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Vermont's newest big fish record goes to Pennsylvanian angler

A man in a Bass Pro Shops hat standing in a garage is holding a massive longnose gar which covers the whole frame. The fish is shiny and scaley with a bit of blood on its rear as it's been recently gutted.
Jeremy Bicking
Jeremy Bicking of Pennsylvania poses with his giant longnose gar, a new state record.

A bowfisher from Pennsylvania caught a record-setting longnose gar in Lake Champlain last year, state officials announced this week.

The gar, which measured 54.75 inches in length and weighed 18.6 pounds, is the largest recorded longnose gar caught by bow since records began in 1969.

Jeremy Bicking of Pennsylvania caught the fish in May 2023. Every year, Bicking said, he goes to Vermont with his younger brother and father to visit his Vermonter uncle.

Bowfishing is the art of fishing using a bow or crossbow with a line attached to catch fish. Bicking used a compound bow to catch his award-winning gar.

While many bowfishers choose to fish at night, using lights to illuminate the water without the glare of the sun, Bicking and his family hunted in daylight with the aid of polarized lenses. It was earlier in May than they usually go and a little colder, Bicking said, and it took several hours of searching to find the fish.

“We shot a few of the gar, and then I was in front of the boat and saw the bigger one that I shot come through. At the time, we didn’t really realize how big it was,” Bicking said. “And then, after the fact, my younger brother had said, 'We should really weigh this because I think it might be close to what the state record is.'”

As it turns out, it was heavier than the then-record, a 17.9-pound, 50.5-inch gar shot in 1996 by Tom Casavant, per state records. Bicking had it officially weighed on a state-certified scale the next day to confirm the record and submitted it with the required paperwork. And then he filleted it, chunked it, and deep-fried it.

“We were always taught you don’t shoot or harvest anything unless you’re planning on eating it,” Bicking said.

While this was the largest longnose gar to be caught by bow, one caught by rod and reel in 2007 was a quarter-inch shorter and 3 ounces heavier. The state keeps separate records for fish caught by bow and those caught by hook and line because the former allows an angler to directly target fish, said Shawn Good, fisheries biologist at Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Like many species of fish, female longnose gar are substantially larger than the males. In Vermont, where fish are limited in their ability to grow by cold winters, the average longnose gar is 30 to 40 inches long, said Good.

Bicking, who learned to fish as a child from his father and has been bowfishing for 12 to 15 years, said he is excited to get back on Lake Champlain for this year’s family trip.

“Now we have a new record to try and beat for ourselves,” Bicking said.

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Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.
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