The Gar in the Grove

It’s 7:00 AM on July 5th and already 90 degrees. My thoughts are as foggy as the air hovering over the open waters of Toledo Bend, cloaking the distant shores of Louisiana miles away. Fleeting memories of the Independence Day celebration from the night before remind me why I feel the way I do. Beneath me the kayak slightly wobbles, and the movement is magnified in my gut. Nonetheless, I am determined to shoot the breakfast I spotted from the pier at first light.

A small alligator gar ambushes the shallows, shadowed by pine trees in the slanted morning sun. His cigar-shaped body doesn’t bob with the gentle passing of waves. His pectoral fins keep him perfectly still. This tactic may work to hide him from the smaller fish he hunts, but his eerie stillness only makes him stand out to me against the backdrop of vegetation that moves with the current. In fact, were he not so still, I would dismiss him as a stick rocking with the waves on the sandy bottom.

My paddle propels my craft forward. I approach the shadow and draw my stiff fiberglass arrow. My arms slightly tremble under Janky’s weight at full draw. A loose and a splash!

I miss by more than I care to admit. The shadow lazily retreats through rippling water. I laugh in a feeble attempt to hide my shame, even though I am the only person there to witness it.

My opponent halts his retreat a mere ten feet off my starboard bow. I am not prepared for this, as the few gar I’ve shot at tend to get well out of range after one attempt to kill them. He maintains his curious vigil long enough for me to respool my braided line. I turn towards him and strain to draw another shot. This time my arrow plunges much closer to my prey, but he still escapes and retreats to the safety of a nearby cypress grove.

I paddle after the fish, but my pursuit is threatened by the labyrinth of cypress trees and their knobby knees. I’m forced to disembark and navigate the tangle of branches on foot. To my dismay, I am in a mirror house of shadows and exposed roots on the sandy bottom that all resemble my quarry.

For fifteen minutes I wade around tripping hazards and under spider webs, stopping to let the water calm every few steps. Finally, a small beam of sunlight breaks through the canopy and betrays the shiny scales of the confident gar hovering inches below the surface, just ten yards in front of me. I take the opportunity and zip another arrow through the grove, sure to strike true this time. But eye-level foliage fools me into taking a shorter shot than needed. I strain to see my quarry as the water calms from the arrow’s passing, hoping to see a fish thrashing at the end of it.

Instead the gar looks indifferently at the arrow protruding from the sand.

My breakfast disappears into deeper water, leaving me bewildered, hungry, and hungover, while the breeze laughs at me through the boughs of cypress trees.

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