Arkansas Part 1: The First Installment of our Alligator Gar Series
Arkansas was the hardest state we faced the entire trip, and we were to spend a LOT of time there, visit 3 times, criss-cross the entire state from East to West, and meet anyone and everyone interested in fishing, from River Monsters experts to the Governor of the Arkansas.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy. The closest they have to a state fish is the Alligator Gar, and in the Arkansas river systems they are much rarer than they used to be, due to overfishing. The Alligator Gar isn't a typical state fish - rather it was designated in 2019 as the official Primitive State Fish after an 18 month campaign (#garkansas) from an 11 year old boy called Henry Foster. Thanks for the tough fish, Henry!
We tried to find information online, but there was very little we could find. We drove around to different bait and tackle shops all over the eastern half of the state, but received no helpful information. It seemed that no one, or at least none of the bait shop owners, ever really cared to target these massive gar. We reached out to the Game and Fish department for some information, and were told our best bet from shore would be at the first dam on the Arkansas river. That was the only recommendation we had received, so we went for it, fishing all day and long into the night for a week.
One of the days, our tire blew out, and we realized that we didn’t have a spare. We had to call a tow truck, and it was a Saturday, and apparently everything is closed on Saturdays in rural Arkansas. So we had to get towed to Walmart, and hope that their auto center had the tire we needed. They did not, and said the earliest we could get one would be in several days. It was looking like we were going to be stuck in the parking lot for two days at minimum, but Daniel decided to go walk to a tire shop who didn’t have their hours listed online, and sure enough they were open and had the correct tire. So we got back out on the road after only a few hours' delay.
The fishing was not successful however. The only thing we caught were a couple blue and channel catfish. Not even a hint of anything bigger. We spent nearly two weeks fishing 12 hours a day in thunderstorms and other inclement weather, and day after day we were unsuccessful. Our nightly spot at the Walmart in Stuttgart, Arkansas began to feel like home, and we even start to meet some of the parking lot "locals". The same routine for over a week, day in and day out, and we began to get a little frustrated.
We eventually got in contact with a gar expert, who told us that we would be extremely lucky to catch one before the weather warmed up in late spring. and so we decided that we were just burning time by fishing for them while they were in hibernation.
Even though we didn’t catch our fish, and the weather wasn’t exactly cooperative, it was still a great time and saw some unusual sights. We saw more armadillos than we could count, drove past people with Emus running around in their front yards, and saw flocks of birds that seemed to never end. Eastern Arkansas is a wild place, largely untouched by development, and it was great to be able to experience that.