River Monster, East Texas Style

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It might look like a mere minnow to Jeremy Wade, the stolidly bonkers host of Animal Planet's River Monsters, but to the rest of us, the giant alligator gar that Cleveland's Joseph Williams caught appears to be nothing short of a behemoth from the Cretaceous Period.

Williams hauled the giant out of the Trinity River just below Lake Livingston Dam last month. He'd hoped to release this kraken alive, but it went belly up when he put it back in the water. Now he has it as a souvenir, one that is two inches longer than Yao Ming is tall and weighing at least 200 pounds. That's only the official weight -- the gar was so big, it had to be weighed on a truck-stop scale that only recorded 50-pound increments. Williams believes it actually weighed in at 230.

Williams told the Parks and Wildlife service that several gars he believed to be even bigger had broken away from his rod and reel that day, and he had seen still more that were also larger.

While his catch is one mother of a gar, it is neither the biggest to be caught with a rod and reel in Texas, nor the largest to be taken from the Trinity River by other means.

Bill Valverde holds the 51-year-old Texas record for the largest gar ever hauled to shore with a rod and reel; his Rio Grande monster weighed in at 279 pounds. In 2001, Marty McClellan, a bow-fisherman, set the Texas overall record when his arrow found a 290-pounder in the Trinity. Nationally, the largest-ever was a 350-pound leviathan that once lurked in the murky waters of Arkansas's St. Francis River.

Gars have long snouts and a gleaming white pincushion of dangerous-looking teeth, winning them an unearned reputation as dangerous freshwater sharks. While they've been blamed for numerous attacks on humans, wildlife officials say there have been no documented cases. They eat fish, carrion and waterfowl and have been known to chomp the occasional duck decoy, likely by mistake though possibly for roughage.

Per Alison Cook, alligator gars make for less-than-tasty eating themselves, despite the best efforts of a local Vietnamese chef.

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