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As is, the 8-pound, 3-ounce shortnose gar that Pittman caught on Oct. 12 at Lake Contrary in St. Joseph is already confirmed by the Missouri Department of Conservation as a state record rod-and-reel catch. The 36.2-inch fish tops the previous state record shortnose gar, a 4-pound, 11-ounce fish caught from Lower Big Lake in 1995.
Pittman, 52, spent many summer nights trying to catch catfish from the oxbow lake, an old channel of the nearby Missouri River. He caught only a few catfish but he regularly landed and released gar, most "about 20- to 24-inches long and as big around as an egg. I've caught about 250 gar this year.
One shortnose that he landed was bigger than usual so he weighed it, and it was 6-pounds, 3-ounces, big enough to be a state record. But he didn't know about the record and he gave that shortnose to a friend who likes to eat gar.
Later a tackle shop employee told Pittman that he might have given away a record fish. So when he caught another big gar, he waited until daybreak and then called the Missouri Conservation Department.
"When I got to the lake I knew it had beaten the old state record fish," said fisheries biologist Eric Dennis.
Dennis weighed the fish on a certified scale. The catch is under review by the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Fla., as a pending world record. It tops the current record 7-pound, 1-ounce shortnose gar that was caught in Texas.
Pittman thought he had a big catfish when he first hooked the gar about 2 a.m. He watched a long time as something kept moving his line slightly, as if a fish was nibbling on his bait.
"Finally, I set the hook and the fight was on," he said. "I thought it was a catfish because it fought just like a catfish. Usually gar come in fairly easy."
Pittman was using 20-pound test line. The gar's teeth weakened the line and it broke shortly after he netted the fish. He used a dead, seven-inch bighead carp for bait.
It is illegal in Missouri to use live bighead or silver carp as bait, as they are a harmful invasive species that can spread to other waters via bait buckets. But they are legal to use as bait if they are dead.
Pittman lives near the lake and he is disabled, so he has time to fish often. He would like to catch another record gar.
The Missouri all-methods record for shortnose gar is a 13-pounder taken by an archer bowfishing at Mark Twain Lake in 2006.
"I'm hoping to get one that big with rod and reel," Pittman said. "I don't mind catching gar, especially when I've got friends who like to eat them."
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