The sun turned the sky to brilliant red as it sank beneath the tree line along the western shore of the Rainbow River. In the evening calm the clear water was glass smooth. I held my atlatl and harpoon dart ready in hopes I would get a clear shot at a fish. We could see occasional ripples cross the water around us, telling of fast moving small fish attempting to escape the clutches of some of the larger predatory species. But the sun reflecting off the top of the water kept everything below the surface hidden from view.
We talked for a while, waiting for the darkness to settle in. In the distance vultures coming in from every direction landed in a giant cypress tree that grew out of the shallow water of the flats. A symphony of alligators chortled in every tone belying their various sizes from small to very large. Earlier that day we had seen several large alligators sunning themselves on fallen logs. We weren’t here for alligators but anywhere you see gators you will see gar.
To spear gar with an atlatl you have to be able to see them well and they need to be in reasonably shallow water. At night with the Colman lanterns we have rigged to the bows of our boats you can see the gar as deep as twenty five feet swimming along like submarines barely wavering from their characteristic straight line course. The skin of a gar is like armor with the texture of rough sandpaper. To get a dart through this you need sharp points and enough energy to break through a quarter inch of bone like skin. It can be done with a bow but the arrow looses energy much faster than a harpoon dart. The added length and weight of the dart allow deeper penetration of the water, with enough energy left to penetrate the thick hide of the gar.
Leggs spotted the first giant gar as we entered a lagoon. He was not ready for it but I was. I had to cast at just at the right time to make the shot. I hit it right in the middle of its five foot long body and it took off. I let the line go as it retreated until I had nothing left but the float at the end of my line. I hung on as the fish dragged the boat several hundred yards. As the fish tired I pulled it closer to the boat. Leggs, being the bravest of us gaffed it into the boat. It slashed with its razor teeth just scratching the back of Leggs’ hand. He stowed it under the deck where it could not hurt us after we took several pictures.
It is an annual event for us to go to Florida in the middle of February to enjoy our atlatl adventures. We meet at Payne’s Prairie Campground where the annual Knap-in occurs. The park has great facilities and is perfectly situated for us to be able to go to the various places in North Florida to hunt and fish with our atlatls. Also Florida’s fish and game laws allow the use of the atlatl.