By Courtney Anderson
Growing up with a fisheries background has followed me to apply it at every internship I have had the pleasure of serving. It has been a constant theme, through my schooling and budding career. Most people don’t care about fish, unless it’s a game fish that can be “Fried up good!” And honestly, it drives me crazy. We should care about the planet as a WHOLE: from deer to songbirds, dragonflies to algae, humans to mosquito fish, because our planet works as such. A whole. And every part is unique and important. That’s why I helped save about 60 Gar last Friday.
Deaver Pond at Hagerman NWR had an unfortunate accident with its’ culvert that led to a drainage of almost every last drop of water. I heard that the pond was a mess and stunk of dead fish, needless to say I was intrigued enough to check it out myself. Plus I had the opportunity to add a skull to the interpretation collection here at Hagerman. I was shocked to discover that there was still some water in the pond; A couple of pools here and there. So, I climbed on down to grab a perished carp when… SLOSH! My foot sunk all the way to my calf, so much for those nice pair of pants. After looking around I discovered some commotion in a small section (About 5ft in diameter) of water. Knowing I had already trashed my outfit I went to investigate. Lo and behold there were still fish! And I mean a lot of fish, hanging out in this small area. Clearly they were gar, which means the potential for Alligator Gar. We have all four species of gar on the refuge (Shortnose, Longnose, Spotted, and Alligator). There is concern for the long term survival of the Alligator Gar because their numbers have declined significantly in the past few years. With this in mind, I knew we needed to do something.
After discussion with Kathy Whaley, the Refuge Manager, she agreed that we couldn’t sit back with the potential for a species whose population status is in question, dying. So I recruited Deputy Manager Rick Cantu and Maintenance Worker Russell “Rusty” Daniel and headed to the pond. Now fishing is never easy, and fishing for gar is definitely not easy. We all loaded up with waders and braved the mud to the little pond where the gars were. I didn’t get but about 5 feet into the mud when my hip waders were so buried, I had no other choice. I slipped out of them and took on the mud like any woman who’s not afraid to get dirty. Rusty used a noose to catch the fish under their fins, handed them to me, and I passed them off to Rick. And we continued to do this. I began to hand catch the gar, which was easier than I thought because of the high number of them in such a small space! However, this is also why I was the only one of the three of us who had mud up to my ears (see photo!)
With two very large coolers full of fish, we drove down the road a bit to Big Mineral Creek. The looks on both Rusty and Rick’s faces were priceless, being that they were exhausted and covered in mud like myself. After unloading the fish into the water and gleefully watching them swim away I couldn’t help but remember the wise words of the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” And saving those fish’s lives may not have made a difference to the world, but it most certainly made a world of difference to me.