PARSONS, Kan. (KSNT) – A Kansas man reeled in a prehistoric fish, which some have called a “living fossil,” marking the first time it’s been documented in Kansas, a historic moment for the state.
In an exclusive interview with the Kansas Capitol Bureau, Danny Lee “Butch” Smith, the angler who caught the fish, spoke for the first time about the remarkable catch.
“My poor little boat oar, it used to go together. It just snapped it,” Smith said as he recounted the moment he hauled the massive fish onto his boat.
Smith is no stranger to reeling in large fish. On Thursday, he had just caught an almost 30-pound Big River Blue Catfish, or what he calls a “Mississippi White.” However, on a warm night late last month, he was shocked to find out what was on the end of his line.
“Got him in the boat and I could see teeth crunching, I knew he wasn’t normal. I mean he looked like a baby alligator,” Smith said.
The avid fisherman was not far off. Biologists identified the fish as a nearly 40-pound, 4.5-foot alligator gar. The fish is the largest of its kind and can be traced back nearly 100 million years, but it’s not native to Kansas.
“We have three native species of gar in Kansas. We have a longnose, a short nose, and spotted. It was definitely a surprise when I got the phone call and picture that an alligator gar had been caught in the Neosho River,” said Connor Ossowski, Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks Fisheries biologist.
Wildlife experts say the alligator gar is easy to identify by its broad snout and loosely resembles the American alligator. Its normally found in southwestern Ohio, southeastern Missouri and Illinois, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and a small portion of northeastern Mexico. It is a predatory fish sometimes referred to as a “living fossil,” according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks.
But the momentous catch was found just east of Parsons on the Neosho River. Smith said he found the fish just about “a mile down” from where he usually fishes behind his property.
After turning it over to biologists for research, they determined the fish had not been tagged, so it wasn’t part of a formal reintroduction effort.
On Thursday, Ossowski and his team met with Smith to take the first steps in extracting parts of the fish for examination using microchemistry to find out where it came from.
“We’re extracting otoliths, the inner ear bone. They lay growth rings, so what we’re going to be able to get from the otoliths is how old the fish is and then also, there’s new technology called microchemistry. When they lay those growth rings, they leave a unique water chemistry signature, and we’ll be able to tell each year of its life, how long it was in the Neosho River, and where it originated from,” Ossowski said.
While biologists run tests, Smith says he has his own plans for the fish, and cherishing the moment as one he will remember forever.
“I’m going to have it cleaned up where it’s just all bones, so we prop the mouth open like that and put it in a glass case. It’s a piece of history. I mean it’s history made in Kansas they say.”