"Monster Gar - The One That Didn't Get Away"

In 1972, the museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Mississippi, proudly presented a 196 lb, 7 1/2 ft long alligator gar for public viewing. This is the story of the two men who captured it at great personal risk and donated it to the museum without compensation or recognition.

W.C. and Dennis Strahan headed towards their nets at about 5 am this 28th of December in 1972. Long before dawn, the men were preparing to pull in the night's catch after having spent the night camped on the river bank. This area, known as Pre Eddy, is located about three miles south of Merrill on the Pascagoula River. The water depth here on this day was about 20 feet. After pulling on the first line, they knew right away that the webbing had tangled in a snag or else and enormously heavy fish was tangled in the webbing. Recalling the loud 2 a.m. disturbance they had heard from their camp in the direction of the webbings, they decided it must be the later.

Fisherman who frequent the Pascagoula River would not be overly surprised to see an alligator, alligator gar, loggerhead turtle or other such water creature at some time. And usually should one of these giants encounter a net, it will easily cut through and be gone long before the fisherman can realize his misfortune. But trying to land one of these fierce determined monsters before dawn is not a basically sound healthy idea, so W.C. and Dennis returned to await daylight. When finally enough light dawned, the men returned to the scene, curious to know just what the jackpot held.

Six o'clock on a quiet misty morning is not a particularly good time to meet a monster predator fish. Nevertheless, two surprised Strahans and one very angry alligator gar exchanged greetings, and it only took an instant to determine that the webbing had been thoroughly destroyed by the monster's futile attempt at escape. But alas, for all this great gar's determination, it had only succeeded in rendering itself powerless against its' reluctant captors by entwining the webbing tightly about its jaws and body. The men could not cut the gar free without endangering life and limb, so W.C. used an axe to kill the gar with two blows to the head. Gars are extremely tenacious of life, can live for hours out of water and even when clubbed or shot sometimes keep fighting. Luckily this gar had sapped quite a bit of its ferocious energy during its fitful night. With the monster finally subdued the men cut away most of the tangled webbing, leaving only a few lines that were entwined within its gigantic jaws and teeth. After struggling to get the giant gar balanced sideways across the boat, they took it to a tree, tied it off and slid the gar off the boat into the water.

As the men were checking on their other nets it soon became apparent that the gar had not only demolished one webbing but had reaped out more revenge by scaring off any passing fish so that there would surely be no "edible" catch this morning. After taking up the remaining nets, W.C. and Dennis headed for Wilkerson Ferry, without the gar, since they could not have safely traveled down the river with the extra load. They were on their way to tell Game Warden Herman Murrah of the catch since he had recently informed local fishermen that personnel of the Game and fish Commissiion were asked to be on the lookout for an unusual specimen of this type to enhance the museum's collection.

Several type of gars are commonly seen along the Pascagoula River, yet for all the trouble they inflict, the gars are not particularly good to eat. The heavy-set alligator gar is the giant of the tribe. It is one of the largest freshwater fish in the United States, exceeded in size only by the western sturgeons. One can notice that reference sources vary considerably when stating the maximum lengths attributed to alligator gar. This is probably so because so few have been captured and preserved. Although fishermen throughout North America could no doubt attest to having sighted alligator gars of enormous lengths, most sources note that this fish probably does not exceed lengths of ten feet.

This species has a covering of rough, heavy scale-like plates that are almost as impervious as metal. It's easy to see why these diamond shaped scales were used by some indians as arrow heads. The alligator gar was aptly name because of its powerful alligator-like mouth which features two rows of needle sharp teeth in both the upper and lower jaws. Looking like a floating log, this slow moving predator explodes into action when in reach of prey, slashing sideways with its jaws to seize whatever animal matter it encounters, dead or alive. The fierce and greedy alligator gar has been known to reap merciless havoc upon many an unlucky fisherman's nets as it helps itself to a fine catch of fish and scares off all others. Because its powerful jaws can easily cut right through almost any net, it is rare to catch a sizeable alligator gar.

After hearing of the catch, Game Warden Herman Murrah and Gary Welford returned to the scene with W.C. Strahan. Using a large fiberglass boat with a 50 HP motor, they brought the gar ashore. After several phone calls to and from the Jackson Museum, it was decided that the gar would be delivered to Jackson the next morning. The game wardens were instructed to keep the gar wrapped in a tarpoleon and packed in crushed ice until then. Warden supervisor, Willie L. Weeks, kept the gar in a 14 foot boat in his yard overnight. At 5 a.m. the next morning, he set out from Lucedale trailing the boat containing the alligator gar and arrived on what some of the museum staff would call a "Gar Day". It took the museum taxidermist no less than 4 months to complete the mounting job. Seldom has an alligator gar of this size been seen by even those who live on the Pascagoula River. Since then thousands of Mississippians have been privileged to see a huge predator whose species has occupied the waters of our earth since it's creation.

Old Wilkerson Ferry Memoirs
by J.M. McMillan

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