Fishing Freshwater

Fisherman Catches Gigantic 200-Pound Snapping Turtle, Then Lands World Record Gar

Yeah, he released them both
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A man holds a 200-pound alligator snapping turtle and measures a giant gar.

The giant turtle, just ahead of release; measuring the gar's length. Photos courtesy of Kirk Kirkland

Art Weston and his guide Capt. Kirk Kirkland were out chasing world records again in early April. This time, the accomplished anglers were fishing for a new world-record alligator gar at the upper end of Sam Rayburn Lake in East Texas. Weston and Kirkland accomplished their mission, and in the process, they caught something even bigger: an enormous snapping turtle that weighed around 200 pounds.

Kirkland tells Outdoor Life that they’d hooked and lost several potential records during the morning of April 6. They were shooting for a line-class record, which means they had to land a giant alligator gar on 4-pound test line in order for it to be considered as a new world record by the International Game Fish Association.

Kirkland says they battled one fish for around 90 minutes that morning before losing it in some flooded timber near the mouth of the Angelina River. Soon after, Weston inadvertently hooked a beast of an alligator snapping turtle that looked like some prehistoric creature from Jurassic Park.

Angler with an enormous alligator snapping turtle.
Art Weston cautiously holds onto the monstrous snapping turtle he caught and released on April 6. Photo courtesy Kirk Kirkland

“Art hooked something about noon while fishing for gar using a large chunk of carp for bait,” Kirkland says. “I figured it was a turtle for the unusual way it fought. It took Art about 30 minutes to bring the turtle up, and it wasn’t very happy.”

The giant turtle was hooked in one of its front feet. This is common with turtles, Kirkland says, as they typically claw at a bait after taking it. A big alligator snapping turtle, he explains, is much harder to get in the boat than a big alligator gar.

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“There’s not much to grab, and they’re trying to fight, claw, and bite you,” says Kirkland, a long-time charter captain and the owner of Garship Enterprise. “Art didn’t want any part of that turtle. So, I grabbed him by the shell edge behind its head, then got ahold of its tail with my other hand. Then I carefully worked it into the boat.”

He says the turtle’s fearsome mouth was wide open while they worked to unhook the turtle, which they planned to release unharmed. They estimated its weight around 200 pounds, which puts it in the running for one of the heaviest alligator snapping turtles ever caught in the state. (The largest documented alligator snapper caught in the wild in Texas weighed 211 pounds, according to Texas Turtles.)

“We got the hook out of its foot, made a few photos, then let it go, because they’re protected by law,” says Kirkland. Alligator snapping turtles are classified as a threatened species in Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department requires anglers to release any alligator snapping turtle “as close to possible to the spot where it was caught,” which they did.

Angler with giant alligator gar in water.
Art Weston’s alligator gar weighed 188 pounds and it stands to crush the current 4-pound line-class record for the species. Photo courtesy Capt. Kirk Kirkland

On April 7, Weston and Kirkland fished Sam Rayburn again using the same rig from the previous day. This included a 130-pound test, 6-foot-long braided wire leader attached to the 4-pound line with a barrel swivel. On the other end of the wire leader, they secured a 7/0 hook with a cable crimp and baited it with cut carp.

Read Next: Giant Alligator Gar: Trash Fish or Trophy Gamefish?

Around midday, Weston hooked and landed a huge alligator gar that weighed roughly 188 pounds. They taped and weighed the fish on the shore using a certified scale and special sling to cradle it. If their record application is accepted by the IGFA, Weston’s fish will crush the standing 4-pound test record, a 117-pound, 3-ounce gar caught from the Trinity River in 2022.

Alligator gar being weighed in special sling.
Weston and Kirkland used a special sling to weigh the alligator gar on shore. Photo courtesy Kirk Kirkland
A tape measure of the girth of a gar.
The gar’s girth that measured about 40 inches. Photo by Kirk Kirkland

Weston released the massive gar back into the lake, and Kirkland says he plans to have a replica made.

If his record is approved, Weston will have 10 IGFA world records for alligator gar. He already holds the line-class records for the species in the 2-, 6-, 8-, 12-, 16-, 50-, 80-, and 130-pound categories. His 6-pound-test record, which weighed 283 pounds, is also the standing IGFA all-tackle world-record for alligator gar. He caught that fish in Sept. 2023, also while fishing Sam Rayburn with Kirkland.

This collection of records would add to the 38 IGFA world records that Weston currently holds, covering 15 fish species caught from six different countries. Most of these were landed on light lines, as well.

“I don’t like to admit it, but I wear a small fighting belt for exactly these situations,” Weston says. “It makes it a lot easier to relax your arm muscles if you can put the butt of the rod in the belt.”