Guide Scott Meshell of South Texas Bowfishing has put clients on the longest alligator runs in his career, but he’s never wrangled one heavier than the 271-pound behemoth he helped three men navigate on July 17. The fish measured 7 feet, 11 inches, with a 48-inch belt, and at just 19 pounds shy of the Texas bowfishing record, it’s right up there with some of the biggest competitions ever taken in the state.
“We got really lucky with this fish,” Meshel tells Field & Stream. “The water is so low right now because of the drought that there has been almost no big fish activity. You would think that low water would concentrate the fish more, but in those conditions, the water gets extremely hot, which usually pushes the fish into deeper holes where they seek cooler water, and as a result, you you see less activity on the surface.
Most of the shots bowfishermen make happen when a fish comes up to take a breath, Meshel notes. An alligator gar’s swim bladder is connected to its pharynx via a pneumatic duct, which enables the fish to supplement its oxygen intake by swallowing air at the surface. These high water spray reels help the lures survive in water with very low oxygen levels and give anglers the best chance for a good shot – if all goes well.
“There are days when they just float to the surface and open their mouths for air and may sit there for a few seconds before swimming back up,” says Meshel. “Then there are days when they come up at 100 miles an hour, gulp the air, and are gone before you can even think to draw your bow. With this fish, we were very lucky because it swam quite slowly. The fish’s back was still out of the water when my clients shot.”
Luck played a role, but so did Meshell’s careful observation of the racing habits he’s honed over a lifetime of chasing fish. Now in his 50s, he has been chased by alligators since he was a teenager.
Spin time for a chance at a shot
Meshell was guiding John Jackson, Tim Selvidge and LG Selvidge to a South Texas body of water that the guide prefers not to reveal. LG’s young son, Jax, was also along for the ride. They were methodically working their way through some of the deepest holes known to Meshel, waiting for the race to come up for air. They got their first glimpse of the 271-pounder when it rolled behind the boat.
“I knew right away it was a giant,” says Meshel. “Something I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes they only spin once, but sometimes they go into a little spinning pattern where they’ll do it every few minutes. So I timed it to see if it would spin more than once.”
When Meshell thought the time was right for the fish to surface again, it left again through the hole where they had first seen it. “A big plume rolled just out of bow range,” he says. “It was very close to her size and I almost thought it was her. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, so I told the guys to stand by because I didn’t think it was the same fish. Within seconds the big one rolled within 8 to 10 feet of the boat directly in front of us.
John Jackson and Tim Selvidge each put an arrow in the wardrobe, “and that’s where the fun came in,” Meshel says. “We had two arrows in the fish, but that doesn’t always mean you’re going to get it.”
The gar dove, but the fishermen were able to bring it back near the surface for a short time. “Then he ran again really hard and pulled one of the arrows,” Meshel recounts. “At that point, I knew we had a giant fish with only one arrow in it, and I didn’t know how good that arrow was. So we took our time fighting the fish—it seemed like a lifetime, but it was maybe 8 to 10 minutes – and worked it close to the surface again. At that point, I was the only one who could see the fish underwater, so I set another dart. After another run, we brought it up again and John and LG set two of others to secure. We had a total of four arrows to go.”
The toughest race of a 10-year driving career
When they finally got the big fence into the boat, everyone went crazy at first, Meshel says. “Lots of high-fives, whoops and hollers. And then he was silent. The strike began. Everyone stood looking at this giant fish, their hands shaking from all the adrenaline. This took several minutes.”
In 10 years of running, Meshell has had four clients shoot 8-footers. He has shot four, and his wife has also shot an 8-footer. But boating with his heaviest client’s fish ever was a special thrill. Complicated, but special. “As a business owner, seeing my clients catch such a big fish is one of the highlights of my management career so far,” says Meshell. “It was just amazing. It’s hard to describe how happy I was.
“But as a bow fisherman, I was jealous,” he adds with a laugh. “This is a much heavier fish than I have ever shot. So there are two sides, you know?”