgun which I did and also all the shells I could find.  In the meantime, the Inman brothers, who were fishing down the river and upon hearing all the commotion paddled up to join the effort.

Every time that someone could pull the gar up to the top, dad would unload a shot from his shotgun.  After shooting the gar in the same spot 13 times, there was just a small patch where the scales were knocked off.

Next thing on the agenda was for me or Richard to go get a gig from either Mr. Gulley or Mr. Mansfield who were our neighbors.  One of them had a big five-prong with a heavy handle.  The fish had settled in a log pile and everyone thought it was probably under a log.  When dad felt around and located the fish with the gig, he let it go into the fish as hard as he could.

Now, there were two gigs lodged in the fish and with one in each boat, the fish could be handled.  It came out of the log pile and was brought to the top.

At the bank near where they had the fish on top of the water, there was a small washed out place on the bank and they led the fish there with the intentions of getting it out alive.  Dad later said he wanted to get a watering tank and keep the fish alive.

With the fish thrashing around and snapping its jaws like an alligator, Columbus Clark who was on the Poplar Bluff police force at the time, was on his way home for lunch.  He lived a block away from the activity and he stopped to see what was going on.  In his opinion, someone could get hurt and he got his pistol and shot the gar between the eyes.  That was the end of the fight, but not the end of the show.

The fish was brought up to our front yard and hung on a set of cotton scales and it weighed 135 pounds. It measured 6 ½ feet long.  It didn’t take very long for word to spread and people came by in droves to see the monster fish.

Someone asked me if we had filleted it and I told them that there wasn’t a bite wasted.  When the fish was cleaned, everyone that wanted some took some home and later reported that it was as good as any fish they had ever eaten.

In the fish’s stomach there was half of a buffalo fish which looked like it would weigh about 20 pounds.  Someone asked me recently if the fishing got any better and I said, “No, we knew all the good spots so that gar didn’t make any difference.”

Someone had contacted Bob Stanard of the Daily American Republic and he took the picture that we have.  There have been many copies made and the Missouri Department of Conservation recently wanted information about the fish and they have a copy of the articles I recently published in my Ridge Runner Column.  They also have a picture.

On a final note, this wasn’t the biggest gar seen in the Black River. One, reportedly as long as a boat (12-14 feet), was spotted in some deep water at Big Eddy in Black River.