Gar Hunter, Writer, Stockbroker
Townsend Miller's 1954 longnose gar record still stands today.
By W. P. Meyer
Townsend Miller was certainly ahead of his time. He was a sportsman who supported gar fishing at a time when many considered gar a trash fish and gar anglers of disreputable heritage. He taught people to respect the fish that most thought was beneath contempt.
And yet he was a throwback, akin to Aristotle in his wide-ranging talents. Miller's passion was gar fishing, but he was clearly far from single-minded. He also was a writer, stockbroker, poet, critic, journalist, musician and Texan. His is a story worthy of a full-length biography.
Townsend Miller was born in 1919 in Gainesville, Texas. His passion for fishing, hunting, baseball and country music started early and continued throughout his life. He earned a journalism degree from North Texas State University. After graduating, he joined the Army Air Corps, serving as a navigator with the 487th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Force Division in western Europe during World War II.
The multi-talented Miller was best known as a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. From 1972 to 1984, while also working as a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, he produced two columns per week highlighting the city's unique brand of music. Though a traditional country music lover since his younger days spent listening to the Light Crust Doughboys, he was a tireless promoter of the growing progressive country scene. Many of the brightest lights of country music, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Marcia Ball and Doug Sahm, lauded Miller for his always-positive, always-active support.
Today, Townsend Miller is a name still connected with Texas country music. After his untimely death at age 69 in April of 1989, Miller was inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame. The Townsend Miller Collection of 8,000 recordings, files and photographs of country music artists is a "significant holding" of the University of Texas library. The Townsend Miller Memorial Fund, through the Kerrville Music Foundation, provides scholarships and awards to talented performers. Likewise, the Austin Community College Commercial Music Management Program offers a Townsend Miller scholarship.
However, when he set the longnose gar world record in July of 1954, Miller was serving as the editor of Texas Game and Fish, a precursor to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. By then known as a master gar angler, he was even featured in the second issue of Sports Illustrated, dated August 23, 1954.
Townsend Miller was first prodded into gar fishing by a gar itself. As a small boy he was fishing one day, standing in water waist-deep, when a gar took his bait. He hauled back and backed up, too slowly it turns out, and the gar flew into Miller's belly. Big mistake for the gar, who is now akin to the bison that turned William Cody into Buffalo Bill. From that time on, Miller was captivated by gar fishing and landed hundreds of longnose and alligator gar. He called them "inland tarpon," as both gar and tarpon are bony-mouthed, armor-plated missiles prone to go airborne during a fight. Both are tough to hook; Miller only expected about half of those that bite to be hooked and a third of those hooked to be landed.
For years he fished the holes in the Trinity River between Grapeland and Crockett or Elm Fork of the Trinity near Gainesville. But he was not averse to going afield for gar, traveling to the White River in Arkansas to tangle with their 150-pounders. With longtime friend Jeff Krenek of Crockett, Miller mainly targeted monstrous alligator gar. He once caught a 7-foot 6-inch, 165-pound alligator gar.
Miller's world record, however, was an incredible longnose gar. This longnose gar, the biggest he had ever seen, stretched a staggering 6 feet 1/2 inch. Imagine the electricity of being ahold of over 72 inches of razor-wired fury. For many longnose gar anglers, a 50-inch fish is a once-in-a-lifetime trophy. Miller's world record bested that by almost two feet. Miller's catch, a 50-pound 5-ounce longnose, is a record that still stands today.
Taken in late July of 1954, the record longnose gar was caught while Miller was stillfishing in 20 feet of water. Miller typically used a heavy saltwater rod and reel, a 6/0 treble, a 6-foot steel leader, 70-pound test main line, and a heavy swivel. He cruised the river, watching for gar to surface, gulping air. Spying active fish, he anchored, then fished on the bottom with a 1-pound chunk of drum stuck on one barb of the treble, leaving the other two points free. On the free points, he crimped down the barb for better penetration of the gar's bony snout. Even using this rugged gear made for the bigger alligator gar, the record longnose took more than 15 minutes to land.
Gar fishing for the ever-active Miller was not always for sport. In September 1958 he headed a safari of sorts to South Texas to bag and bring back alive an alligator gar for display at the Fort Worth Zoo. Miller fished the Trinity aided by an intrepid team that included his 6-year-old son, Kent, friend Jeff Krenek, and zoo curator Lawrence Curtis. They eventually landed a "small" alligator gar of 148 pounds, stretching just shy of 7 feet long. Curtis, recognizing an audience-pleasing specimen, backed up the tank truck and the hefty gar was loaded in. Unfortunately the gar, stressed by the transport, only survived long enough to arrive at the zoo.
When the funds allow a Gar Anglers' Hall of Fame, Townsend Miller, gar fishing champion and champion of gar fishing, will be its first inductee.