When Leo Ruiz and his father Tacho recently headed out to one of their favorite gar fishing haunts they were just going to try and catch a few "catan" for a fish fry, what they ended up battling was the biggest gar they had ever hooked.
Tacho Ruiz has been fishing for gar for half a century, and he has caught some big ones. Most summer weekends the San Benito native can be found along a choice resaca with a couple of poles set out, often accompanied by a son or grandson. Gar fishing is a leisurely sport, as many hours are spent just sitting on the bank waiting for a fish to take the bait, but it can get intense real quick when a big one strikes.
"We were out there fishing trying to catch some small gar for a fish fry, and suddenly we started to see some big ones popping up," Leo Ruiz recalled. "I told my dad; man wouldn't it be nice to catch a big one. Since the day before I caught one that was seven foot one and a half inches and weighed 173 pounds. That for me was a record."
"All of a sudden this big gar popped up, and I threw in front of it," Leo said. "We were fishing with live shiners that were about five or six inches long., but I didn't think I was going to get the gar to hit. It's just like sight casting for reds, and three or four foot gar usually pick it up real quick, but I had never hooked a gar this big. Today was just one of those days, and he took off with the bait."
"I told Leo, that's a big one there, you've got to take it slow, bring it in slow, don't get too anxious bringing it in," Tacho said.
"He told me, you have got one of those tree trunks from the bottom, one of those big mesquites, because after the gar swam off it just stopped, and I couldn't move it," Leo said. "I knew I had a big gar, at least six feet, but I just didn't know how big."
Soon the gar took off again, and the fight was on. The Ruiz's like to catch big gar on light tackle, and as they watched the 17 pound test line spool off Leo's reel they began to wonder how long it would last before breaking.
"It surfaced about four or five times real nice," Leo recalled with a grin. "It came all the way up, just breaking the water on top, going on top of the water. You could see the whole fish."
"About half an hour into the fight, I saw it come up, but my line was pointing one way and the fish came out another way. So, I knew my line was wrapped around a trunk. My dad said it is time for you to go in."
The water in the resaca is five or six feet deep, and the bottom is pretty mucky. Fortunately, Leo is a big guy, and he definitely did not want to lose this gar. So, in he went with rod held high, as he tried to gain back line and somehow get untangled from the submerged tree.
By now the gar had already spooled him three times, and Leo became even more concerned about how much longer his line would hold up. A normal person might have also been a little concerned about wading into chin high water with a big, toothy gar, but normalcy takes a backseat when an angler has a big fish on.
"I got out there about 10 yards, and I guess it felt me and it started taking off again. So I released the spool to take the pressure off the line, and it ripped off about 80 yards on that run."
Eventually, Leo got most of his line back and slowly began to wade toward the bank. When he reached the shore, he handed the pole to his dad and grabbed a heavy spear to perform the coup de grace on the gar.
Tacho tried to raise the gar's head, so Leo, who was standing in the water, could see it to spear. "All of a sudden, it just started to take off. I hit him with the harpoon, but it bounced back, and he and spooled the reel again. At that point, I said that's it, there is just too much tension on the line, and it is going to break. You could see the line on top of the water, and it was frayed."
Finally an hour after they hooked the gar, they were able to gingerly bring the fish back close to the bank, and this time Leo speared the gar in the head. "It dragged me about 10 yards thru the water and grass along the bank, and the line finally popped."
It was only when Leo and his dad tried to lift the huge gar out of the water did they realize how heavy the fish was. "It was about the same length, but a lot heavier than the one we caught the day before," Leo said.
With some help, they managed to wrestle the gar into Tacho's pickup and returned to town to weigh it. After a struggle, they got the seven foot two inch gar hoisted onto the rafters in their carport. However, their scale only went to 220 pounds where it pegged.
So they had to load the mammoth fish back into the pickup. This time they took it to the friendly folks at Bekins moving in San Benito where the gar weighed in at a solid 232 pounds. One thing is for sure, with back to back seven foot plus "catan" there will be plenty of "chicharrones" in San Benito.
Gar fishing is a family tradition with the Ruiz's. "I have been gar fishing almost all my life," said 62 year old Tacho. "But this is the biggest one we have ever caught."
Last year, Tacho's grandson, 17 year old Kevin Ruiz, landed a seven foot one inch catan. "It was a thrill catching it, because I was with my grandpa." said Kevin. "I started going gar fishing when I was 14. Tacho taught his sons, and they have taught me, and I hope to teach my sons too."
"Everybody in the family likes to fish for gar," said Tacho. "My sons like it, my grandsons like it, and it is the best way to keep the family together."
"I really enjoy it," said Kevin. "It is a stress reliever. You can be there all day and not catch anything, but you are still spending time with your family doing something you love."
"It is a family tradition," added Leo. "It is what we do."
While Leo has to be pretty happy catching back to back seven foot plus catan, he has his eye on an ever bigger gar. "There's a gar out there that's way over eight feet, and I think it's the granddaddy of them all."
And if there is anybody who is going to catch that gargantuan gar, it will probably be one of the Ruiz boys.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore