Riverkeeper Report: Riverkeeper battles 14-pound gar on Nottoway

Published 9:16 am Friday, June 24, 2011

A female Anhinga is perched in a tree along the Nottoway River. -- Jeff Turner | Tidewater News

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 21st through the 22nd on the Nottoway above Hercules.

The water was hot at 83 degrees, clear and 3.70 on the U.S. Geological Survey Gauge in Sebrell. Trash was light, and I saw no water quality issues.

The fishing was pretty good. I caught 16 largemouth; 15 were caught on the Bagley Top-Spin, and the largest, on a frog Moto-Lure. That fish weighed almost three pounds.

I found a place on this part of the river I’ll call the gar hole. There were some real monsters in there. I caught one that was 42 inches long and 8.6 pounds, and another that was a beast at 46 inches and 14.3 pounds.

The 14-pounder gave me a fight I will not soon forget. With no net in the boat, I had to try to drag the huge fish to shore. In the little boat I was in on this trip, to get to shore, I had to pull the hand-controlled electric motor up. This was not easy to do with one hand while the other held on to the prehistoric demon attached to the other end of my rod.

Every time I did get the motor up, the gar then would turn the boat away from the shore. Then I would have to lower the motor and head for shore again.

We went through this several times. Yes, it was towing the boat! I finally had to give that up and just leave the motor raised. So then I had to try to paddle with one hand to get the boat headed to shore.

All the time Moonpie was shouting “paddle harder, paddle left, paddle right,” which really did not help AT ALL. Finally I got to shore, and the gar, not liking that I took off again, this time broke my graphite rod.

That did not settle too great with me, and with that, I fell out of the boat in knee-deep mud and dragged the big fish onto the shore. Then we went at it hand to snout.

I won finally, but that was one tough fight. I was exhausted and quite a mess with thick stinking mud all over me that smelled like a blend of rotten fish and ammonia. I then gave the gar a Moonpie for a snack … no, just kidding, but I thought about it!

We saw some pretty cool critters this trip. One was a bald eagle and the other a female Anhinga that was watching me fight that gar the whole time. I do not believe I have ever seen one of these before on the river.

Also known as the “snakebird,” it often swims with only its head sticking out of the water. It will spear a fish (I read) with its sharp bill and then toss the fish in the air and catch it head first swallowing it whole.

I had really expected to stay my usual three days this trip. The scenery up there was great, the fishing good and I had a nice camping spot — that is, nice after I cleared away half of a five-gallon bucket of goose poo off the beach.

But alas, I had motor failure again, and besides, the deer flies were about to kill us. They were so bad Moonpie put on her rain suit just to get out of them. So it was decided we would terminate the trip early.

When we got back to the boat landing, and in the deer fly-free sanctuary of the Riverkeeper truck, Moonpie said, “I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve lost enough blood on this trip, so let’s please wait until the deer flies are gone before we venture back on the two rivers we call the Nottoway and Blackwater.

JEFF TURNER is riverkeeper for the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, an environmentally conscious organization that focuses on keeping local waterways healthy. BNRP’s parent organization is The Waterkeeper Alliance. Contact Turner at his website, www.blackwaternottoway.com.