I’ve always found wrangling big fish exciting, but doing it from a tiny 8-foot kayak took the thrill to a whole new level. Last month, I spent an evening targeting big alligator gar with noodle lines — and what I ended up hooking pulled me a lot more than I pulled it.
I had hiked deep into the woods and tossed in some lines. Then, I went for a several-hour-long trail run in the rain waiting for the big fish to get hungry.
This video demonstrates how I make these special alligator gar noodles with details on where to find all the pieces to save money.
I use #60 330-pound test nylon rope tied to a 10-inch piece of pool noodle with a 200-pound wrap-around snap swivel on the end. Attached to the snap is a 3-foot, 175-pound 49-strand wire leader with a super strong 2/0 treble hook.
I find my lines made with 12 to 15 feet of nylon do best in the 30- to 60-foot deep areas I often fish. Whole full grown mullet are my bait of choice.
I created a stringing tool from a piece of a broken fishing rod. I just clip off most of one guide, which leaves a nice fork for the top of the leader to hold onto while pushing the leader through the fish starting from the head. This leaves the hook perfectly hidden within the mullet’s mouth.
To catch these mammoth alligator gar consistently, you have to have a strong but fairly small treble hook that’s easily swallowed. Their ultra-hard, boney mouths make hooking them anywhere else very tough. The gar often chew on their food for 5 to 10 minutes before eating it, so having the hook hidden well is very important.
Sure enough, after the rain let off my wife and I went to look at the lines from the bank, and one was tugging.
I paddled to it in my kayak and landed a nice 4 ½-foot gar with ease. I use an offshore rod and reel to play out the fish and fight it before pulling it to the ‘yak. I usually snag the nylon string with a heavy bucktail jig on my rod and reel to get a feel for the size of the fish and to wear it down, and then eventually hook the snap swivel on my noodle line with the jig to get it under control.
Years back I found out the hard way that pulling in a noodle by hand without a rod and reel with a good drag system can lead to a big fish flipping my tiny vessel. Now my kayak is outfitted with four custom boat floats that add both flotation and stability. Another advantage to the rod and reel option is the ability to really wear the fish down with the drag, which makes catching-and-releasing big gars safer and easier.
After tending to the first fish, my wife was filming from the bank and hollered that another one of my noodles had just starting going under.
I paddled out to the darting noodle with the first garfish between my legs and hooked onto it when it resurfaced. My pulls on the rod did nothing more than engage the beast in a tug-of-war that the fish was clearly winning.
I was getting drug all over the place, but after 10 minutes I finally had the fish near the surface, but I still could not see it. Suddenly, I glimpsed the big gar for the first time and its massive tail came up and slapped my boat. It was three times heavier than my 'yak and the 6-foot fish was longer than me.
Finally, I brought it back up from the 50-foot depths. When I got a good look at the head, I shot the big fish with my .22 pistol. After two shots to the skull, the big gar only seemed to fight with more power.
All I had were three rounds left in the gun, and it took all three of those bullets to finish it off for good.
I knew one wrong move could slice me open badly because the fish was still thrashing from time to time, but my poor kayak was floating off in the current and the fish was starting to sink.
I flipped the big 6-footer across my lap and slowly paddled to shore, barely staying afloat with a beast I’ll never forget.
Soon after, I saw yet another noodle darting across the water, but it was closer to the bank. I threw out my pole and cranked in another gar around 6 feet long. This area of the bank was nearly 3 feet underwater, so it was a challenge to get the fish subdued while standing, but eventually I was able to land it.
I had a load of quality meat to eat, and kept the skull from the biggest one for a cool bone mount.
Here’s my garfish video from last year that shows how I clean these big fish quickly out in the field using only a machete.
Often when I return from a saltwater trip with many fresh mullet caught in my cast net, I pre-string them on the steel leaders before freezing. This way, when I go gar fishing, I simply thaw out the bait, clip the leader onto my noodles and toss them out.
As always, my adventures continue to get wilder and wilder — but in my view these crazy paddle-powered pursuits only get more fun every time.