What makes a fish worthy of being called a trophy?
That’s a question that requires a nuanced answer. Many factors must be considered: Is the fish a record-breaker or a personal best? Was the catch symbolic to the angler? Does it serve as a token of remembrance for a spectacular fight or a special time or event in life?
In addition to any other exceptional qualities the fish may have, a trophy fish must be unique in some way, and uniqueness is rare.
Many times, a fish is a trophy solely for its rarity. On July 10, Hunter Meche, a 19-year-old bowfisherman from Arnaudville, killed a trophy gar that became a sensation on social media. You’d think he’d landed a blue whale based on the attention the fish got, but the fish was only 18 inches long and 3 inches in diameter.
“Wait, didn’t you say it was a trophy?” Absolutely. This particular gar was bright orange, some might even call it golden. Nuance.
Find clear water
Meche and a friend, Jake Brasseux, were on the water by 6 a.m., excited about a day of bowfishing in Henderson Swamp, a popular part of the Atchafalaya Basin. But their spirits sank quickly. The water was muddy, an obstacle for most types of fishing, an end-of-days scenario for bowfishing.
The week before, they’d scouted areas they planned to fish, but conditions were dramatically different.
“The water level had dropped,” Meche said. The swamp was soupy with mud. “We spent half the day searching for clear water holding fish.”
At spot after spot, however, the fishermen found murky disappointment.
“None of the spots where we’d spied carp was fishable with a bow,” Meche said. “The water was too muddy; it really put a damper on things.”
Eventually, Meche and Brasseux decided to head to an area that had produced for them last year.
“When we got there (at noon), we saw immediately that the water was clearer,” Meche said.
They were on a main lake in the swamp. Ahead, a point jutted towards them where two small canals cut away to the left and the right into the woods. They trolled the bank into the canal to the right of the point.
“I saw some small gar, but I held back, waiting for a shot at something larger,” Meche said, hopefully, a carp.
Something strange in the water
As the boat edged around a little bend, Meche saw something: a light-colored, pinkish anomaly in the shadow of cypress trees and low clumps of willow, 12 yards from where he stood on the boat.
About the time Meche realized what he was seeing, the gar must have sensed what was afoot. It started to spook.
“Man, I think that’s an albino,” Meche said. “Man, that’s an albino gar!”
The muscles beneath the gar’s bony armor flexed. Its head jerked.
Brasseux yelled across the boat: “Shoot it!”
Meche lifted his bow, an RPM Nitro outfitted with a MegaMouth reel. He drew, anchored at full draw, and aimed.
Now, when bowfishing, you’ve got to account for the water’s effect on the trajectory of the arrow. The deeper the fish, the more adjustment you’ve got to make to your aim.
“I find myself aiming 6 feet below a fish sometimes,” Meche said, “but to kill this fish, I only had to aim about 2 or 3 feet low.”
The bright, orange gar wasn’t terribly deep, but it was a small target. There was very little room for error.
“So… I swung an arrow at it, and smoked it,” Meche said. “Jake and I were excited when we got the fish to the boat; we knew we’d landed something very uncommon,” Meche said. “At that point, it was clear that it wasn’t an albino.”
A little digging on his phone confirmed it was a rare fish. He removed the arrow as gently as he could, and put the strange gar into a bucket.
“Jake and I high-fived and continued to shoot fish,” he said.
Had Meche not posted pictures of the fish on Facebook, the story would have ended with the wacky colored gar in the bucket, but the tale of the orange gar was not over. In the end, landing the fish was only the beginning of the story.
“We were cleaning fish over at Jake’s house when Facebook blew up,” Meche said. “I’d posted pictures of the gar on a couple of Louisiana fishing pages just before we got started, and the reaction was almost instantaneous.”
Once it got going, it didn’t stop. Meche’s phone was set to vibrate, and he thought it might blow up.
“I had to turn off notifications from Facebook. Everybody was freaking out, liking it, commenting about it, sharing it.… I watched ‘like’ after ‘like’ roll in; everyone was amazed by the fish, and they told me how special it is.”
Meche is having the unique orange fish mounted. He should. It was a rare and special kill — a fish of a lifetime and a trophy by any definition.
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