Amos Tuck's odyssey: Day 18
I have only traveled around 190 miles, but the change in the rivers makes it seem much farther. The Conasauga was a lightly-used and hidden treasure, but here where Weiss Dam spreads the Coosa into Weiss Lake, the water is filled with people enjoying the river. And, the recreation of choice is fishing.
Today, I joined them, “hooking up” with expert gar angler Zack Williams. I have seen hundreds of gar during my odyssey.
Many people dismiss them as “trash fish.” They are often found in habitats where oxygen levels in the water are very low — in places where other oxygen-sensitive species can’t survive. Because of this many anglers unwittingly label gar as nuisance fish that prey on and eliminate all other fish. In reality, they have a unique adaptation that enables them to obtain oxygen from a swim bladder as well as their gills.
Their long snout filled with needle-sharp teeth, their armor-like scales, their bony heads and their large size (they can grow to as long as six feet in length) have also played into their reputation of being “monsters.” They are, in fact, prehistoric in character, having changed little since the day of the dinosaurs.
As for taste … when cooked up properly, I believe they are quite palatable (except for their eggs, which are toxic). There is nothing quite like fried gar nuggets with hot sauce.
Obsessed with catching one of these dinosaurs, I enlisted the help of Williams. They are difficult to catch, in part because you don’t use hooks since they are ineffective in their bony, teeth-filled mouth. Instead, we employed frayed nylon rope — which entangles their teeth when they hit the lure.
We had a few bites, but the gar wouldn’t commit. Finally, miles of paddling had to take precedence over my gar adventure.
As I paddled down river and talked to other anglers, I learned they were having similar luck. But none of them seemed to mind. My favorite phrase is, “It’s called fishing not catching.”
I have been asked if I was eating the fish I caught on this trip. The answer is that I don’t really have time to prepare the fish at night. That question is then followed with “then why are you fishing?” To that my answer is: “for the thrill of reeling in a fish.”
But that is not entirely true. That would be catching; I am fishing. Really, I am just trying to become a part of that underwater world. If I’m lucky enough to catch fish, I then get to admire part of that underwater world. Fishing lets us experience nature and, if we are lucky, see what is ordinarily hidden from sight.