You almost never hear of someone being excited about visiting Dallas. I however am an exception, because I wanted a chance to fish for gar in the Trinity River, just like the saint of Fishing Team, River Monsters’ Jeremy Wade.
People talk about the Trinity River the same way shamanistic tribesman talk about the ritualistically unclean. Maybe it’s the multiple health advisories against eating fish caught in the river. Maybe it’s the stories of dead horses and human bodies found sunk along its murky bottom. Or maybe it’s just because the Trinity River serves to divide Dallas into the part that has money and the part that doesn’t.
There’s no denying that it’s a beguiling area. The levees enclose a flood plain that is part park and greenbelt and part unmanaged grassland. And all within sight of downtown Dallas.
I started out easy, setting out three of my poles along the bank. One I rigged for carp, using canned fruit cocktail I bought at a convenience store over on the bad side of the levee. Carp like fruit cocktail don’t they?
The other two got cutbait to lure gar and catfish. These were pieces of under-sized sunfish I had caught one day on Lady Bird Lake and left in the freezer for opportunities such as this. They had been frozen when I left Austin, but after a few hours in a ziplock bag in the Dallas sun, my supposed cutbait began to flake off the bone of its own volition.
Once the poles were rigged and the bait lay on the bottom of the river, waiting for passing monsters, I thought I would spend some time with a little miniature crankbait. My suspicion that I would find bass near the structure, which in this case meant an abandoned tire, was rewarded by an undersized largemouth whose brown coloring made him almost invisible against the turgid water.
But I wasn’t there for the bass. I wanted a gar who would strike fear in the hearts of lesser fishermen. So I broke my camp and worked my way upstream through the semi-grassland to a confluence with a smaller stream. Okay, it wasn’t a stream, it was an urban outflow. But there were indeed plenty of gar there. I would see them from time to time, breaching along the far bank, their giant dirty fins breaking the surface.
Every five to ten minutes, one would pick up my cutbait. It would jingle my little bell and the line would play out. I would give it a moment or two, and then pull hard on the line.
Only to get nothing at all.
After further research, I learned that this was very normal behavior for gar. They’ll pick up a meal with the very tip of the their toothy beak, and then swim around with it like labradors for a very long time. As much as five minutes or more, and if you try to set the hook they will simply let go.
And how do I know that it was a gar that picked up my bait? Because I could clearly see the imprint left behind by its mouth.