This is a real big fish tale: A fisherman in Kansas tossed a line in the water and caught a prehistoric predator fish that dates back nearly 100 million years.
Danny "Butch" Smith II of Oswego, Kansas, who landed the fish, a 4-foot, 6-inch alligator gar, weighing 39.5 pounds, knew he had caught something unusual. His fishing buddy identified the fish and said, "They ain't supposed to be here (in Kansas)," Smith said.
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials confirmed the identification and are investigating how the fish, called a "living fossil," got into the Neosho River in southeast Kansas, east of Parsons.
Kansas is home to three native types of garfish, the most common being longnose gar, which can be as large as 5 feet long, along with shortnose and spotted gar, the department says. Alligator gars have snouts that resemble American alligators, razor-sharp teeth and can grow beyond 10 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds, according to NationalGeographic.com.
While in prehistoric times, the fish's predecessors may have lived in Iowa or Kansas, modern alligator gars are found in the lower Mississippi River Valley, from Arkansas and Oklahoma to Florida, Texas and parts of Mexico, the site says. Not harmful to humans, alligator gars eat other fish, crabs, turtles, birds and small mammals.
Smith knew he had hooked something big when he was fishing last month. "I thought I had a pretty decent flathead," he told USA TODAY. "But it fought and fought, pretty soon it come plumb out of the water. The shape of its head really threw me off."
Soon the fish doubled back and came to the edge of Smith's boat and he pulled it in. But once the big fish was in the boat, "he tore the boat up. I was shocked by it," Smith said.
"The fish was flopping and flipping and destroyed one of my oars. There was one little flathead about 10 or 15 pounds in the boat and it was wanting out of the boat just as bad as I was because (the bigger fish) was tearing up things bad," he said. "(It) has got sharp teeth and double rows of teeth in his mouth."
It's the first time an alligator gar has been caught in Kansas and was likely released from an aquarium, state officials said. "It's not unlikely this fish was once somebody's pet or purchased from a pet store, and simply released into the river once it became too large," the department's fisheries division director Doug Nygren said in a news release.
Transporting fish across state lines and releasing them or other species into public waters is illegal in the state.
Smith said the state wildlife officials are coming Thursday to do an experiment on the fish's head, which he kept (he gave the fish's body to the officials), to determine its age and perhaps where it came from.
So this fish story is not over yet. "Not yet. It’s still going on," Smith said. "It's just a freak of nature. You spend enough time on the water anything can happen,
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Historic fish story: Kansas angler lands 4-foot alligator gar