Even for an expert in catching world-record fish, this one was special: a freshwater specimen nearly 8 feet long from a river in Texas.
Art Weston has made a specialty of setting International Game Fish Association records. In fact, the massive alligator gar was one of six potential IGFA record fish Weston caught on a recent trip to the Trinity River, including a 142-pound alligator gar on 50-pound test, and a 191-pounder on 130-pound line.
He caught the big fish – 7.5 feet long and 251 pounds – on 80-pound braid. “It was easier to catch than the 102-pound fish on 2-pound line, I can tell you that,” which he did Oct. 1, 2022, he said.
A Gar Fishing Record Setter
Weston, who lives in Union, Kentucky, and manages the artificial intelligence department for a bank, already has a long list of IGFA records, including six that are pending. If they and his most recent submissions are all certified, his total will be 46. And counting.
“I think probably record fish are caught every day, but people don’t know that they’re records, or know the rules for submitting them,” he told Sport Fishing magazine.
Weston is obviously a serious angler, and fishes where the big fish are, including Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil. He also knows the requirements for certifying a catch and has the gear and equipment to satisfy them. For example, while big alligator gar are caught on the Trinity River all the time, most of them are caught on baited treble hooks — and that’s against the IGFA rules. Weston fishes for them with J hooks.
Along with knowing the IGFA rules inside out, he’s made a hobby of assessing things like line breaking strength, hook strength, the effects of abrasion. “I actually have a digital force gauge in my house,” he said. “I make hundreds and hundreds of leaders every year. All of that I did to have an advantage in record hunting.”
Weston even shares his know-how on his YouTube channel, Analytic Angling.
A Surprise Bite from a Record Gar
The big gar took a piece of carp on the Trinity on April 16. Weston was fishing from shore with Capt. Kirk Kirkland, who’s landed thousands of the big fish as a commercial fisherman and a guide. The fish never set off the rod’s alarm; Weston had only picked up the rod to re-cast when he discovered he had hooked up.
You don’t fight a fish like that standing on the bank. Weston and Capt. Kirk boarded the Garfish Enterprise, Kirkland’s custom-built, flat-bottomed Weldbilt, and pursued the big gal on the river. The fight was a relatively brief 25 minutes. Kirkland saw the fish first. “He just yelled out, ‘That’s the one, that’s the one you want,’” Weston recalled. “I’m like, ‘Is it big?” and he’s like, ‘it’s huge.’”
They both thought they might have caught an actual alligator, which are common in the area. “It pulled the boat in circles,” Weston said. The gar surfaced, Kirkland got a lasso around it (permitted by IGFA), and they towed it to shore, hauled it up to the game tripod on the bank, weighed and measured it, and released it back to the river.
“It had a lot of fight left in it,” Weston said. “It just happened to surface and Kirk was fast enough to get the lasso around it. We were very fortunate to land it fast. It wasn’t out of the water for more than five minutes, and they’re air breathers. It was released alive and well with no issues.”
The current IGFA 80-pound-test record for alligator gar is 132 pounds, set by Jennifer Schall in the same river in 2021. The all-tackle IGFA record for alligator gar is 279 pounds, set way back in 1951.
Careful Selection Leads to More Records
Not all of Weston’s records are enormous fish. He picks his battles, seeking species that aren’t well represented on the IGFA lists. For example, the IGFA recently determined that Alabama bass were misclassified and wiped out all the records. The fish in question is now called spotted bass. On the April trip, Weston caught one on 2-pound line, one on 4-pound, and one for its length, and expects them all to be IGFA records, at least for a while. “I don’t mind being the first one,” he said.
Another example: two of his teenage kids caught IGFA records a mile from their house. A nearby pond had been stocked with hybrid striped bass, which are also known as wipers, but which the IGFA calls whiterock bass. No one had submitted a catch for the species. Emery and Elyse Weston each caught two and entered the record books.
All of which goes to show there are opportunities for recognition. “You actually have a better chance than most people think, depending on what you’re trying to catch,” Weston said.