Gar guide Scott Meshell of South Texas Bowfishing has put clients on longer alligator gar in his career, but he’s never wrangled one heavier than the 271-pound giant he helped three men boat on July 17. The fish stretched 7-feet, 11-inches, with a girth of 48 inches, and at just 19 pounds shy of the Texas bowfishing record, it’s right there with some of the biggest gar ever taken in the state.
“We got really lucky with this fish,” Meshell tells Field & Stream. “The water is so low right now due to drought that there has been almost no big-fish activity. You’d think low water would concentrate fish more, but in those conditions, the water gets extremely hot, which usually pushes the fish into deeper holes where they seek cooler water, and as a result, you see less activity on the surface.”
Most of the shots bowfishermen take on gar happen when a fish rises to breathe, Meshell notes. An alligator gar’s swim bladder is connected to its pharynx by a pneumatic duct, which enables the fish to supplement oxygen intake by gulping air at the surface. These splashy topwater rolls help gar survive in water with very low oxygen levels and give bowfishermen their best chance for a good shot—if all goes well.
“There are days when they just float up to the surface and open their mouths to get air, and they may sit there for a couple of seconds before floating back down,” Meshell says. “Then there are days when they come up 100 miles an hour, gulp air, and they’re gone before you can even think about pulling your bow back. With this fish, we were very lucky, because it floated up fairly slow. The fish’s back was still out of the water when my clients shot.”
Luck played a role, but so did Meshell’s careful observation of gar habits, which he has honed over a lifetime of stalking the fish. Now in his 50s, he’s chased alligator gar since he was a teenager.
Timing the Roll for a Chance at a Shot
Meshell was guiding John Jackson, Tim Selvidge, and LG Selvidge on a South Texas water body the guide prefers not to disclose. LG’s young son, Jax, was also along for the ride. They were working methodically through some of the deeper holes that Meshell knows, waiting for gar to come up for air. They got their first glimpse of the 271-pounder when it rolled behind the boat.
“I knew right away it was a giant,” Meshell says. “Something I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes they roll only one time, but sometimes they kind of get in a little pattern of rolling, where they’ll do it every few minutes. So I timed this one to see if it was gonna roll more than once.”
When Meshell thought the time was right for the fish to surface again, he eased back through the hole where they’d first spotted it. “A big gar rolled just out of bow range,” he says. “It was pretty close to her size, and I almost thought it was her. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, so I told the guys just to stay ready, because I didn’t think it was the same fish. Within seconds, the big one rolled within 8 to 10 feet of the boat straight in front of us.”
John Jackson and Tim Selvidge each put one arrow in the gar, “and that’s where it got fun,” Meshell says. “We had two arrows in the fish, but that doesn’t always mean you’re gonna get it.”
The gar dove, but the fishermen were able to work it back near the surface briefly. “Then it ran again really hard and pulled one of the arrows,” Meshell recounts. “At that point, I knew we had a giant fish with only one arrow in it, and I didn’t know how good that arrow was in. So we took our time fighting the fish—it seemed like a lifetime, but it was probably 8 to 10 minutes—and worked it back up near the surface. At that point, I was the only one who could see the fish under the water, so I put another arrow in. After another run, we got it back up and John and LG put two more in to make sure . We had a total of four arrows in by the end.”
The Heaviest Gar of a 10-Year Guiding Career
When they finally got the big gar into the boat, everyone went crazy at first, Meshell says. “Lots of high fives, whooping and hollering. And then it got silent. The shock kicked in. Everyone just kind of stood looking at this giant fish, their hands shaking with all the adrenaline. That lasted several minutes.”
In 10 years of guiding, Meshell has had four clients shoot 8-footers. He has shot four himself, and his wife has shot an 8-footer as well. But boating his heaviest client fish ever was special thrill. Complicated, but special. “As a business owner, seeing my customers shoot a fish that big is one of the highlights of my guiding career so far,” Meshell says. “It was just amazing. It’s hard to describe how happy I was.
“But as a bowfisherman myself, I was jealous,” he adds, laughing. “That’s a lot heavier fish than I’ve ever shot. So there’s two sides of it, you know?”