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With World-Record Catch, Texas Guide Champions Catch and Release for Alligator Gar

Gars' reputations are changing from so-called trash fish to a special, treasured (massive dinosaur) fish species.

With World-Record Catch, Texas Guide Champions Catch and Release for Alligator Gar

Kentucky angler Art Weston is no stranger to the International Game Fish Association record book. But with this 283-pound alligator gar caught at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in southeast Texas on Sept. 2, 2023, he may have caught the all-tackle world record for the species. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Kirkland)

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Earlier this month, an all-tackle world record that has stood since Harry S. Truman was President fell when Kentucky angler Art Weston traveled to southeast Texas and landed an alligator gar for the ages while fishing with Capt. Kirk Kirkland.

That world-class catch at Sam Rayburn Reservoir happened on Labor Day weekend when Weston, who was targeting the six-pound line-class world record alligator gar, actually ended up shattering the 72-year-old all-tackle world record for the species when he landed an incredible 283-pound alligator gar on Sept. 2 aboard Kirland’s guide boat, the “Garship Enterprise.” 

Estimated to be at least 80-years old by the longtime East Texas guide—which means the pending new-record 100-inch-long 48-inch-around gar was likely alive seven decades ago when the current IGFA world record gator gar was caught. It is currently under review by the International Game Fish Association.

It stands poised to break the IGFA all-tackle world record and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rod-and-reel state record. The holder of both of those records for the moment is the alligator gar caught on Dec. 2, 1951 when angler Vill Valverde fished the banks of the Rio Grande River.

What’s more, Weston’s recent alligator gar catch is also likely the second largest freshwater fish ever confirmed as a rod-and-reel catch in the U.S., falling only behind a 468-pound white sturgeon that is the all-tackle record for the species in the IGFA record books. That behemoth, which had a length of nine feet and a girth of five feet, was landed by Joey Pallotta III in San Pablo Bay, California on July 9, 1983 in a battle that lasted a reported five hours for a fish that was estimated to be 100-years old.

Kirkland has been on the lookout for this alligator gar for years, having learned to fish for them as a young man after his dad opened up a fish market near the Trinity River. Since those early days, he has been a full-time guide for alligator gar in southeast Texas since the late 1990s after a European client contacted him and wanted to catch the fish on a rod-and-reel in the famed river system. 

In the years since, Kirkland has become perhaps the world’s foremost angling experts for the species, running as many as 250 guide trips a year on waters like the Trinity River, Sam Rayburn, Lake Livingston, Choke Canyon Reservoir, and even Falcon International Reservoir on the U.S./Mexico border. He’s also been the subject of numerous magazine articles, newspaper stories, and TV shows, including In-Fisherman TV …more on that in a moment.

The latest chapter in Kirkland’s ongoing quest came with Weston’s monster catch at Big Sam earlier this month, a 114,500-acre reservoir south of Nacogdoches that is normally thought of as one of the nation’s premiere fisheries for big largemouth bass. Shortly after the big gar catch, Kirkland wowed even die-hard bass anglers when he posted the news on his Facebook page.




world-record alligator gar
How big is the 283-pound alligator gar landed on Sept. 2, 2023 by Kentucky angler Art Weston as he fished with gar guide Capt. Kirk Kirkland at Sam Rayburn Reservoir? It’s one of the largest rod-and-reel caught freshwater fish of all-time in North America, apparently falling only behind a 468-pound white sturgeon caught in 1983. Weston's gar was 100 inches in length and 48 inches in girth. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Kirkland)

“What a unbelievable fish the new pending IGFA ALL TACKLE WORLD RECORD ALLIGATOR GAR  the holy grail of the fishing world and we did it on 6 lb line,” said the post. “What a accomplishment, lots of blood ,sweat and tears (and broken line) went into this achievement. Angler and world record chaser Art Weston and I did what no other alligator gar angler has been able to accomplish in 72 years .... catch a fish bigger than the all tackle world record set so many years ago on the bank of the Rio Grande River.

“Thanks for all my sponsors and clients who have become friends, for without your support and continued belief in me this wouldn't have been possible,” Kirkland continued. “283 lb alligator gar 100 inches long by 48 inch girth. God is great.”

If Weston’s name seems familiar, it should be since the Union, Ky. resident is no stranger to the IGFA record books either, currently having 23 current world record catches in the book, along with a career total of 55 IGFA record catches over the years.

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Weston also has three current line-class IGFA world record alligator gar marks in the 2023 IGFA World Record Game Fishes book. And he’s also got another one pending from a 251-pound catch earlier this year with Kirkland as the pair fished in the Trinity River that flows between Dallas and Houston.

In 2022, Kirkland actually guided Weston to the two-pound line class record in the IGFA record book, thanks to a two-and-a-half-hour-long battle for a 110-pound gator gar specimen caught at Choke Canyon Reservoir near Corpus Christi. 

Perhaps even more amazing than the catch of this pending IGFA world record alligator gar is the passion and commitment that Kirkland has for a species that some consider to be a so-called trash fish. 

While some might bristle at such an idea, Texas allows a regulated daily harvest for the species. While there are some harvest exceptions (which can happen during certain times and places where spawning activities may be occurring, at Falcon International Reservoir and on the Trinity River, the Lone Star State allows a daily bag limit of one alligator gar of any size otherwise. 

The Austin-based agency also notes that if taken by bowfishing means, "Gar may not be released back into the water after being taken with lawful archery equipment." (Link:  ).

Kirkland is committed to catch-and-release practices for alligator gar, with the guide believing that these big, old fish–freshwater dinosaurs, really–are worthy of a little TLC. And as he preaches the gospel of catch-and-release for alligator gar, others are joining in the chorus.

The guide readily admits that he has seen the light himself when it comes to alligator gar, changing the very practices that occur aboard his own boat. Like the old gospel-song writer once penned, Kirkland was once lost, but now he is found…on the side of those who take extra care when they catch one of these special fish.

"I started catching these fish when I was young, and I sold those fish by taking them to market," said Kirkland. "When Jack came (Kirkland's first client from Europe), we started talking about these fish as something special. When Doug Stange (longtime In-Fisherman editor and TV show host, who caught a 240-pounder on film with Kirkland back in 2005) came down and filmed that show, we started talking about all of that even more."

Kirkland was featured in In-Fisherman magazine the next year, and since that cover story, he’s been in 43 different magazines in the U.S. and Europe, as well as appearing on 73 fishing programs at last count. Something tells me those numbers will go up after this latest catch and release of a world-class gator gar.

Over time, Kirkland has seen the overall angling conversation change from so-called trash fish to a special, treasured fish. So much so that the catch-and-release guide stays booked up from March into November each year, and he's already half-booked for 2024. The reason is a chance to catch 25-plus alligator gar a day, sometimes as many as 50 or 60, and some weighing well in excess of 100 pounds. 

If the numbers above represent an average day, there's the occasionally extraordinary day too, including one unforgettable outing last month where his clients caught 293 fish in four days, the biggest being 140 pounds. And once upon a time, he had clients aboard that hooked 327 fish in a similar stretch, landing 73 of them.

That's why Kirkland is so committed to catch-and-release with these prehistoric-looking fish in a fishery that is world-class and then some. He has seen first-hand that it works, tagging more than 3,500 alligator gar earlier in the 21st century for TPWD, catching many of those fish again in the years since then.

"It takes a generation to change the mindset of people," said Kirkland. "It's true that people once called them trash fish, but they aren’t. That fish that Art caught the other day would most likely be 80 or 90 years old. If you kill that fish, you'll never replace it in your lifetime and those are the genetics you want to pass along.

"I know some people like to bowfish for these fish, and I don’t mind that, although I do wonder why you would ever want to kill (more than one every so often). In a lot of places where the whitetail hunting is good, hunters get one (buck) a year. Those big bucks live only five to 10 years, and these big dinosaurs live 70 or 80 years and that's why I champion catch-and-release with them.”

As perhaps the nation’s foremost authority on catching—and releasing—these cool fish that can live for decades, Kirkland says that while Weston’s catch is near the top end of the growth spectrum, it might not be the ceiling for the species either. 

Texas longnose gar
While the recent pending world-record alligator gar came from Sam Rayburn Reservoir, waters all over Texas teem with alligator gar and longnose gar. Guide Kirk Kirkland has become one of the nation’s leading guides for alligator gar. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Kirkland)

In fact, according to TPWD's Fishing Records web page, an "other methods" alligator gar even bigger than Weston's recent one was landed on a trotline in the Nueces River on Jan. 1, 1953, a 302-pounder caught by T.C. Pierce, Jr. And in the 21st Century, a 290-pound alligator gar was arrowed by bow angler Marty McClellan in the Trinity River on July 8, 2001.

Kirkland says that he has seen bigger gator gar during his years, including a 102-inch specimen caught in his boat last year. But since the gear being used didn’t meet IGFA regulations for a record fish application, the potential world record couldn’t be claimed. He also was a part of an even bigger catch of a gator gar into the 300-plus-pound range back in the 1990s, long before he knew much about the record catches, record-book regulations, and why these fish are so special.

While he acknowledges that the envelope likely can’t be pushed much further for alligator gar, the tantalizing prospect of another one will keep him going. And pushing for anglers to quit giving the alligator gar the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, realizing instead how truly special the freshwater dinosaurs really are.

"Any fish that gets that big and that old, we need to take care of,” said Kirkland. “They are really cool, we have one of the largest freshwater fish in the world here in Texas, and we have them in our backyard."

Because right now, Capt. Kirk Kirkland is in hog heaven. Or more accurately, in alligator gar heaven. 


Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor with Outdoor Sportsman Group.

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