The Texas Alligator Gar is the largest member of the Gar family and one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. This prehistoric fish can live as long as 75 years and they are the largest freshwater fish in Texas. A mature specimen can measure over 8 foot and weigh well over 200 pounds. The current world record for the largest Alligator Gar caught is 279 pounds. Gar as long as 9 or 10 foot were common if you read the old reports from the 1800s and early 1900s. These days any Gar over six foot is considered a big Gar and finding that size is getting very rare in many areas. The really big Gar are a sign of a healthy fish population and the really big Alligator Gar are getting hard to locate which indicates a problem in the population. One problem is that is may take 40-60 years to grow these mega Gar and we are catching them faster than the current population can replace these giants of the river. The female Gar must survive about 12 -14 years in the environment to even be a breeder. Alligator gars also apparently require very specific spawning conditions, including flooded terrestrial vegetation or seasonally flooded backwaters.
The Alligator Gar unlike most fish can take in air and live in waters where other fish can not survive. You can often spot them floating at the surface or gulping air on a hot day. Because it can take in air the Gar can survive for a while if taken out of water. This species has been around since prehistoric times but are now fighting for their very survival. Many have thought that Gar were decimating game fish populations but studies have shown that about 95 percent of the menu is rough fish and only a very small percentage of game fish are taken as food. Studies have even suggested that in certain environments the population of unwanted rough fish climb in numbers as the Gar are removed from the ecosystem. Gar have long been persecuted and even Texas Parks and Wildlife had a Gar eradication program in the early 1900s. My grandfather and father would kill every Gar that they caught on their trotlines believing that Gar killed large numbers of game fish. I was raised believing this myth and killed my share. Many other myths have painted the Gar as a vicious predator and have even listed it as a man-eater and guilty of attacks on humans. This is a complete fabrication and not even one attack by a Gar on a human has been documented. The attacks on humans that were suspected to be committed by Gar were later proven to be by the Gars namesake, the alligator, or in some cases by bull sharks that swam up the fresh water rivers. This does not mean you should put your fingers or toes anywhere near a Gar freshly caught as they will bite when trying to get back in the water and the teeth can cut if just rubbed across your skin.
I have been a bow hunter and bow fisherman for over 40 years and used to go Bowfishing for Gar and have a ball doing so. I now target only rough fish or long nose Gar which are more abundant. I’m not saying that we need to stop Bowfishing or rod and reel fishing for Gar but just protect the larger breeding-age fish that are crucial to the future of the population. I even pass the shots on large long nose Gar which are breeder age and abundant in our river system.
If you take a look at the Alligator Gars historic range and where there are now in fishable populations you will see how we have decimated the populations in the last 100 years.
Green - Naturally Sustaining Populations
Orange - Remnant Populations or Individual Observations
Red - Stocked Population
Yellow - Approximate Historic Range (Possible Extirpated)
* This map is an estimation of the historic and current range based on available data, habitat, and life history associations.
In 2009, Texas Parks and Wildlife began a bag limit of one Gar per day. This is a start in protecting the Alligator Gar but this great predator deserves better. I would urge each of you to set your own more restrictive limits and push for a Gar Tag limiting the take of the Mega Gars. Limits of one or two a year for Gar over 5 foot long with a trophy tag would be a reasonable start. There is no reason to kill these giants of the river, Spear fishermen and Bowhunters could shoot the non-breeding size Gar and fishermen that want to catch and eat the fish could also use the smaller Gar within reasonable limits which would keep a stable population. The days of catching and leaving Gar to die are over and to do so should be made a punishable crime by Texas Parks and Wildlife similar to game fish laws. There is no excuse for the waste of this valuable resource. Commercial fisherman would have to release any fish over 5 feet immediately. This policy would insure that Texas remains a stronghold for the great fish and preserve the breeding population. We have slot and size limits on lots of fish species, they are proven to work in preserving the species and allow for a reasonable harvest. This will even help those that guide professionally for the giant Alligator Gars as it will keep more trophy fish in the system for their clients to catch, measure and release.
Alligator Gar are becoming an important economic draw for parts of Texas as sports fisherman from other states travel to Texas in pursuit of catching a trophy Alligator Gar. The monies spent by these sportsmen are becoming an important income to many of these small Texas communities.
Get out and catch one of these hard fighting trophy fish and release it. I think you too will see that this is something that we must preserve for future generations. This species deserves our help, Wild Ed
Much of the information in this article was taken from the National Geographic Channel program Monster Fish, the Texas Parks and Wildlife study "Life History and Status of Alligator Gar Atractosteus spatula, with Recommendations for Management"
David L. Buckmeier
Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Inland Fisheries Division
and the book “Season of the Gar” by Mark Spitz.
If you get the chance to watch the National Geographic Channel’s program Monster Fish, the Alligator Gar, it is a very informative program with some great scenes of catching Gar. I would also highly recommend you get a copy of the book “Season of the Gar” by Mark Spitz. It is the story of the Alligator Gar by someone that was obsessed with catching Gar. It covers history, life cycle, persecution and efforts to save the Gar. Mark tells the story of his quest to catch a Mega Gar and his individual effort to restock the Gar in historical waters.
The following photos were taken from various websites and Google Images. I do not know when or where they were taken, who is in the picture or whom to give credit for the photograph. They do show mega Alligator Gars and thus I have published them here. Wild Ed